Tuesday, September 23, 2008


Six months ago or so a dressage trainer introduced me to the Thin Line Pad. My horse at the time and I both suffered from back problems and it was love at first sight with the super thin, super shock-absorbent pad. We both felt much better using this pad.

A short time later, I got a pad of my own. I chose the Thin Line contour pad which is slightly thicker than the Ultra Thin Line I originally rode in because, according to the company literature, it was specifically made for people or horses with back issues. The Thin Line has nearly as much shock absorbency but allows for a slightly closer fit. According to the company website,, “Ultra ThinLine is the only saddle pad endorsed by surgeons for riders with back problems.” I don’t know about surgeons but I can tell you it made a huge difference for my horse and me.

I was so enamored with the pad that I bought their open front and hind boots as well. Not very scientific of me, but I figured quality was quality; if the company’s product worked that well on my horse’s back they should be just as protective and shock absorbing on the legs. I love the fit and the fact that they are so easy to take care of. They also disperse heat and have anti-fungal agents that promote healthy skin no matter how many horses you use the boots or pads on.

Michelle tried the pad out and was soon ordering a pad for herself. Next thing I know she’s telling other clients to get one and now nearly everyone uses the pads and some even have the boots as well. Here’s what Michelle likes about the product:

“For horses that need a little protection I love the contour pad because the saddle stays put (no rolling or shifting side to side) and it doesn’t interfere with saddle fit. The sheepskin saddle pad is great for horses who are a little more sensitive/cold backed, but you don't feel like your too far from your horse. I love the open front boots for their clean look and shock absorbing protection in a lightweight, great fitting boot. Even Dixie doesn’t get boot rubs with these. The full boots have a great cut. The hind boots esp. cover everything important and have a double Velcro closure that ensures they stay put. They are easy to clean (very important) and heavy duty enough to wear for cross-country. So far I love everything Thin Line and you know how picky I am!!”

And she is very picky, trust me. On a final note, the other great feature of Thin Line products is that they are much more affordable than comparable boots and pads from other companies. I truly believe that you get what you pay for but in this case, Thin Line goes above and beyond to give you a great, durable product at a really reasonable price.

So that’s the Sapphire recommendation for the week. (The pictures here are from the Thin Line website, fyi -- check it out for more views.) Best of all, they have a 30 day money back return policy so you know they believe in their product.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Congrats to Those at the SBRC Show 9/13 - 14!

Big shout out to Michelle, Nick and Sarah for a job well done at the Santa Barbara Riding Club's Back to School Show on Sept. 13 & 14. Michelle and Dixie earned a first and second - not bad considering the number of shows Dixie has gone to still number in the single digits. Sarah hung tough and earned the right to bump up to the 3' 6" class while Nick went through the adult rite of passage - he was edged out of the ribbons by a kid on a pony! Welcome to the world of grown-ups!

Next show - the Flintridge Derby!

Sunday, September 14, 2008


If you’ve ridden for any length of time you know how hard it is to find a saddle that fits both you and your horse. Find one that fits AND helps you keep your position and you’ve found the Holy Grail.

The only sure way to get this kind of fit is to get a custom saddle made specifically to fit you and your horse. Admit it – we’ve all dreamed of getting a custom saddle. Beyond the practical appeal it just sounds so damn cool! So when my barn mate Carolyn needed a new saddle, our trainer Michelle convinced her to let her call Thierry Guiberteau from Antares. (His first name is pronounced “terry” like the towel. You’re on your own for the rest!) You have to realize that Michelle is on her second Antares and is dedicated to converting the world one rider at a time. Impoverished Bates saddle owner that I am, I decided to tag along for the ride.

First of, “tag along” is just a turn of phrase; Thierry and his assistant Jim plus several saddles came out to the boonies to try and fit Carolyn and her TB mare, Ceilidh. Even though I knew some of the basics of saddle fitting before he came out, I have to admit the whole thing was a fascinating experience.

The first thing Thierry did was watch Carolyn ride Ceilidh to get an idea of the issues they were dealing with. He noticed right off that Carolyn has a very dressage-y leg even in a jump saddle. That’s perhaps due to Ceilidh having been on a long, slow rehab program after an injury last year so all they’ve been doing is flat work and often bare back. Carolyn also has a very long thigh, which makes saddle fitting a little difficult.

It was pretty cool that Thierry never measured anything. He claims that he doesn’t need to measure – he can see and feel all he needs to know. Picking a sample saddle that might work, Thierry checked how the saddle fit Ceilidh. First he looked at the wither clearance – you don’t want it too high or it could pinch the wither and inhibit the horse’s forward motion. Of course, too low and it will press on the withers and also inhibit the horse’s motion.
Then he checked the rear of the saddle to make sure it sat flat on the horse’s back. Too much wobbling up and down is bad for both your ride and your horse.

Finally, he put his hand under the knee flap to check the fit there. Again, you don’t want the saddle too tight there or be uneven or it will inhibit your horse’s ability to move forward from his (or her) shoulder.

Next came the moment of truth; Carolyn got in the sample saddle and rode around the arena. And then the next. And the next. As Thierry pointed out, it’s a little like trying on shoes. You may not know what you like but you’ll know right away what you don’t like. Which means trying saddle after saddle to see what works for you AND your horse.

Here’s something I didn’t know: the term "thigh block" is a slight misnomer. Your thigh should never touch the thigh (or rear) block. The block should create a channel in the flap that helps your leg hold its position without giving you a solid object to brace against.

If you ever get a custom saddle fitted (or custom anything for that matter) don’t be afraid to discuss any question or issues you have with the fitter. Thierry’s amazing but he can’t read your mind. He and Carolyn had long discussions about what they liked and didn’t like about each saddle. In the end, with input from both of them they decided on a combo of the flap from one saddle and with a slightly larger knee block from the other.

And that’s what a custom saddle is all about, getting exactly the bits and pieces from several saddles put together into one special package. Carolyn prefers a deeper, wider seat than Michelle, for instance. She also got the mono-flap to give her a closer contact but had the saddle made out of rough leather rather than calfskin for greater durability (and lower price).

So why aren’t we all rushing out to get a custom saddle? For most people, the stumbling block is the perception that they are outrageously more expensive than an “off the rack” model. Actually it wasn’t too bad at the end of the day, especially if you added in all the perks. For a little over $4,000, Carolyn got a custom saddle that’s fully guaranteed to fit her freaky long legs and her horse’s wonky back. Really – guaranteed. She’ll have thirty days to make sure the saddle is what she wants. If not, Thierry will come back out and help figure out what the problem is & make the appropriate adjustments or give her a brand new saddle if necessary. One friend found her new saddle was hurting her back. Thierry figured out that the problem was the flap, took the saddle back and rebuilt it – AT NO CHARGE. Now our friend Nahmi couldn’t be happier.

We’ll let you know in two months when the saddle comes in if Carolyn feels the same way!

To check out Antares products and the gajillion combinations of seat, flap, leather and designs you have to choose from, visit their website at If you’re in southern California, you can also contact Thierry directly at Just be sure to mention that you heard about it from the Sapphire blog!