Perhaps one of the hottest topics flying around in the saddlery world currently is 'straightness' and how saddles have to be straight. Of course, in the ideal world, all saddles should sit straight. However, everyone should be talking about rider and horse straightness in the same conversations.
Making a saddle sit straight solves the direct visible issue, but it doesn't solve the actual issue causing the problem. At every level, the horse and rider must focus on straightness. Straightness should form the foundation of your training. When you ride are you ‘body aware’? Do you collapse through one hip or tend to put more weight on one seat bone more than other? Does your horse work correctly, or is he or she crooked?
Even riding on a track around the edge of a well-used arena can force the horse into moving crookedly as they attempt to find a secure footing in a narrow track so either harrow your school regularly or ride on the inside track!
Crookedness in riders is something we see a lot. If we are sat at our desks all day or in the car driving, it's easy to get into bad posture habits and so when we sit on our horses, it's no surprise that we get used to feeling crooked. When our position is then adjusted to correct this crookedness, it feels strange. If you are pulling the saddle over, then no matter what your saddle fitter does to your saddle you will still pull it over.
“As for correcting the saddle and not investigating why it is slipping is for me a big no, no. Our aim is always to make the horse as comfortable as possible, so if the horse is compensating by going crooked and the saddle is therefore not sitting straight on the move, then forcing it to sit straight will only serve in making your horse uncomfortable and sore.”
Keeping the horse straight with all four legs straight doesn't always mean that the horse is straight in the real sense. Horses can compensate through the body and 'boomerang' through the rib cage, evading working through their core.
Every trainer should be focusing on straightness in both the horse and rider. From the basics right up through the levels. Often the side of the horse that to the rider feels suppler can often be the more crooked side and the 'stiffer' side is actually the straighter side! Learning to get a correct feel is so important but one which can often be overlooked in the focus for more hindleg or a flexible neck.
For me, straightness and saddle fitting can be compared to that of your car tyres (I know it sounds odd, but bear with me and read on!). You're driving, and your steering wheel isn't level. It keeps veering off to the left, so you focus on getting the steering wheel fixed instead of actually focusing the underlying problem of the wheels. Correcting a slipping saddle without looking at the horse and rider with scrutiny is the same.
We need to address the issue of the horse and rider before we start re-fitting/flocking and forcing changes in the saddle. One client, we worked with was open to suggestion, even allowed us to put padding under her left buttock as we recognised a lack of symmetry and guess what? It worked! No need to adjust the saddle - just the rider! While adding padding to correct a rider's unlevel weight placement might not be the 'traditional solution' to a slipping saddle, looking at the whole picture should be.
To read Tricia's thoughts on your choice of saddlecloth, read Numnahs!