I’m not claiming to be an expert on anything but experimentation. Here’s my version of dressing up a western saddle to go to endurance school:
I have two Specialized saddles that I love and have had great success with shimming to various backs, but my new horse has a very short, flat back and very round barrel. I rode him in an LD with a Specialized not realizing how smooshed my (well used) fitting cushions were, and the saddle slid and gave him sore spots. Not having new fitting cushions right at hand and not ready to pay for more at the moment, I decided to make what I had work with no further expense. Enter this relatively “lightweight” leather Abetta trail saddle:
I bought the Abetta from a friend a few years ago for a few hundred bucks,as it fit Desire when she was fat and rolly polly. I was bringing her back into condition after I weaned Sheza, didn’t have my Specialized yet, and the Abetta was comfortable for me and Desire at the time. Since that time I’ve thrown it on Blaze a handful of times to set kids in for a few minute “pony ride” and that’s about it. It doesn’t really fit Blaze and I wouldn’t use it on him for a real ride of more than a few hundred yards with a child clinging on it to the horn. Basically, it really worked for that because it had a horn! Well now that I wondered if it wouldn’t just fit new guy Scrappy’s short, straight back, I quickly decided that the horn was the main liability. Having started in and preferring to ride English (and now endurance-style saddles), I’ve knocked the wind out of myself on a western saddle horn leaning forward instinctively to charge up a hill, and caught my bra on a horn when dismounting. I know lots of people are used to them and consider them an asset but I knew I wouldn’t want to deal with it on 30+ mile rides. Also, the awful little hard leather stirrups were unbearable for my feet and the seam in the saddle wore quarter size raw spots on my inner thighs on a hilly 13 mile ride the other day. Clearly this puppy needed some tinkering to become endurance ready!
First Things First: Stirrups
As I mentioned, the hard narrow leather stirrups were terrible on the feet over even low miles. The fenders were too fat at the bottom to just attach my spare endurance stirrups normally, so N and I chatted about the possibilities of rigging on endurance stirrups when we rode the other day. She suggested a method she’d seen and read about where you use dog collars or some strong strap equivalent to “lash” the stirrups on the bottoms of the fenders.
Now I must pause to confess that one bridle died in the making of this happy saddle saga. I had a bizarre bitless/sidepull/something-or-other beta bridle that was given to me years ago and had never fit any of my horses to my liking. There were ropes and loops and rings and all sorts of salvageable parts on it so I started unbuckling and cutting things off.
I used two thick beta straps unbuckled off the bridle and wrapped twice around the stirrup and the bottom of the fender, and liked the free swinging feel of the stirrups this way, as it accommodates the angle of my stiffer right ankle. Obviously only some longer test rides will tell the success of it:
I had a sawsall and I wasn’t afraid to use it. Things started great as the leather and wood parted like butter under the blade.
1/2″ in all the way around, and I suddenly wasn’t getting anywhere. Turns out the horn was bolted into the saddle and there was at least 1/2″ of metal to get through in there. My old battered sawsall blade wasn’t cutting it, in fact most of the teeth were dulled beyond recognition, and my forearms were starting to go numb from the sawsall attack.
When In Doubt, Organize Something
I got annoyed and impatient at this point, posted a whiny query about removing the horn on Facebook, and started therapeutically rearranging my tack room instead. Tah.Dah.
The Attachment Issue
With the horn gone, the stirrups rigged, and the saddle cover on, my last issue was attaching pommel bags and breastcollar. The saddle didn’t have any rings up front, just two leather tabs for running excess girth strap back up through and two more smaller tabs closer to the pommel that had long leather strings woven through it. At first I rigged rings on each side with zip ties but I didn’t think they were strong enough so I removed the zip ties and leather straps from the small top loops entirely and looped beta bit hangers, with an extra ring on each, on to the leather tabs. That way I had the ring to clip to and run pommel straps through, and the clip of the bit hanger hanging that I could attach things to:
I rigged my pommel bag on using the ring I added up top, the excess girth strap tabs on each side, and taking a turn around the girth rings each time. This is the larger size pommel bag and had lots of long straps.
Now just add breastcollar and fleecy cinch and viola, the western saddle to endurance comfort transformation is complete! Actually I think the final touch would be to put on cinch straps that aren’t leather because sweaty leather sucks to deal with on the trail! Other than that though, this puppy is looking pretty comfortable!