Lucinda Green kicked the evening off talking about how she first tried Amerigo saddles years ago and felt that they were not the saddle for her as she felt ‘unsafe’ in them. Instead she used another leading brand for years until Peter Menet, the designer of Amerigo saddles persuaded Lucinda to give them another go. Lucinda said that the designs had evolved and she had not gone back since.
Lucinda then introduced Peter Menet. Peter had a demo horse and was showing the audience the influences of saddlery on the horse. The horse needs to be optimised to perform in a saddle and you can buy the best saddle in the world but you still need to be able to ride. Performance is vital but the saddle needs to be comfortable and correct.
Peter used the feeling of having a stone in your shoe and that his aim with designing saddles was to make sure that feeling was avoided. The stone in your shoe would not stop you performing but it would limit you and be uncomfortable.
The whole aim with getting a saddle to work is to allow the horses back to come up so that the neck can come down. This is what you are aiming for though you can with a badly fitting saddle get the opposite happen with the back hollow and the neck up. If there is a block at the back of the saddle then the horse cannot bring the back up.
When starting to assess a horse, Peter always starts with the teeth. ‘If a horse has bad teeth then the neck comes up.’ The second check point is that of the horses jaw. Again this should not be blocked as the horse cannot use his back. He then moves the wither and shoulders before assessing the point of hip and the sacrum. Peter is looking for weaknesses and which leg is stronger. Horses will always have a degree of being unsymmetrical so you need to make sure you are taking this into account when fitting a saddle. From here he then moves to the girth area and these are his key points for assessment.
When looking at the bridle you do not want the buckles too high because otherwise they will sit on the facial nerves. Peter deliberately designed Amerigo bridles to take this into account by shortening the cheek pieces and lengthening the head piece. A simple tip that we can all look at with our bridles. The other area to look at with bridles is behind the ears which are very sensitive and so your browband should always be long enough.
The saddle should allow freedom of the shoulder and the saddle should reflect the horse. You do not pressure on the loins so the saddle should enable the weight of the rider to be more towards the withers. Peter has very clear ideas on saddle pads and says they should be organic like the horse and that far too many saddle pads are too straight yet a horse is not straight along its back.
What was fascinating was Peter talk about how he encourages show jumpers to use wool pads half pads under their saddles. This is to help the horse in landing and stop the point of the tree digging into the shoulder over big jumps. The wool pad means the horse is not punished on landing. Peter has specifically designed half pads for this job with Mattes. They are shaped for the horse and spine free.
Peter then moved onto looking at the girth. ‘Girths often block the ribcage and get caught on the elbows. Consistency for girths is vital.’ The aspect that was particularly interesting was Peter highlighting that every horse has a girth position and that the horse decides where it fits best on the sternum. For this reason Peter designed Amerigo saddles with four girth straps to help this. The girth should be vertical on the sternum and if you turn the horse on a tight circle the elbow should be free and not touch the girth.
A breastplate should give the horse freedom while doing its job. It should not constrict the horse through the chest or over the shoulder. If you constrict the shoulder then you are also restricting the stretch of the neck and over the back.
At the end Peter was asked what was the most common saddle fault that he often saw. Peter said it was essential to look at the horse and ask yourself if it was the horse or the saddle which was the problem. If it was the saddle which was the issue then the most common issue which he saw was the saddle blocking the inside hind. This means the hind leg would move slower.
The whole talk was only about fifteen minutes long but a fascinating discussion and it would be great to learn more especially about the saddle and biomechanics.