Mike Corcoran Saddle Fitting Clinic

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By Tommy Brannon

Saddle maker and fitter Mike Corcoran held a saddle fitting clinic at Peggy Hart’s Misty Meadow Farm near Byhalia, Mississippi, February19-20, 2018.

Mike is one of the most revered custom saddle makers in the U.S. He has been making and fitting both English and Western saddles for over 25 years. He has studied with saddle makers in England, building saddles including the tree. He makes trail saddles, Western dressage saddles, English jumping, and all purpose saddles, as well as English dressage saddles.

Mike has ridden his whole life in a variety of disciplines including dressage, jumping, eventing, reining, cutting, and mounted shooting, as well as western dressage. He is a sought-after Western Dressage trainer, giving riding clinics throughout the country.

Mike’s approach to saddle fitting, of course, starts with the horse. He places the saddle on the horse’s back without a pad and rocks it back and forth. This lets him know how steady the saddle will be when being ridden and how it sits on the horse. Mike said that no amount of flocking or saddle pad can make up for a saddle tree that does not contour to a horse’s back. “If the saddle rocks backward or forward when just sitting on the horse’s back, it will do so when the rider is sitting in it,” Mike explained. “Your leg has to be in the proper place and not out in front.”

“A saddle that rocks forward puts pressure on the front. If the saddle rocks forward when stopping, the rider will be at a disadvantage and will be placed too far forward, ahead of the motion. This can really affect performance when jumping. The saddle will move to the front when landing, making it uncomfortable for the horse. The horse will avoid whatever motion causes pain!  The rider may not notice, but he/she will compensate and get out of proper position. A saddle that rocks backward will also put the rider out of position and will make for a sore backed horse.

“The points of a tree are outside of the panel. You never want the horse to feel the tree. If the tree is correct for the horse, the saddle can be flocked to fill in the necessary panel. The panel and the tree have to work together. If the saddle is not centered on the horse, proper flocking may correct that. But trying to re-flock a saddle with an ill-fitting tree is like wearing extra socks to compensate for shoes that don’t fit,” Mike explained. 

After testing how the saddle fits the horse, Mike likes to watch the rider in the ring to see how the horse reacts and how the rider fits the saddle. He said, “Seat size is determent by the length of your thigh, not the size of your butt.” He added that 99.9% of his customers are women.

Often a rider will sign up with a new trainer and the trainer will have his/her own ideas about saddles and position. The rider may be told “You can’t ride in that! You have to ride in a…whatever [saddle]!” Sometimes the trainer even sells saddles.

Mike is not a fan of synthetic materials in either saddles or saddle pads. He said, “Riding in a gel pad is like riding on a waterbed. The material moves counter to the motion of the horse. Synthetic materials in a saddle or a saddle pad do not breathe and cannot disperse heat.  Heat is the enemy!” He likes sheepskin saddle pads, especially for English saddles.  Some would think that they are hot, but the opposite is true. They hold air and insulate the horse’s back to make it warm in the winter and cooler in the summer. They also disperse heat. He added, “They can be washed in a washing machine, but have to slowly air dry or they will shrink.”

He sometimes uses thermography to check for hot spots when fitting a saddle. The thermal images help to identify what part of the saddle may be rubbing and where the points of contact are. He said that many people ask him about dry spots on the horse’s back, but that these are not necessarily a factor. The dry spots on the thermal image may be the same temperature as the sweaty spots. He added that he once had a horse that did not sweat at all under the saddle.

All of the saddles that Mike makes have wool surge panels rather than leather. This makes for a lighter panel that tends to contour better to particular horse. He also makes all of his saddles with a bell shaped tree, rather than an A shaped tree, for closer contact.

Peggy Hart holds saddle fitting clinics at Misty Meadows Farm about twice a year with several saddle fitters. Contact her at peggychart@gmail.com  901-299-5032 to get on her mailing list. 

Mike is located in Justin, Texas. Find more about him at:  http://mikecorcoransaddlery.com  or call 940-465-4599.

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