What is 3 x 2, and does this saddle fit?
Bear with me, this might be long…
I’m going to ask a series of questions, and each is a different type to the previous one. We’ll build from the very simplest, and end up in a fairly complex area. Put on your philosophy hat and let’s go!
Question 1: What is 3 x 2 ?
First off, the answer is 6. It’s not close to 6, usually 6 or “I think I it’s 6”. It’s not “as far as we know 6ish”, it’s not that 6 is our best guess until we’ve done more research, and the answer won’t be more accurate if we consult an expert, and it’s not somewhere in the range 5 to 7. It’s a well-defined question with a well-defined answer. It’s a known, provable answer*, invariant over time, and completely empirical (ie not at all subjective).
Having beaten that to death… let’s go on to the next question, which is at the opposite end of the scale:
Question 2: What is the best colour?
If you like things to be neat, you’re likely to be squirming at the messiness of this one! It’s not even a well-defined question! Best colour for what? For a horse or for a bedroom wall? What about the assumption that there is a ‘best’ colour in the first place?
What constitutes a colour, and how could we communicate which of the infinite range of observable colours we’re referring to?
Even if one of us picks an answer, it isn’t ‘the’ answer, it’s just an opinion, and one that will change over a lifetime, and in different situations.
This question is every type of vague and it makes me itchy to think about so let’s draw a graph…
You can see that even if we oversimplify everything horribly, and stick about 17 different attributes on one set of axes, it’s clear that most of our real-life questions will fall somewhere in that big gap in the middle. These will be questions that might have several answers, where extra research might help, where education opinion comes into play. They might be questions that are less well-defined, or where the answer varies over time.
Question 3: How many people are there on the earth? … How about now?
This is a well-defined question and there actually is an answer at any instant. It’s not a matter of opinion. The problem is, it’s continually changing and practically impossible to figure out the exact answer, no matter how much extra money we throw at it.
But this one’s even worse:
Question 4: How many people are there in Nashville?
Aaaarghhh! This one has all the problems of the previous one, and some new issues… Are we counting Brentwood? What about the people driving along I40? Not only is it changing all the time, but it’s not even clearly defined. The best we could get is a working approximation. This question starts to make me twitch with its messiness.
Ok, now you’ve had a quick peek at the irritating messiness of real-life questions, let’s address the important ones:
Question 5: Is this horse sound?
Are you twitching yet? Let’s talk about that sound horse… the question as posed contains a huge assumption: that it has a yes/no answer. Of course it doesn’t. Soundness is a range, from “all its legs are broken” to close to 100% sound. The only nice thing about this question is that at any instant, there is an answer. We can’t see the answer, but there is one! We can get a better answer by asking a bigger expert, and by throwing more resources at it. And of course the answer will have changed before we know it.
At this point we could also throw in a completely subjective perspective: sound enough for what? “Sound enough to be happy doing 30 minute walk trot lessons for little kids” is one end of a huge range which might end in “Sound enough to compete at Badminton, Rolex and Burghley without any maintenance”.
This question is about as messy, ill-defined, subject to opinion, difficult to measure, and variable over time, as a question can be.
What could be worse?
Question 6: Does This Saddle Fit?
Here we go…
All of the above!
Plus, not only is the horse’s back changing day-by-day as he grows, but also continuously as he moves. So even if the profile of the underside of the panels was an exact match to his back while standing in the cross ties, it will not match the shape of his back when his right front and left hind are reaching forward in trot! If it fits standing still, the back of it will be 6 inches above him at the height of his bascule over a 5ft fence. If it matches his back when he’s chillin, it’s going to fit like a banana in the piaffe!
Just like the soundness of the horse, we have a vast scale of saddle-fit. At one end, yes there are saddles that fit about as well as 4 broken legs. Too wide, too narrow, too long, bendy banana panels on a flat backed mutton-withered pony – these are all clearly a No. But is there a ‘yes’ at the other end of the scale? In my opinion, no, there is no 100% perfect saddle fit. We can get better saddle fit, and to some extent, throwing more intelligence and resources at it can help.
So where does that leave us? Wandering in a vast messy quagmire of unanswerable questions…… but wait! I have some hope for you.
Let’s throw some subjectivity into the mix: Does this saddle fit … well enough for what?
See! Now that you understand that there is no perfect saddle fit, you have a little more wiggle room. The “perfect” saddle for your horse would be “Dont ride your Horse”! Working back from that, of course the higher you go in dressage the more precisely you need the saddle to connect you to the horse, and that gets expensive. At the opposite end of the scale, it’s almost impossible to hurt a sturdy Qh toting a 3 year old around for 10 minutes, no matter how badly that lead line saddle fits.
And somewhere in the middle is your horse! So we decide on priorities and budget and we do the best we can within the constraints, with a strong focus on how good is good enough, or how close to perfection should we get. The really good news is that often I see saddles that fit like 4 broken legs and so improvement can be quick and inexpensive.
And the best news of all is that new saddles are designed with long-term adjustability in mind. We can change the tree size tomorrow and again next week, next month, next year, and for the next horse. We can change the flocking, add some at the front, remove it as he develops, continually rebalance the saddle if we need to!
All that, and we haven’t even started to look at the fit for the rider!