Saddle fitting is far more rewarding than many riders probably imagine. I spend my days helping ensure horses are comfortable and happy when they are doing their job and ensuring the rider has the saddle which gives them the best possible chance of enjoyment and success in their chosen discipline. It doesn’t matter if they love hacking, schooling, dressage, jumping or showing - it all gives me the same satisfaction.
I recommend my customers have their saddles checked twice a year as a minimum, but some horses will be changing shape far more than that and need their saddles re-flocking or at least tweaking more often. I thought this month’s blog would be the perfect opportunity to share some of my own saddle fitting tips so that you can assess if you need a visit from a saddle fitter. If you’re in any doubt, it’s always worth getting an expert out to look rather than risk your horse being in pain. And remember, don't just add more pads or numnahs as these can make a poorly fitting saddle worse, not better.
Balance and symmetry
This one sounds so obvious, but when was the last time you looked at your saddle with balance and symmetry in mind. Check the tree, panels and stirrup bars are totally symmetrical when it’s on a level saddle stand or rack (yes, you can even use a spirit level to check that what it’s resting on really is level!). Then place it on the horse’s back and make sure it’s balanced - the cantle should be slightly higher than the pommel with no severe pitch in the level of the seat.
Check for shoulder freedom
The shape of the tree ideally needs to match the shape of the horse’s shoulder to ensure it can move freely. With the saddle on the horse but the girth undone, slide your hand under the front of the saddle and check you can slide it up and down without it feeling pinched. With the girth done up and the rider in the saddle, watch the horse being ridden to check the saddle doesn’t prevent the shoulder blade moving freely.
Wither and gullet clearance
This is one that most horse owners know - check the gullet of the saddle is well clear of the withers and there’s clearance all the way down the spine. That should be done when the girth is firmly done up and then again when the rider is on board. Did you know that the gullet should be wide enough along its length that it won't press on the side of the vertebrae too? That’s incredibly important for the horse’s long-term comfort and wellbeing.
A little movement… but not too much
Every saddle will move a little bit, even one which has the perfect fit. But you should check that when the saddle is on and the girth is done up, it doesn’t rock and roll excessively. If it does, it means that there are pressure points which will only be worse when there’s a rider’s weight in the saddle too.
Even contact between the panels and the back
The panels underneath the saddle should match the shape of the horse’s back and be in constant, even contact with it. If the saddle ‘bridges’, which is where there are points of pressure and then gaps where the panels don’t touch the back at all, the horse will soon be in considerable discomfort.
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