September 29, 2021 6 min read
When I first sat down with Bob via Google Meets, I was struck by the fact that he looks like a true Wild West cowboy. The large mustache only added to his big presence, even virtually, and I knew I was in for a fun conversation with someone who had some great stories to tell. Boy, was I right.
As Breeches.com’s virtual saddle fit master, Bob Schneder has a unique and interesting background that has made him into the expert horseman he is today. Bob was first introduced to horses at a very young age when he and his brother would help the owner of a local pony riding ring to break ponies and get them ready to take to a carnival or fair. At the age of 11 years old, he started learning farriery, a skill that eventually turned into a long career. As Bob got older, he decided to retire from some of the more physical aspects of horse training and farriery and turned to saddle fitting and leather work instead. Starting with headstalls, he naturally progressed to saddle making, repair, and fitting. Bob studied under equine chiropractor Greg Neuman and learned to palpate horses and adjust the saddle accordingly. Over his varied career path, he has been a saddle fit instructor for both English and Western saddles.
With a veritable wealth of information to pull from, Bob’s virtual saddle fitting appointments are enjoyable and robust. He has forgotten more about horses than I could ever hope to know and is happy to share his knowledge with anyone willing to sit down and learn. Our interview ranged in topics from what it was like breaking ponies at 9 years old to how his time as an engineer gave him an eye for details. It was difficult to distill our hour-and-a-half long interview into a short blog, but hopefully you’ll find all of the answers to your questions about virtual saddle fitting below.
A: I’ve fit both English and Western saddles. Even Australian saddles as well. The good thing about virtual saddle fitting is that you can work with people worldwide, so I’ve fit a wide range of saddles, including ones that aren’t just HDR. Western saddle fitting is just now starting to become more prevalent, as more Western riders are starting to listen to us. English saddles have been wool-flocked and required fitters to keep them in good shape as far back as ever. The equipment has improved across the board too, as we become more cognitive about horse care, like with bits. There’s so much more that we know about horse care now, so saddle fitting is becoming more and more common across the board.
A: If the saddle is too far down in front, it pushes the rider forward and kicks the feet out behind you, causing you to arch your back to get your feet forward. This winds up hurting your hips, shoulders, and throws everything out of alignment. When you balance the saddle and get everything lined up correctly, all the equitation is right. I tell my clients a lot, “if you get the geometry right, the physics work.” The key to saddle fit is to take two living breathing organisms and have them work together through the saddle. You can’t reason with the horse so the saddle has to fit the horse first. And a lot of their habits are because we ride incorrectly. Most horses are left-handed, because we do things like always stand on the mounting block to the left. This makes them develop a strong left wither and a strong right hip. The right shoulder will be weak, lacking support, causing the horse to overcompensate on the left.
A: Right now, we’re developing a gullet gage. This will tell us what gullet to start with and takes out any trial and error. We’re continuously working to improve the product. We’ve worked really hard in the past year or so developing the HDR saddles. The current saddles are phenomenal. You can customize them, such as adding extra rings for endurance. Definitely the best saddles yet. One silversmith even western-ed it up. Added silver to the cantle, saddle keeper, big silver nail heads. HDR saddles have a great resale value because there’s always someone that can use a starter saddle. It’s a really really quality saddle, we’ve worked a lot of the bugs out of it, it’s reliable and greatly improved over the last year. HDR has done a great job of creating an entry-level saddle. The new leather is softer than ever, it’s durable but requires almost no break-in.
A: The initial fit is done on Zoom, you’re supposed to send me a series of pictures when you register and do a questionnaire. These aren’t vanity pictures. These pictures are needed for conformation, so we know how to set the saddle up. All the follow up stuff is done just over the phone or through pictures. Usually I’ll ask for pictures of the saddle, shim pad, shims, and send a series of pictures showing them how to trim the shim pads. It’s great- you can take the phone in the barn, take pictures. I’ll show them what to do, they go ride, tell me how it goes, and go from there. Virtual saddle fit really works pretty well, excellent for people in remote locations, and even across language barriers. Most of the time the horse isn’t there. It’s just you and I chatting. There’s a survey they’re supposed to take, asking if they have any existing HDR saddles to fit. If they do fine, if they don’t I can help them pick something out.
A: It’s really important that you fill out everything in the questionnaire and take quality pictures. Those five pictures give me everything I need to know about how to fit the saddle with adjustable gullets and shim pad. All HDR saddles are built on the same tree, so with the right shim pad we can make them fit pretty much any horse.
A: Sometimes even just a shim pad can make a world of difference. I usually recommend the Thinline half pad, as it’s the thinnest pad we have, and I don't want to keep piling stuff up. Combining a saddle and a shim pad is usually the least expensive package we can put together for the client. There are even several different shimmable pads for western riders as well. I was at one horse show and a girl and her horse were struggling to get around the barrels. We shimmed a pad to help the saddle fit better, and they went from not being able to get around the barrels to winning champion. Another benefit of a shim pad is that you can fit one saddle to multiple horses.
A: I don’t have a big problem with foam, I don’t have a problem with the air, or wool. A lot of it is price and the availability of a quality saddle fitter, which is needed for wool. HDR does offer some wool flocked, but uses interchangeable gullets which, married with the Thinline shim pad, can fit almost any horse at a reasonable cost. Wool vs foam vs air starts coming in when you’re using a specific saddle for specific horses. With a shim pad you can fit one saddle to multiple horses. With a wool flocked saddle you can’t do that. It’s kind of like the difference between sitting in a straight back kitchen chair vs a bean bag chair. Wool is like the bean bag chair- it imprints to that one horse. Foam has greatly improved in the last few years. It’s really a matter of personal preference.
If you and your horse are struggling with connection, impulsion, a sore back, or something just doesn’t feel right under saddle, schedule your virtual saddle fit appointment with Bob. Whether you want to change the fit of your current HDR saddle or you’re in the market for a new one, Bob can help you and your horse find the right saddle for you.
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