One size saddle fits all horses .... and all 'hoomans' too it seems !
It seems obvious that choosing the right pony for your child is the right thing to do. No matter if you, or the child, has aspirations to jump round Badminton or to have a 'dancing horse', or simply to enjoy the company and experiences that a pony can bring, you don't want one that has a 'history' of poor behaviour, will run up the vet's bills, be too big (or small) for your youngster or just not provide the enjoyment that you both want - and at the end of the day it should all be about enjoyment shouldn't it ! All of that is reasonable and are not unwarranted desires, however, often times little thought is given to the tack and equipment that either, comes along with the new pony, or should be used when it arrives. Many ponies for youngsters can be described as 'native' - Welsh Section A's or B's, Connemara's, Exmoor's, Shetland's etc - and even the most experienced saddle fitters will tell you (if they're being honest) that it's very hard to fit a saddle to these kind of ponies. The fact they change shape so much during the year, that some come with conformational issues ('flat backed', wide shoulders etc) or pre-existing health and welfare issues that may have been caused by previous inappropriate saddles are just a few of the problems encountered. This is where the Total Contact Saddle comes into its own !
The same saddle is being used with this big fella and on the photo in the thumbnail photo for this blog
The Total Contact Saddle (TCS) has no defined shape unlike a normal treed saddle and so 'wraps' around the pony no matter what shape they are (or become). It was originally designed for elite level show jumping and has been used in international competitions, however, it's also very useful for youngsters to learn to ride in as well.
The TCS places the rider just behind the centre of gravity of the pony and so makes it easier for the pony to carry the weight of the rider. This means that it can move freer and easier in all gaits and especially so when jumping is started as the rider's position then moves them directly over the centre of gravity of the pony. With the saddle the rider is effectively sitting on the horse, and not perched above it as in a conventional saddle, so can learn to feel the direct movement of the horse as it flexes its muscles through the back. By noticing this movement it becomes easy to know when to apply various leg aids as in the trot to canter transition. The rider can also learn to notice when the pony is tensing up, if it becomes anxious, so that the rider can learn to calm the pony down before it naps or seeks to avoid a situation and confidence can then be given to the pony by the rider as both learn to ride together. The sensation of feeling the horse is a new one to many riders as they transition to the Total Contact Saddle and one that allows them to effect better control and use less leg and rein aids to change gait or direction. Not only does the rider gain in confidence but so does the pony and not only does the rider develop a better sense of balance, use of core muscles and a better seat but the pony also develops a better frame and musculature and its back and shoulders flex and move as they should.
The saddle has been used successfully by riders as young as three - albeit it on a lead rope first of all ! - and all have benefited. One youngster we know of calls it his 'warm saddle' and its just lovely that he sees it this way because what he's doing is noticing how close he's riding to, and with, the horse when he says that. Lots of youngsters have used the TCS as their first saddle and we know of a riding school in Norway that only uses this saddle as their main saddle now but have had great results when new starters learn to ride. When a new person starts to ride they know no different and, providing the adults around them don't transfer their fears and biases to them, they just get on with having fun with their new pony friend. They don't need to know how the saddle 'works', why it has this effect or that or why the pony responds differently in a TCS compared to a normal saddle they just want to have fun and having fun must be the start of a long, and wonderful / wonder filled riding future.
The Total Contact Saddle is handmade from top quality leather and materials by a UK Master Saddler and will last with minimum care shown to it (another benefit for the youngster !). It will allow the pony to understand what the rider is asking of it and the rider to effect changes in gait and direction with little effort of their part. It's the perfect accompaniment to your new pony and the riding future of your youngster. "Have fun !" It really is all that matters :-)
This young lad loves his TCS almost as much as his Mum's horse ! He started off on a lead rope and now rides on his own quite happily. One day soon you won't have to have your stirrup leathers rolled up so much :-)