Yeah, so I found out what might have been at the root of Sherman's temper tantrum the other night... he has changed shape (and grown, again) over the winter, and the saddle I struggled all last summer to find and finally got him is now bridging in the middle. Shermy don't play that, and he told me so in no uncertain terms this morning, but with a level of quiet communication that I actually heard-- he flinched away from it as I set it on him, tipping me off that something was up. Friday night, he was quiet through the tacking up and didn't flip out until we started working, which wasn't clear enough for my dense head.
Sherm has grown over the winter, growing withers for the first time in his life, and extending at the neck, revealing his UVM breeding-- now, that's "Saddlebred pollution of the gene pool" to some Foundation Morgan enthusiasts, but I kind of like the influence, being somewhat partial to the breed. All the purist discussion aside, what has emerged is a bit more wither, a long neck, and an ability to parade about like a peacock. Park horse people would be bonkers over this fancypants, but we aren't going there.
In addition to growing, he has lost some of his fitness, as have they all, over the winter, and he has managed to develop a bit of an inverted topline, due both to a lack of work and a lazy postural adaptation to his changing frame. So instead of the coffee-table back he has had his whole baby horse life, he's now got this slight TB wither and exaggerated (for a Morgan) curve behind it. Thus, the saddle that once sat so happily on his flatter back today bridges enough for me to slip some fingers under it in the middle.
I have faith (blind faith, out of an attempt to ward of panic/despair/suicidal thoughts) that the saddlefitter can make some adjustments to the stuffing fore and aft, and fill in the panels right at the low spot enough to meet us in a happy middle. I must believe this, or I will probably give up on ever having a Morgan saddle horse and turn all my attention to driving. Not that driving is a bad thing, and not that Sherman won't love it (he will; I am certain), but I have enough going on right now; shifting gears this hard this week is going to break my brain.
For today's work I put a sheepskin saddle pad under the saddle, and that seemed to take the pressure off enough to keep him happy for some pretty good lunge work and a bit of light riding. The saddle moves with him well enough at the walk, but when he lifts his head for balance at the trot (which he needs to stop doing anyway-- more lunge work with side reins is already on our to-do list), it bridges and then he braces to get away from it, making the bridging worse. So on the lunge we worked on good, through trot work with his neck long and low, and we stuck to a walk once I got on. For this, the sheepskin pad moderated things enough for him to find a comfortable middle ground.
In addition to my faith in the saddle fitter, who will be here the first or second week of April, I have faith as well that I can put the boy back on the lunge (and use the surcingle rather than the saddle that doesn't fit) and begin to get him fitted back up some, developing more of that topline that he's missing right now. It is my fervent (read: desperate) hope that between my work with him and the saddle fitter's work with the saddle, that we will meet in the middle and avoid a complete nervous breakdown on my part.
Either that, or I'm going to start shopping training harnesses, for I am most certainly fed up with shopping saddles...