Making Horses and Riders Comfortable
by Kim Roe
Paula Helm is an in-demand and respected saddle fitter in the Northwest. Warm and cheerful, she is known as a tenacious hard-worker with an infectious enthusiasm. Paula won’t quit until she knows the saddle is right for both horse and rider. Helm represents Albion Saddles, made in Great Britain, but she can help fit any brand of saddle.
Being a saddle fitter is a physically exhausting job, yet Paula somehow finds the time to ride, train, and compete at the FEI (international level) in dressage. She also helps run Summervale Premier Dressage with her coach, friend, and co-owner, Jennifer Williams.
When did you start saddle fitting and why? About 10 years ago. I had a horse that was very difficult to fit. I went through three saddles and he was still having some comfort/stability issues. Marla DeHope, the previous Albion saddle fitter, fit this horse and it was like magic. He was much more relaxed and able to cover more ground because of correct saddle fit. I was enamored with the possibility of making horses more comfortable so they could present with increased performance.
How did you become affiliated with Albion and Contact Saddlery? An opening for a saddle fitter for Albion came about and I was eager to learn this valuable skill. Contact Saddles, the West Coast distributor for Albion, trained and groomed me as the Albion saddle fitter for the Northwest. I spent time in the classroom and in the field for about two years with supervision. I still have a passion to help horses be the most comfortable they can be.
What is the hardest part of the job? The most difficult part of the job is helping clients understand that comfortable, correct saddle fit is achievable. There are many variables to saddle fit so it might take a few sessions. Saddle fit needs to be reassessed as horses’ muscling changes.
What is the best part of it? Witnessing a horse’s tension decrease as they realize their movement is more free and comfortable. The rider’s smile is icing on the cake.
Tell me about your riding and your current horse. I am grateful to have Pik Paramour in my life. A 12- year-old Oldenburg, his patience and active hind-end have helped me immeasurably. We are currently showing dressage at Intermediare. Jen Williams, my trainer (and co-owner of Summervale Premier Dressage), has won my admiration and appreciation for believing in my ability to learn dressage as she helps me realize my dreams.