Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Insanity of Wither Tracings

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
~ Albert Einstein
As I soldier on in my search for a side saddle, I decided to revisit the whole wither tracing thing.  I was going to send a tracing off to another source.  I reached into my closet and pulled out the two cardboard cutouts, carefully labeled with the date.  I straightened the little stack, held them up in front of me and was immediately dissatisfied with their differences.  I decided I would make yet another tracing, but as I tried to go to sleep that night, my thoughts were plagued with the difficulties on making an accurate tracing.  What I really wanted, instead of a wire, was a tool like a profile gage that woodworkers use.  But on a grander scale.
When I finally gave up trying to sleep, I logged onto Facebook early in the morning and posed the question to the Side Saddle community., in one form or another "What do you use to make a wither tracing with?"  In the end, I gave up trying to find a 24" wide contour gage, decided to give up on my collection of wires, and I found a 36" artist's curve to order from the internet.  It arrived yesterday and today, after my ride, I spent at least half an hour laboring over a fresh wither tracing.  My stepfather wandered into the barn and together we checked this cutout from every angle.  His verdict "They can't say you didn't try."

So, here is the step by step process of how I took the most accurate wither tracing I could muster.

This is my Stubben Siegfried which fits us both well.  I rode for quite awhile in order to leave a sweat mark of the tree in the proper place for reference purposes.

The proper place for a saddle to sit, is two fingers behind the shoulder blade.

Normally, you would want a helper to lift and extend the horse's front leg so you could see where the Shoulder Blade travels when the horse is in motion.  Because I have just ridden in this saddle, I know that there were at least two fingers width between the blade and the saddle tree at all times.  Here you can see that the shoulder is up against my ring finger, and the sweat mark is to the right of my index finger.

I place my artist's curve (centered) over the withers at the front of the sweat mark.  Notice the girth mark also gives me a reference point.

Now the TRICKY part.  Unless its 10 below and the plastic is cold and rigid, the curve (or wire) is very likely to sag between the horse and the cardboard no matter how careful you are.  See how this curve has closed?  It is important to have the cardboard set up as close to the horse as possible.

Secondly, you want to trace on the correct side of the curve.  This is the WRONG side.

This is the correct side.  Have someone help to hold the curve firmly in place and be careful not to push it with your pen.

Now, cut the shape out of the cardboard and label the Near and Off sides.

And the FRUSTRATING part.  Put the negative space back on the horse to see if it fits.

You may have another go at placing a freshly measured curve against your cut out.  Starting small makes sense because we can continue to whittle away until it fits.

William got used to wearing the cardboard.  You will note that as the horse moves, and the muscles expand and contract, the shape will fit differently.

20 minutes and many shards of cardboard later, the curve is beginning to fit down on the horse properly.

Make sure the board is upright and level across the top.  Check both sides to see that the curve follows the sweat mark down the side.  Identify tight spots and remove them with your scissors.

See the difference between my initial best effort at tracing and the final "verified" shape?  This is due to the curve (or wire) sagging and closing the angle at the withers.  If you didn't verify that the cut out fits, you would be sending erroneous information to your saddle seller, and we all know the old saying "garbage in garbage out".

Now, find some light weight kraft paper to trace the shape onto.  Do not trace the removed peice of cardboard.  Trace the one you tried on the horse.  Label the Near and Off sides clearly and write your name, contact info and date.  Be sure to write all this info on the INSIDE of the curve so that when the shape is cut out to compare to the saddle, the info is not on the scrap.

Here is my short stack of wither tracings.

My most recent tracing, which I sent to Linda Flemmer for the Mayhew, fits fairly well.  It is an advantage to work with a base line tracing that you have compared to an actual saddle and seen where the fit challenges are with that saddle so you can become familiar with your horse's shape.

With the last tracing and today's tracing superimposed on each other, you can see that they are very similar.  I now feel comfortable mailing this tracing off to match against the next candidate.


  1. See, there is definitely a point to obsessive compulsive!!

  2. I had never thought to try putting the negative cutout back on the horse to see if it fit! Good to know! I will definitely do that the next time I'm doing a tracing.