And no I am not talking about drinking establishments ;)
In this case I am talking about stirrup bars. On most saddles they are notoriously placed too far forward making it difficult for a rider to maintain the shoulder, hip, heel line and their center. This problem was brought into glaring focus when Mom and I went to see Swayze and his owner for a lesson.
She has the additional problem of the saddle balance being off too. The saddle sits a bit low in the back, which gives the rider the feeling they need to lean forward. One way to check the balance is to roll a pencil down the horse's back and make a chalk mark on the body where it will be visible once the saddle is on. Then do the same to the seat of the saddle. In Swayze's case the saddle's center is about an inch or so behind his natural center. Mixed with badly placed stirrup bars and tension makes for a jammed leg and loss of center. Unfortunately you can't solve the discrepancy by putting a pad under the seat. That will lower the front of the saddle and put pressure on the wither/shoulder area creating a whole new problem. His owner just has to work with the issue and adjust until another saddle can be found.
To help with the stirrup bar issue, Mom moved the leather to sit further back on the bar. A temporary fix, but the difference was apparent right away. Swayze's walk opened and his owner looked less braced. I really wish I had a camera because they were like a different pair. Mom recommended she buy some tubing to put on the bars to keep her leathers further back.
Her walk warm up was really good and relaxed. Into the trot, that relaxation stayed. We helped by reminding her not to pinch with the knee. When she pinched at the knee, her leg would invariably jam forward bringing tension to her and Swayze. If she opened her knee, maintained her position Swayze responded softly. All during this time she actually kept a longer rein, which is a big step up for this pair.
Unfortunately, the temporary fix failed and her leg moved forward. She lost her center causing tension to flow from her to him. Mom and I could see the downward cycle. I will say she was much improved handling the tension than previously. We worked with her and tried to see what was up with Swayze. Was he bored? Was he being naughty? Or was he in pain? His owner made some headway, but Swayze did give her a few bucks. Luckily, keeping her knee open puts her more around the horse and she was not displaced during the bucks. That behavior really did not seem like him. At about the same time both Mom and I realized I needed to get on him to see what was up. His owner, at this point was not going to find her relaxation again, so it was better to stop.
So I literally crawled on the the 17h+ Swayze. I credit our Wintec Isabel with the fact that I did not have an issue with the stirrup bar placement. It is one saddle with bars placed correctly and has helped my muscle memory. As I rode him, Mom used me to point out to his owner about position. His owner is awesome about observation and applying to herself. Swayze was really falling onto his right inside shoulder, so I did a little lateral work to pick him up. At times he would just stop and I would ask him to move on. At his trot he listened and only needed about 5 pounds of pressure compared to the last time I rode him. But he never gave me the relaxation. When I added lateral to the trot work, I got a buck. It was like he would try to give me what I wanted and then just pitch a fit. He showed more resistance with me than his owner since my boundaries were more solid. I looked down at the saddle and realized the fit around his withers and where it contacted his back was tight. I mean I could not even wiggle a finger underneath. Both Mom and I think he is getting pinched. He does not have enough clearance. I feel bad for his owner because she just had the saddle fitted. She is going to try a sheepskin pad or ride bareback.
I am also going to bring Peggy's dressage treeless to try on him. Untacked we noticed Swayze has lost some muscling around his withers to the extent it looks atrophied. Hopefully the sheepskin, treeless and bareback will give him room to build that muscle back.
In the end the battle of the badly placed bars grew into the war of saddle fit. We lost this one, but have better intel for the next time.