Saturday, April 25, 2009


I haven't ridden in several days, because I'm waiting for the rub marks on Dixie's ribs to go away and I've been puzzling over them.

Champ used to get rubs all the time, right where the blevins buckles were. He had really round ribs, though, and I figured it was just a combination of my crappy riding + his round ribs. I wrapped the buckles with vetwrap and the problem mostly went away.

Now Dixie is getting them. She's not shaped anything like Champ, and my seat has improved (trust me! it has!) so what's going on? I'm super logical and there's a bunch of different elements at play here, so bear with me.

  • I'm riding her a lot more than ever before. I rode her probably 12 days out of the last 15, and before Champ died I was riding her every other day. Not strenuous work - we don't usually break a sweat - but definitely lot more.
  • I'm riding dressage-y, with lots of leg cues.
  • I'm riding dressage-y, trying to keep my toes pointed forward instead of off to the sides like most western riders.
  • The saddle has Cordura fenders and nylon leathers, and maybe they "grab" the hair differently than leather fenders and leather stirrup leathers.
  • I've tied the fenders so they hang about an inch further back, so I'm not constantly fighting the chair seat.
  • I just can't ride. Always a possibility, but I don't think my legs move THAT much at a walk. Not so much that it should sore her!
I've spent two days just thinking about the differences in western versus dressage saddles. I thought about taking off the existing fenders/stirrups and putting English leathers and irons on - I could do it reversably, without ruining my saddle. But I don't think that's the answer.

A dressage saddle has long flaps between the rider's leg and the horse's side. The flaps are smooth leather (or synthetic), and they keep the leathers/leg from rubbing the sides. If I just put leathers on, I wouldn't have that flap in place and I think I'd just rub different wear patterns and eventually sores on her.

I am still tempted to blame the synthetic materials, but the thing that bugs me about that hypothesis is that it's not just the fenders themselves rubbing. It's the BUCKLE. On any western saddle, the buckle's in roughly the same place.

What's changed lately? Most importantly is frequency of riding. She may have never gotten rub marks before because I was riding her 1-3 times a week. My riding has changed too; I've been trying to improve my seat.

Look at these two pictures. This first one is a still from a lesson on 2-14-09 - you can actually see the silver buckle peeping out just below my knee.

Now look at this one, from almost a month ago - right about the time I started riding her every other day.
3-29-09 (a)

My toes are pointed out in the first one. The buckle is also not in contact with her - well, maybe a little, on the inside edge.

On the second picture, my toe is pointed a tiny bit more forward. You can barely see the buckle, because my whole leg is (correctly!) pointed forward, which moves the fender forward and inward, and brings the buckle against her skin.

So am I right? If I'm right, what should I do for an immediate fix? I'm thinking of pulling the fender around so the buckle is lower, down near my ankle. Or I could ride with my toes out. Or I could be totally wrong about all this guessing!


  1. Hmmm, it does seem as though your riding with a dressage type seat/leg with a western saddle may be the issue. I would try spinning the leathers so that the buckle is down near your ankle. I would still check her over well, and make sure she isn't still sore but without rub marks.

  2. Or could you shift the fenders so the buckle is higher? Up by the saddle pad? Though then it may end up rubbing you raw! My black and white is very thin-skinned, so I have to be very careful with her. (She also sunburns very easily.)
    Hope you can figure it out!

  3. I had the same problem with my old cordura fenders--not only did the buckle break some of the horse's hairs, but it eventually wore a hole in the cordura. Hmmm.

    The damage slowed way down when I started riding in a more balanced posture (still working on that, it's an ongoing battle).

    I suggest that you try wrapping the buckle with a couple of layers of vetwrap, and maybe the rubbing will decrease.

    Alternately, if your saddle allows it, perhaps you could experiment with different stirrup/fender styles?

    These days I ride distance in a western-style endurance saddle with english-style "leathers" (they are made of biothane). No buckles rubbing the mare OR me, it's a good solution. Fortunately, endurance people don't care about this kind of tack mashup: as long as the rig is functional it gets a thumbs-up.

  4. Thanks for the good ideas, yall. I think I'm going to move the buckle down as low as possible and wrap it in place, see how that helps.

    Michelle - I'm pretty paranoid that I'm making her sore somehow, and I check her often. She doesn't react to any of my poking, prodding, or touching!

    EvenSong - I thought about that, but the pad I'm using right now is cut to fit the saddle, there's no area where the buckle wouldn't come in contact with her. I am probably going to switch to using Champ's pad, and I'll have room with that.

    AareneX - I'm so glad to hear I'm not the only one who's done this. The buckle IS vetwrapped! In one of those stills it's not, because I'd just let some kids ride Champ and I'd moved the stirrups up for them, but 90% of the time it's wrapped. :(

    I can completely remove the fenders/stirrups without damaging the saddle - they just hang on the tree. My next step will probably be to try English/endurance leathers, if moving the buckle down doesn't work.

  5. Making sure that natural materials meet natural (meaning only leather, wool, felt, etc contacts the horse) is a good way to reduce rubbing problems. The other things to look at (no failure on your part implied!) are avoiding pressure points and ensuring that interfaces between horse and tack are scrupulously clean. I do hope that you get to the bottom of whatever is the problem.

  6. The fake sheepskin (it's fluffier than fleece) on my 4-Beat's english leathers (which are really far from) cover up the buckle so that they do not bother me or mark the saddle. It closes with a strip of velcro around the leathers. I don't know if that would work, but it's pretty soft and you wouldn't believe the mess that is within.

    untrott - the goal of a gaited horse!


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