I loved my new Collegiate dressage saddle. It had a nice close contact and I was really able to feel my horse. Plus it felt a lot like my Crosby all purpose saddle, so it wasn't that hard to get used to.
I did have to completely change my seat, however. Riding hunt seat in the all purpose saddle I used a much shorter stirrup and a slightly more forward lean to my body. I also gripped the saddle and horse with my knees to stay on, only using my lower leg to squeeze the horse to get more speed or to ask for another gait. With dressage you really want to stay open at the knee, not gripping there, so that your lower leg can wrap around the horse and be more effective. So in the beginning my dressage lessons were very hard. I had to change the way I had ridden for the past 20 years.
My first dressage trainer told me that after our first lesson that there were so many problems with my horse and I that she didn't even know where to start. But she made a plan and let me start off with my stirrups a little shorter than they should be. In dressage your stirrups should be longer and your leg should hang straighter down from the hip, but if you all of a sudden make your stirrups much longer than you're used to it's hard to keep your leg in place. You lose your stirrups a lot too. Even though I loved my saddle, riding in it with a dressage seat was a struggle. But I adapted and soon I felt more comfortable with the correct dressage position.
It was probably a good year before my trainer actually got on my horse. He had never had anyone else ride him, and he was nervous and tense. She had a fine ride on him, but commented that she didn't really like my saddle. I think the next few times she rode him she used her saddle, which was fine with me.
After a few years with this trainer, even though I really liked her, I switched trainers (I'll tell THAT whole mess of a story some other time). My new trainer commented almost immediately that she didn't think the saddle fit my horse very well, and that I should see about getting it fitted to him. I thought that was really interesting - you can make a saddle fit a horse? Wow. So we had the local saddle fitter out to look at the saddle. Turns out that the panels on my Collegiate were filled with foam. Most dressage saddles have wool filled panels which enables the saddle fitter to be able to mold the panels to better fit the horse's back. They could not do anything with the foam filled panels.
This didn't bother me very much because I still loved the saddle. My trainer HATED the saddle, and she formulated a plan to make it go away forever. She had me come to the barn while the saddle fitter was there so I could see exactly what the issues with the saddle were. The saddle lady put the saddle on Kaswyn without a pad on and began pointing things out to me, and explaining about saddle fit and the shape of my horse. I learned a lot about saddles and backs that day. The major things were that the Collegiate tree was too narrow for my horse's shoulders, which restricted his movement and pinched his wither/shoulder area. Also the panels were not properly fitted to his back, and that was making him sore in a few spots.
So it was time to get rid of my beloved Collegiate. Armed with my new found saddle education, I had a list of three very important criteria which had to be met for my next saddle purchase.
1) Good fit for my horse
2) Comfortable for me
3) Something I could actually afford
To be continued...