CHRISTIAN – Massachusetts
Two of my horses, both Andalusians, have broad flat backs. My search for the right saddle for them goes back many years. I am a student of classical dressage and bring my horses along mostly with the goal of improving their (uphill) balance, strength and beauty. We don’t compete and don’t intend to.
I have literally been through dozens of saddles that I owned or had on trial. For a while I rode treeless but, with increasing demands on my older horse’s collection and straightness level, the treeless saddle did not offer the structure we needed. When we looked at treed saddles again, I decided for hoop-treed saddles based on their wide shape. The U-shaped front of the saddles definitely represented a huge improvement for my horses’ shoulder freedom. However, the saddles I either tried or bought never sat right in the back. Particularly not the one that was custom-made for my older horse (this one was the worst actually and I had to return it even after it was widened by dealer on my insistence).
The relatively best fit still was a Duett Largo. We rode in it for about a year until my saddle fitter mentioned a brand I had never heard of, the BALANCE saddles. Check them out she said, since your horses’ backs are so wide and flat and you seem to prefer an open flat seat. And she didn’t even realize how right she was. I had about 6 different Black Countries for trial through her over the previous months and while my horses seemed to like some of the models, I absolutely hated the high cantles, deep seats, narrow twists and big knee rolls which, of course, is how most modern dressage saddles are built.
I jumped in the cold water and bought a used Felix dressage model on Facebook. I will say that one of the deterrents for trying these saddles is the lack of availability [of used saddles] for trial. For my young mare, this was a good fit in the 8X width. But, the saddle was just a tad bit wide for my older horse, slipping forward with every canter. And so, I was once again on the lookout despite my best efforts to use the padding system as Mary explained it to me with great patience over email. I then found a used Matrix GPD with an R tree and that saddle was the ticket for him. I don’t have issues with what BALANCE International warns riders about, that the Matrix’s lack of tree points can be challenging for riders that don’t have good lateral stability. The R tree is perfect for him. It’s a size smaller that the 8X Felix but, the lack of tree points makes it fit a bit looser in front than probably the 7X Felix would. He has always liked a lot of shoulder freedom.
I have not been able to find any other saddles that fit my horses as perfectly in the back panels as these saddles do. Even other hoop-tree saddles that have the correct U shape in the front of the tree are usually still much too curved from front to back (depressing the horse’s back as they learn to lift into collection) and have too much of an angle to the panels.
My horses, particularly my young mare, let me know in no uncertain terms that she liked this saddle a lot better than anything we had ridden in before. Her back almost instantly began to lift and swing better. She is a talented horse with a strong back but, my teacher noticed a difference in her strength in our next lesson. My teacher is a long-term pupil of the famous Nuno Oliveria who rode in flat open saddles, and her teaching takes the rider’s seat very seriously as the foundation of everything in the horse’s well being under saddle.
In the BALANCE saddles I feel closest as a rider to finding self-carriage so that my horses can also. The saddles (at least the Felix and Matrix models) do not provide a position for you and therefore enable you to search for and ultimately find self-carriage similarly to how in the classical dressage system, we do not hold the horse in a frame or allow them to lean but, guide them to find self-carriage. The way in which modern dressage saddles wedge the rider in a narrow space between a high cantle and a huge knee roll, which making the rider feel “secure” nevertheless make him or her brace against the horse’s movement and are therefore the equivalent of braced movement so common in the modern sport horse.
I am glad to have found the type of saddle that fits my quest for uphill balance and self-carriage in my riding although, I wish I could experiment more easily with the different models that are so hard to come by [on the used market].
Robin – Virginia
Just wanted to say thank you for all of your help with my BALANCE saddle. It’s been a joy to work with you throughout the entire process, from the initial trial and education session to the purchase of the saddle and pads. Your willingness to quickly and cheerfully answer all of my questions has been much appreciated. Nate and I have been using our Felix now for 2 weeks and we’re both loving it! While it is a different feel for me, I’m getting used to it and am finding the saddle quite comfortable. And Nate, my most important reason for choosing a BALANCE saddle, has been much happier in his work. I can’t wait to see the continued improvement in his back muscle development after additional time using the saddle. Thank you for everything.
Nancy – Virginia
You are awesome thanks!!!! I wanted to let you know that I found a Felix GPD online. It was used and in very good condition. I tried it on Mays the last couple of days and she seems to like it very much. I want to thank you for all of your help in selecting the saddle and answering all of my questions. I am a happy girl! Thank you for your role in making me so.
Joanne – Virginia
My 14 year old IDSH mare, Marnie and I have been getting great lessons for some time but, seemed to be in a ‘stuck’ place. It was suggested that I have Gavin Scofield do long distance energy work on her, which began on March 2nd. Gavin was able to diagnose and correct a sacrum problem she had to allow her to use her pelvis more easily and correctly which, in turn is enabling her to work on lifting her back. It soon became clear my saddle was not helping the situation at all, and more likely contributed to her issues. BALANCE saddles were what everyone in my realm were using and swearing by so, I had a Test Ride with Mary and the clear choice for both Marnie and me was the Zenith 9X. She went beautifully in the 8X so, we ordered the 9X to allow for growth… but, then Carol Brett, who always has the welfare of the horse as her top priority, recommended we test the newer Equinox 4 width before committing to the Zenith. Not only was it a less expensive saddle, but it was slightly wider, meaning she would most likely not out grow it. and Carol said most horses who like the Zenith, like the Equinox as much or more. We had nothing to loose.
The saddle arrived on May 24th. It is a lovely saddle and Marnie was very happy to never have the old saddle come near her again! Ultimately, I decided to keep it. I muscle tested often, and continually got a NO on the Zenith 9X and a YES for the Equinox 4 width even though she went better in the Zenith. It is a mystery to me as to why but, I had to listen to that. I can only assume it is because she would outgrow it and the benefits of the more secure fit would be short lived.
I can’t say this saddle is the ‘magic bullet’ I hoped it would be… the missing piece to tthe puzzle… every ride would be perfect from now on… No, it IS a crucial lelment, and we have definitely made big improvements but, I have come to realize that real progress is only going to come through correct work over time and nothing short of that. This saddle simply will not impede that work, and doesn’t mean I can cut corners for improvement! Gavin is done for now and his work really helped Marnie and in this saddle I can get some lovely movement and balance from her, especially in our lessons. But, the biggest factor is how I am riding… learning to relax my joints, maintaining my balance and supporting my horse correctly so she can become properly balanced. This saddle is aiding me in becoming a better rider for my dear horse. She deserves no less.
Many Thanks to Mary and Carol!
Joanne and Marnie
Tori – Virginia
I just wanted to say how much I enjoyed learning from you yesterday and how much of a pleasure you are to work with. Thank you for all your guidance and support in this process! I was truly humbled to witness the multiple horses have such significant transformation in the simple change of a saddle. Thank goodness for your wealth of knowledge and extreme patience as each one of us tried multiple saddles. You knew just what to say and how to say it to each one of us. Thank you so very much for the extra effort and passion you put into helping me find the right saddle for my mare.
Kirsten – Florida
You do a great job Mary. I feel very good about recommending you to my clients – and I am picky! You have been wonderful in the way you reach people without ever making them feel bad or wrong. That is a real gift that I very much enjoy about you.
Kathleen – Florida
“…I want to convey what a huge help and learning experience it was to work with Mary, thank you.”
Marilyn – Delaware
Thank you for all the time you’ve spent helping me learn more about my horses and how we can help them be more comfortable and willing by making sure we use saddles and pads that support their bodies’ movement, rather than hindering it and causing pain.
Ann – New Jersey
Love my new saddle and now can really work on improving my position. My balance is 10x better just doing nothing. I really like the seat on my new saddle also and it’s so nice and soft. It already feels broken in the first time I rode in it so I figure it will only get better! [Robin GPJ 17″]
Diane – Maryland
I really appreciate all the good information you gave me yesterday. It is very educational to have another perspective on my riding and my horse’s movement, especially one so educated.
It was so refreshing to find someone who is knowledgeable about BALANCE saddles and can accurately analyze equine movement. Sometimes I feel as if I am in a knowledge desert when I am surrounded by equestrians who only know what is traditional and conventional, and are satisfied with the little drips of knowledge they get from conventional trainers.
Shawn – Maryland
Thanks so much for your time and expertise in helping me deal with a long-standing issue with my mare. Since Countess has herpes, she is super-sensitive to a wide variety of issues and it shows up in coat and muscling because it interferes so profoundly with her immune system. As a result, despite my use of a BALANCE saddle for the past 5 years, her back and topline have never developed the way I’d hoped. Not only did you listen, and take seriously, all my ‘history’ of my struggle with Countess’ issues but, you immediately identified — and could show me — the crookedness I’d always felt, but could only describe to others. You showed me how what I was feeling was exhibited in Countess’ movement, and in so doing, confirmed my sense that I was essentially straight — that I wasn’t ‘causing’ Countess’s crookedness, or ‘making it up’. In addition, you were able to show me and get me to feel, how to correct her — help her stay straight — which at the same time improved my posture as well as hers.
Admittedly, the changes you made to my position felt pretty dramatic. Actually, it wasn’t that the changes were ‘big’ but more that your explanation of how and why my body position and posture affected Countess’ movement was so straightforward and logical that I had to sulk about my inability to ride and my consequent failure to do the ‘right thing’ for my horse. I sulked for the afternoon during which time I heard you make a very similar correction with a friend whose riding and horse (wo)manship I deeply respect. I believe all good riders are deeply critical of and constantly reassessing their riding. So, I went to work — I did my best to follow your advice.
It required a level of concentration that I sometimes would rather have avoided. Since my riding time is also my ‘down time’, my time to rejuvenate my sense of what is right with the world (rather than what is wrong with it), I found that my ability to focus on reproducing — and maintaining — the position, and all the other little changes you’d suggested, required tremendous concentration. Frankly, there were days when I could sustain it for little more than 15 minutes (and a few, for less than that). I could feel both myself and Couness ‘fall apart’; she would actually start to stumble. I would find pieces of my body to be doing unexpected things — it was time to quit. Which was hard in and of iteself. Sometimes quitting — which did mean getting off Countess’ back — translated into me having to affirm that I was doing the right thing for Countess. And that was hard too, because on many of those days it seemed that my success in maintaining the position/posture was marginal. And as yet, there was precious little visible or other evidence that Countess was experiencing the benefits of either.
However, a month into it, my stirrups are back to the original length. I feel like my upper body and my lower body are no longer in counterpoint. And it is easier — requires a little less focus — to maintain my posture throughout my ride time. I am therefore, able to deepen my awareness of other things, like contact, the accuracy of Countess’ gait changes, tempo as well as rhythm, and really enjoy simply riding. But, the real bonuses are what I was after in the first place, and they are myriad. First, Countess’ entire topline has improved. Her back and neck look and feel strong and solid. The ‘lines’ of her muscles flow beautifully. It’s doubtful a photograph would show it but, it seems to me that the underlying muscular-skeletal system is in harmony and a symphony is just under the skin. Which, by the way, is blooming with shine and a few dapples — extraordinarily rare to see on Countess — and her coat is silky soft. Better yet, she consistently develops ‘good spit’ as we ride which is a huge change; her acceptance of contact has always been fleeting. And MY back is less problematic. I’ve struggled with pain in my hip that I know to be related to vertebra out of alignment in my lower back for over a year. It was bothering me consistently in the months prior to our session. I’ve not changed anything except my riding (swimming truly helps my back but I’ve not been able to fit it into my schedule of late). I’ve become aware that I’m just not experiencing as much annoyance associated with my hip/back in the last few weeks.
So, thank you. Your knowledge and ability to ‘see’ the issues, coupled with your ability to explain what the problem is and HOW TO FIX IT might all have lose on me, if you had not also displayed a deep respect no only for horse-human relationships in general but, also for mine with Countess in particular. I was willing to commit myself to my best effort to make the changes that felt odd, required a significant change in how I spent my time with Countess. It is at a time in my life when that outlay of intellectual energy added to an already difficult to manage set of responsibilities and commitments. Because your approach to the whole situation engendered my trust in your expertise and confirmed that you grasped not only what I was after but, also where I was and how to get me (from) ed. there. I’ve worked with many professionals and experts who, no doubt have knowledge in particular areas that far exceeds my own. I continue to work with only those whose expertise is ‘delivered’ in a package that takes seriously my own experience and knowledge base as well as ‘the problem’. You are rare, I think, in the horse world in that your ‘formula’ for problem solving has at its center the enhancement of the horse-human relationship. It is therefore nuanced and detailed and uniquely fits not (only)ed. horses, not (only)ed. people but, the horse-rider in harmony. And that’s a lovely place to be.