Does Your Saddle Fit?

Does the saddle fit the horse's back shape?

Does the saddle fit the horse’s back shape?

Sadly many equine behavioural and performance issues can be saddle related, often horse owners who previously believed that their horses had personality or training issues find that the behavior and performance improves under a well fitting saddle. Also riders who have experienced pain or discomfort during or after riding often find they are at last pain free, please see our article Pain Related to Horse Riding for more information.

We strongly recommend having your saddle checked by us or one of our Accredited saddle fitters at least once a year and within 3 months if a new saddle is fitted. In addition, there are a number of signs that a saddle fits well:

  • The front of the tree matches the angle of the horse’s shoulder when mounted and there is clearance of the wither.
  • There is even contact under the entire panel area when ridden leaving no swirled hair when the saddle is removed.
  • The saddle tree matches the horse’s top line, whether straight, convex, or concave when in motion.
  • The gullet of the saddle provides clearance for the spine and spinous processes through its entire length both in height and width.
  • The saddle stays in place when ridden.
  • The girthing sits in the horse’s natural girth groove.
  • The rider sits comfortably in balance, feeling close and connected to the horse.

Does your saddle fit? – Things to consider.

  • Is your horse quiet and calm when you approach with the saddle?
  • Can your horse pick up the correct canter lead and bend evenly on both reins?
  • Does your horse stand still while you tighten the girth and at the mounting block to be mounted?
  • Does your horse move freely forward when you travel downhill and in all directions ( flexion/Extension, lateral flexion and axial rotation)?
  • Is your horse suddenly become hypersensitive to brushing?
  • Is he backing off  or refusing jumps or bucking on landing?
  • Are you balanced and comfortable in the saddle front-to-back and side-to-side?
  • Are you and your horse pain-free after riding? If you don’t know how to check your horse for pain, a competent professional, ourselves or one of our Accredited Fitters can assist you.
  • After riding is there any ruffled hair or are there area’s where the hair is thinning or turning white?
  • Does the muscle feel even across the saddle area or are there softer patches that were not there previously?
  • The most important thing is that the saddle does NOT move around when ridden , either bouncing at the back, moving backwards , forwards or to either side.

Things to check

  • Are there any open wounds on the back under the saddle area ? – check your tree is sound and does not have loose nails or staples sticking out, also check saddle pads for sharp objects and stitching or a thorn or Burr picked up on a hack.
  • Does your saddle feel balanced and stable when you ride?- you can check for front to back balance by placing two fingers under the pommel and standing in your stirrups, does the head of the saddle drop and lift at the back ( flat backed horses with low withers) and do you have at least 2 fingers width clearance when stood in your stirrups ( Highwithered types).
  • Check your horses back and withers for lumps, soft or hard lumps which are not painful are usually not saddle related but if you find lumps of any sort a call to your saddle fitter or vet can put your mind at rest  .
  • Check for the appearance of white hairs, – white hairs form from the bone outwards so watch out for the colour change close to the skin. White hairs typically take at least 2 months before you see them or at the coat change.
  • The muscles of your horses back should feel toned but not hard. Check for soft hollows of atrophy ( especially behind the withers or at the rear of the saddle area ) and hard muscle knots. In extreme cases you can see the shape of the saddle in the muscle of the back.
  • Check for friction rubs and broken hair ( also known as scrubbing) these are caused by movement of the saddle where there is a lack of contact. Symetrical scrubbing usually indicates that your saddle needs a check whilst in cases of newly noticed,  asymetrical scrubbing contact your chiropractor if yourhorse is uaually level. If scrubbing is noticed for the first time check your girth the next time you ride to make sure it is firm before you dismount and then check again. Loose girths can cause saddle movement and scrubbing which is unrelated to the fit, especially if you are riding in a hilly area.

While other factors can also influence the above a saddle check should be the first thing to check. If you are concerned about your current saddles fit please feel free to call either our office line or your local Fitting Specialist for advice.

Copyright Gini Woodward 2010


2 comments on “Does Your Saddle Fit?
  1. debbie says:

    Hi , I have a pony on trial which he came with a saddle exchange comfort saddle, pony name is spike (fairywood vagabond) ownened by mrs t. macza Newcastle emlyn, not sure if you keep records etc, he has started bucking after jumping only small jumps 2ft, on lokking at the saddle it seems a little low on the front and I cant get two fingers in when my daughter is sat on him she weighs 5 & 1/2 stone, just need to check how much gap should be there and whether it needs altering??hope you can help the best way to contact me is mobile 07716863378, thanks

    • Gini Woodward says:

      Hi Debbie, sorry ive been working away and for some reason im not getting notifications when people post, please give me a call and I can explain which photos to send me so I can assess the saddle for you. Spike is quite a complicated pony but we can talk about it when you call, also Tracy can advise. best number is 01278734524. i should be back at my desk on monday.

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