When Fitting a Saddle, Remember:
If you’re not sure if your saddle is fitting properly, bringing in pictures (or emailing them) is helpful. Here is an example of what kinds of pictures we’re looking for:
Conformation photos are extremely helpful when used in conjunction with wither and back tracings. Having the horse standing squarely, provide a profile of both the right and left sides, along with a photograph of the shape of his back.
As always, the horse must be standing squarely for these photos, with his head in a neutral position, looking forward. Take shots from both the right and left, keeping the camera level. Use a straight line form a wall, if possible. The next shot should be of the back, where the panels lie against the horse. Be careful when taking this shot if your horse tends to be worried about what’s behind him. Make sure that he’s looking forward, so that his spine appears straight. Finally, a shot of the saddle from the front at each shoulder, so that it is possible to see if the tree points are lying in the proper place.
One of the most important things to remember when checking the fit of the saddle is that your horse MUST be standing squarely! If he’s resting a foot or if all four feet aren’t properly aligned, the saddle will look crooked! It’s therefore advisable to have someone helping you who can make sure the horse stands squarely at all times.
If your saddle does not fit your horse well, you have a much higher chance of having him developing lameness issues, not just a sore back. Think about it: if he’s uncomfortable because of a pressure point digging into his back, he’s going to instinctively brace himself against the discomfort. That bracing ultimately adds extra strain to his legs and joints, and you can wind up with arthritic changes, suspensory and ligament injuries, and muscle tears. Realize that where there is a pressure point on the horse’s back, there is limited blood flow going to the muscle. Not only does this make him sore, but it causes deep tissue damage and can result in muscle atrophy if not caught quickly and addressed.
So how do you fit a saddle, you ask? Keep reading below for an overview.
A correctly fitted saddle must provide total clearance of the horse’s spine and must not interfere with the movement of the horse’s shoulder blade. Assess the symmetry of the saddle’s fit on both the right and left side of the horse—the saddle panels should be even and symmetrical on both sides. If a horse has a history of one-sidedness or previous injury which has left him/her asymmetrical in musculature, then it may be appropriate to consider supplemental therapeutic padding and/or asymmetrical saddle flocking to ensure that the correct saddle fit is achieved.
If the tree is too narrow, the angle of the point will dig into the muscles, and the saddle will look “perched;” the pommel will appear too high in relation to the cantle. If the tree is too narrow, there is nothing you can do to make the horse comfortable. The horse will need a saddle with a wider tree. Lifting the saddle at the cantle with a riser pad will only force that much more weight onto the wither area, causing muscle atrophy.
If the tree is too wide, the tree points will end up dropped around the shoulder, and the gullet of the saddle will be too close to the withers. In this instance, the cantle of the saddle will appear too high in relation to the pommel. To help adjust the fit, you can use padding up by the pommel to lift the saddle in the front. While not ideal, it can prove beneficial if you anticipate that the horse’s shape will be changing or if you cannot buy a new saddle.
Note that not all tree shapes are appropriate for any horse. A horse with a swayed back will not do well with a saddle that has a flat, broad tree. Rather, it will benefit the horse to have a tree with a deeper seat and “banana panels.” Conversely, a horse with a broad, flat back cannot go well in a saddle with a deep and more arched design, as there will not be enough surface area in the panels to disperse the rider’s weight evenly.
When placed upon the horse’s back, the saddle must be evenly balanced—not tipping forward or backward. The deepest part of the saddle’s seat should encourage the rider to sit within the center of the horse’s movement. The saddle must remain balanced and centrally located on the horse’s back free of the spine and shoulder blade. As such, it should not sway side to side or exhibit any rocking or rotating when on the horse’s back. The girth should fit within the girth groove and when tightened it should not pull the saddle forward.
Not only must the saddle fit the horse perfectly, but you as the rider need to be comfortable and balanced. If you have to continually shift around to get into the right position, then not only are you going to be off on your aids, but your horse ultimately has to absorb your extra movement, which inevitably affects his/her back and legs.
Finally, make sure that you’re paying attention to how the horse behaves and moves under saddle. Sometimes it appears as though the saddle is fitting, but once in motion, the saddle ends up being inappropriate. It is for this reason that a “cross tie” fitting cannot be relied upon exclusively.
It is important to note that a horse’s body shape and musculature will change with training and conditioning and that as such, saddle fit should be periodically evaluated to ensure the horse’s comfort and saddle performance. It is common for saddle fit to need some adjusting as horses come in and/or out of conditioning. For this reason, we recommend that riders frequently inspect the fit of all saddlery and equipment on a regular basis.
If you don’t want to bring photos in, simply Email us.