One of the most asked questions out there, is how we saddle up Lillen and with what. There is no secret that our equipment looks a bit odd, so I thought I’d introduce you to the how’s and why’s.
One of the biggest concern Internet has for Lillen and saddles, is that they are way too far back. Now, I’ve explained this several times, but I’ll gladly do it again: You cannot look at the placement of the girth when you look at where his saddle has to sit.
Seeing as he is a gigantic horse with anatomically fitting gigantic shoulder blades, the saddle needs to be further back then we’re used to. On a normal horse, the rule of thumb says you should be able to fit three fingers in-between the saddle and the end of the shoulder-blade. Seeing as Lillen is a gigantic horse, you need equal gigantic fingers for that rule (of thumb) to be accurate. For us normal people with normal fingers, the space required is probably a whole hand or more. That means his saddle will be further back for him to move freely.
This naturally leads to his girth hanging further back than the “normal”. A draft is not built to carry a saddle, so you will see this on a lot of drafts – but the girth simply can’t be right behind the front legs, because that would require you to pull the girth straps on the saddle further forward and “force” it in place, which again will lead to the back of the saddle being pushed down on his back, and lead to pain.
Another rule (not of thumb this time) is that the saddle should never rest behind the last rib, because his loin cannot carry weight. And all that is true, but if Lillen’s saddle slips 30cm backwards because we didn’t tighten the girth enough, we would still sit on his ribcage because his back is so long. Thus not damaging his back, nor putting weight on his kidneys. It’ll just look a little weird. Also keep in mind that Lillen carries no more than about 5% of his weight when we ride him, so even though saddle fitting has to be taken serious, a small mistake won’t destroy him.
Now, looking at the saddles we’ve used for Lillen, they often puzzle people a little because they look very different.
This is the saddle many wonder about. This saddle is a treeless one; it doesn’t have a brand on it and we bought it secondhand, but we assume it’s from Hööks. Probably an older version of this one. It’s pretty ugly and has surely seen better days, but it works pretty much like a bareback pad. Underneath we usually have a Grandeur pad for better weight distribution, or a reindeer pelt (for the same reason).
The fact that it is treeless also gives ut a little ease on where we can put it. No tree means rubbish weight distribution (which we try to compensate for by adding proper pads), so the saddle wont push down on his back on places where we don’t sit. Now, I apologize for my rubbish english (it’s my second language, I know) and ability to explain, but hear me out:
A normal saddle with a tree (dressage, show jumping, western saddles etc.) will take your weight and even it out on the whole surface of the saddle. Meaning that if the saddle is half a meter long, it will evenly distribute your weight on that half a meter of saddle. A treeless saddle doesn’t do this, and although we attempt to alter it into doing so nevertheless, our weight will never fully reach the end of the saddle. So naturally, if the saddle slips and ends up a bit further back than we planned it to, we will most likely not put weight on his kidneys.
I even edited in this scapula for you to see what I mean – if the saddle is placed any further forward it will stay on top of his shoulder. Now, if you think that limiting shoulder movement is a totally fair thing to do, sure, slam the saddle on and whip your horse forward! Or maybe accept that this also is an issue when it comes to draft saddle fitting. The girth will be further back, but his shoulder will be free to move.
Also his last rib ends roughly by the calf of the rider, so even though they curve a little, the saddle is not further back than the last rib, ensuring the kidneys are not damaged.
This is my saddle, and this too is fairly treeless. It’s the Startrekk Espaniola by Deuber und Partner, and have an adjustable gullet (only 1 gullet, but you can adjust it with a screwdriver) and adjustable panels underneath. This saddle sits comfortably on both Lillen and Brego (don’t know if that says more about Brego or Lillen to be honest).
The saddle features a leather “tree” which makes it very stable. It looks and feels like a normal saddle, so it’s also used as a normal saddle. Often seen with just a saddle pad underneath, or a reindeer pelt for better weight distribution.
You can see it here too – if we put the saddle further forward, it will crash into his wither and shoulder. The girth still puts pressure on the breastbone (remember that his ribcage is huge) and doesn’t cause him pain. We also have a very loose girth when we ride, so he have no issues with this setup.
Now, I don’t actually own this one pad anymore, but from time-to-time I post pictures of it, so I thought I’d let you know. This is the Christ Horsedream Iberica Plus, a bareback pad made of sheep skin. It has no tree nor gullet and is soft and squishy all around. I sold this because I didn’t use it a whole lot, but now I regret that so I’m looking for a new one.
Also we ride a lot like this. Bareback! Simply because there are no good draft tree-saddles that we can actually afford. That is also the reason why saddles are treeless, it is way more difficult to find and fit a “proper” saddle and saddles like we own tend to be more comfortable for him.
If you see a picture/video of the saddle any further back than pictures in this blog post, know that it is because it has slipped and that we most likely have adjusted it seconds after the pic/vid was taken.
And as far as actually putting the saddle up there, we just lift it up like we would on any other horse. If we don’t feel like stretching up on our tippytoes for that, we get a stool. Nothing special to see there 😛