Saddle Fitting Suggestions


To do a basic saddle fit evaluation, place the saddle on the horse’s back without any pad at all. We make a first assessment using the criteria from the Society of Master Saddlers. That can give you a good indication if the contours of the saddle match the general body shape of your horse.

1) Have the horse standing squarely on a level surface. Check the tree width by standing at the horse’s shoulder, lifting the flap of the saddle, and checking that the points of the tree parallel the structure of the horses back that is under it.
The angles should match within 10 degrees. Most tree points are visible, and sit in a small stitched pocket in front of, and, a little lower than the stirrup bars. Run your hands under the tree points and look for even pressure from the top of the point to the bottom. Remember to check both sides of the horse. Many horses are asymmetrical, and make sure the saddle fits acceptably on both the left and the right.

2) Check for basic balance of the saddle. The saddle must sit level on the horses back. Use the deepest part of the seat as a reference point. It should be level to allow the rider to sit centered and balanced.

3) The saddle must have adequate clearance at the withers and spine. I look for two to three fingers of clearance at the front of the saddle. Wider horses may safely have a little less clearance at the wither than a horse with a prominent wither. I look carefully to make sure the gullet channel clears the spine all the way to the back of the saddle, and make sure that the gullet is wide enough that there is no pressure on the sides of the spine.

4) The tree of the saddle must not extend beyond the horses 18th thoracic vertebrae. If you are not quite sure where this is located, feel for the last rib, and go up from there. If the saddle extends too far back, it is likely that it will cause some discomfort, as well as the problem that the horses hip movement will tend to push the saddle forwards.

After that first look, then go ahead and put your fittings on the saddle with the pad that you anticipate using (preferably a fairly thin pad without lifts or cushions). Ride the horse and note the following things:

1) The rider must feel balanced and not feel like he or she is being pitched forwards or backwards.

2) The saddle must not ‘rock’ when the rider is in the posting trot

3) The saddle should be laterally stable, not tending to roll with a moderately adjusted girth

4) The saddle should not create ruffled hair, which indicates movement.

5) The saddle pad should stay in place under the saddle. Saddles that don’t fit well may tend to ‘spit’ the pad out the back. (Sometimes this can be a pad problem also)

6) I look for a reasonably even sweat pattern. Dry spots can indicate areas of pressure, but note that there may be a dry area corresponding with the channel of the gullet which may actually result from good airflow down the spine.

7) The saddle should not ‘bridge’ excessively- some horses may be a bit saggy in the back while they are standing on the crossties, so it is important to assess this after the horse has been worked a bit and his back has come up.

8) Above all, the saddle should feel ’good’ to you when you ride in it. If you think that you’ll get used to it for your horses sake, you probably wont!

Special Fitting Problems: Here is where we have to discuss some of the laws of gravity and conformation:

1) If your horse is built high in the rear end, you WILL have problems with a saddle slipping forwards until it jams to a stop behind the shoulders.

2) If your horse has a big ribcage, tapering to narrower shoulders, the saddle will tend to slip forwards to the narrowest spot.

3) If your horse has a big ‘laid back’ shoulder, he may tend to push the
saddle back; this is particularly true with forward seat jumping saddles whose flaps sit on the horse’s shoulder anyway.

4) If your horse is very short backed, it can be a real challenge to find a
saddle that is the correct seat size for the rider, but is not too long for the horse’s back.

5) If your horse is very flat backed or mutton withered, the saddle will tend to roll. These horses must be mounted from a mounting block, and will probably require a snug girth.

Now that we have gone over the basics, we'd like to share some of our own thoughts and observations on saddle fit

1) Before anything else, the saddle must sit level on the horse’s back. You should sit in the deepest part of the seat and not feel like you are being tipped forward or backward. You must make this determination on your horse, and not on the saddle stand in the tack shop which is probably not shaped like your horse.

2) 95% of horses can be fit correctly without lifts, wedges, gels, or protector pads which can compromise stability. You must, however, have a good pad that fits the saddle properly and generously so the saddle is not resting on the ‘edge’ of the pad. We recommend pads that are contoured or shaped at the withers to eliminate pressure; these pads also help to keep the saddle from moving backwards!


3) You must have good clearance at the withers to avoid pressure, and sufficient gullet clearance so there is no pressure on the spine.


4) The saddle should not ‘pop’ up and down when the rider is posting to the trot.

5) The saddle should allow the rider to ‘drop’ into the correct position. Your knee should cradle into the deepest part of the kneeroll and your thigh should parallel the front of the flap when your stirrup is adjusted to your comfortable riding length.

6) Do not be fooled into thinking that a wide tree will solve all problems. This is like buying shoes that are too big. A saddle with a tree that is too wide will tend to tip forwards, lose stability, and pinch the withers higher up than a narrow tree, but will pinch just as badly, or worse than a tree that is too narrow. A saddle that is too wide can sometimes be padded to work acceptably, but a tree that is too narrow can not be made to work. If you expect your horse to grow or significantly increase his muscle mass, you might choose a tree that is one size too wide.


7) Dry spots or ruffled hair indicate uneven pressure. Try to make your fitting judgments while the horse is in motion. Problems like ‘bridging’ may go away after the horse has warmed up and lifted his back up.

8) A saddle that slides forward or back is probably not fitted correctly. Cruppers or breastcollars are rarely necessary unless your horse is extremely up or downhill, or you ride on very mountainous terrain.


9) A difficult to fit horse may do better with a wool flocked panel than a foam panel. Wool will move and conform to the horse after about 20 hours of riding. A saddle that is softly stuffed will break in more quickly, but may also require some restuffing after 6 months of use. Foam may be a more appropriate choice if you are riding many horses with the same saddle. It can not be adjusted, but will tend to retain its shape and integrity better than wool. Foam panels tend to be thinner, keeping you closer to the horses back, wool is bulkier so you may feel like you are further away. Each type of saddle has advantages and disadvantages.

10) Your horse is your best judge of how your saddle fits. Judge on how your horse is moving, compared to other saddles that you have tried. Bucking after a jump, traveling crooked, and reluctance to go downhill are warning signs of pinching or bruising.

11) Hock and stifle problems can cause sore backs. If changing saddles does not create improvement, consult your veterinarian.

 

12) Make sure you ride in a saddle three or four times before you make a final decision.

 

13) All saddles come through slightly differently, even if you order the same size and model of a saddle that you believe is perfect, it may fit quite differently due to differences in stuffing and panel placement.


14) It is not an easy job to get the perfect saddle. Be patient, you and your horse will be glad you took the extra time and care!


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