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Karlene French and Bear
Bear, my horse, and I have been together for almost four years. Bear, although built with an upright neck and slightly scooped back, had always moved beautifully and had an excellent work ethic in dressage. He also had had an expressive zeal for jumping. So, after three years together, we had been competing at 1st level dressage, schooling 2nd and 3rd level movements, and moving up from novice to training in eventing.
All of that progress began to change, as I increased the level of collection in dressage and jumping. Bear began flinching when I saddled him and became occasionally irritable during lateral movements. At downward transitions, he began to slip out from underneath himself. When he began bucking at the canter departs and refusing to jump, I realized something was terribly wrong. (As I write these words, I feel guilty for not recognizing his pain earlier.)
First, I tried massage and chiropractic adjustments. Both suggested I check the saddle fit. We determined the saddle was bridging, so I had it reflocked. Bear still did not improve. From that point on, my goals were twofold—find out what physically was wrong with Bear and get a better fitting saddle.
The trip to a lameness specialist was both a relief (we found out what was wrong) and a disappointment (Bear was diagnosed with kissing spines). Kissing spines is the common name for overriding spinal processes in the back, that is, vertebrae of the spine begin to overlap each other. The specialist said the prognosis, because of Bear’s age (12) and his established work ethic, was really good. His research had indicated that the condition can be successfully treated in 85% of the cases with a combination of shockwave therapy to relieve pain and mesotherapy to relax muscles (three treatments of both over a six-week period) and progressive exercise in a long, round, and low frame to build back strength (over a 60- to 90-day period).
So, with the added complication of the kissing spine diagnosis, I began my search for a new dressage saddle. Where does one start that task? Would I be able to determine whether the saddle was helping or hurting, given the diagnosis? Would I need to get a custom saddle? Would the profile of his back change as his back strength grows? How was I ever going to find the right saddle? How was I going to find a saddle that would aid in his recovery and allow for his back to change as he recovered?
At a friend’s suggestion, I checked out the ReactorPanel Saddle Company’s website. I was immediately impressed with the philosophy of the panel system and the company’s saddle fitting and trial policies. The panels would allow for distribution of my weight over a greater area of his back, which would help in his recovery, and the ability to move the panels and discs would allow for his profile to change without the need for a new saddle. I promptly sent in Bear’s profiles and pictures and inquired about the type of saddle to purchase.
At that point, patient and delightful Carmi entered my life. She helped me choose a saddle style, based on my riding level and habits and Bear’s back issues, and she shipped a saddle out within a few days. I had to admit that I began hyperventilating when I received the saddle fitting manual, as the options for establishing a proper fit seemed too overwhelming for a “big picture” and impatient person such as me, and I told Carmi so. But with Carmi’s guidance over the telephone (and with her patience with my less than adequate telephone equipment), I managed, easily, to adjust the saddle for the first time. Carmi allowed me to extend the trial period several times, so I could be sure about purchasing the saddle, and helped me again to adjust the saddle fit after a couple of weeks. During our conversations, Carmi also asked me about my riding and passed on a few riding tips she had recently learned. I felt as if Carmi, and the entire company, were personally committed to Bear’s health and my riding success.
Bear’s first reaction to the saddle was a sigh of relief. Now, eight months after his diagnosis and a couple of months with the new ReactorPanel saddle, Bear is moving better than he ever has and has made nearly a complete recovery. He has more freedom of movement in his gaits, allowing him to collect and extend more dramatically. He is able to use his back and step underneath himself again. We even completed our first flying lead changes together; finally, we can collect the canter enough to do them!
Carmi also asked, if I would be willing to speak with another potential client, whose horse was recently diagnosed with kissing spines. I said yes, and now, that woman and her horse are having the same joyous recovery with a ReactorPanel saddle. That is customer service at its best.
For those horses with saddle fit problems or kissing spines, I can highly recommend the ReactorPanel saddle and fitting process. Now I just have to wait for next year’s tax return to get a jumping saddle……..