Why saddles especially made for Icelandic horses are usually reccommended for them
Sometimes people wonder why it’s such a common phrase that you should buy an Icelandic saddle, or a saddle especially made for Icelandics, to ride them. Now, why is that?There is nothing that says that you HAVE to ride in an icelandic saddle (meaning a saddle made especially for Icelandics). But many of the saddles not made for Icelandics get the Icelandics on the forehand. The main reason is, that they put the weight of the rider too much forward, the rider is thus resting it’s weight on top of the withers of the horse, or very close to being on top of the withers, and even interfering with the movement of the shoulderblade (when the horse lifts it’s leg and takes a step in tolt, there is a huge rotation happening in the shoulderblade, and the horse should not have to squeeze the shoulderblade under the saddle in every step). To get the Icelandic to free it’s withers and get off the forehand (thus getting less pacy, less trotty, and with more footlift), you have to be resting your weight a bit more behind on the horse than you do on many (I can’t say all, as I haven’t seen all saddles in the world) endurance, dressage, western and other such saddles.
The horse simply works better that way. But if you’re riding a horse that is all on the forehand, and the saddle is adding to that sensation, but the non-icelandic saddle you ride the horse in is not poking the horse in the back or the withers, and you’re not dissatisfied by having the horse on the forehand, that’s of course okay. But if you want to be able to change the movements of the horse towards cleaner tolt, towards moving up and down in the withers and using the behind as a motor to carry the horse and move it forward, that is, if you want to do any kind of basic collection, it is at best very hard, and at worst totally in vain, if your weight is counteracting this process all the time. I guess that many trainers have a hard time explaining exactly why an icelandic saddle is better, they’ve probably never thought about it, but simply see that the same horse moves better in a good icelandic tolt saddle than other types of saddles. This does not mean that all saddles made for icelandics are good, there are differences between how they are made, but a good Icelandic saddle helps you collect your horse.
It seems as though the position of the stirrup leather on an Icelandic saddle is further back and straighter down than more typical English or endurance models. This keeps the leg more toward the middle of the horse and also away from the sides of the horse.
The tree, and consequently the panels of the Icelandic saddle are generally more flexible than traditional English and endurance models. That helps the horse free the shoulder, it improves saddle fitting and makes it less likely that the horse gets sore from the saddle.Anyway, this is just some food for thought. Not all saddles made for Icelandics are great, and some saddles made for other breeds work superbly for Icelandics and their gaits, but give this some thought before selecting a saddle for your horse: Is the saddle fitting your horse (or does it poke it somewhere, or doesn’t give the shoulderblade space enough to rotate), and is it helping centering your center of weight over the center of weight of the horse?
What is it then if the horse is on the forehand?
The forehand is not a certain anatomical spot on the horse, it is the front end of the horse, around the withers. But, when I’m trying to describe what’s happening, it’s often easier to think about it as the balance of the horse.
Imagine that you’re looking at the side of a horse, head to left, tail to right. And imagine that there is a see-saw going through the horse, the middle of the see-saw is a bit behind the withers, and one end of the see-saw is towards the head (the forehand), the other end of the see-saw is towards the tail (I’ll call it the hind, I’m not sure, should we call it hunches?).
A young horse that is free out in pasture has about equal balance, it is carrying about half it’s weight with the front part, half it’s weight by the hind, the see-saw is straight like —-^—-
When a rider is put on the young horse, he destroys it’s balance temporarily, it get’s on the forehand, it’s carrying the weight of the rider mostly with the front part of it’s body. You see the horse lower it’s neck, it looks a bit like it’s struggling. The see-saw is toppling to the left (towards the head) like there was a heaver person sitting on the right end of the see-saw than the other end.
As you ride the horse more, the horse gets stronger, gets a better balance, and you start working a bit on the beginning of collection, then you get the natural balance again, the see-saw is straight again. It’s the goal of training for collection and better tolt, to regain the natural balance of the horse, and preferably going even further, so that the horse starts carrying a bigger part of it’s and your’s weight with the hind. Then you feel the free movement of the withers, and then you have an easier time to get a clean tolt etc etc. The see-saw is toppling to the right.
If we connect this again with the saddle question, that if the saddle is undermining your work to achieve the goal to change the balance like this, you’ll have to work much harder to get the same goals, it’s harder for the horse, and you might even never get much results because it’s simply too hard for both you and the horse.