The Importance of Saddle Fitting
Let me start off by saying that there is no such thing as the perfectly fitting saddle over the life of a horse. A horse’s conformation changes throughout its life, and even throughout the year as their exercise level and nutrition varies. Buying a saddle to precisely fit a horse for this moment in time often results in a poorly fitting saddle at a later date- because you quit looking and assessing- your brain moves on because its considered the job done! That’s a problem when your horse gains 50lbs or begins to age- or comes out of training and begins to stand around and lose muscle tone. or go into training and gain it!
The good news is that it’s not necessary to have the “perfect” saddle for a horse to have a comfortable fit. Fortunately, we have excellent choice of saddle pads these days that take up the slack- however we do need to get the fit as close as possible because a flat backed horse with no wither and a high wither horse with an angular rib cage will never be able to wear the same saddle. Proper saddle fit isn’t an exact science. You can begin by searching for a well-built saddle designed for the physical type of the horse you ride.
Be leary of fiberglass and polymer trees, they tend to warp and twist over time and you wont know it. I see these saddles come in often with a dropped bar or twist in the tree and this undetected problem can cause alot of stress and pain to your horse.
Proper saddle fit has become an area of natural horsemanship that is developing rapidly- and for excellent reason!
Horses have suffered under saddle for far too long! So this is a positive development since poorly fitting saddles cause problems not only for the poor horse, but for the rider as well. However, the increased emphasis on proper saddle fit has caused many people to go on a quest for the “perfect” saddle for their horse.
The goal of proper saddle fit is to identify a saddle that fits both participants – the horse and the rider. But which is the most important of the two? Without question, fitting the horse IS the primary goal. But if either horse or rider are uncomfortable pain can transfer either direction. Therefore the saddle must not cause the horse pain, or trap its movement and also mustn’t cause the rider to brace from discomfort.
The saddle needs to “snow shoe” the riders weight evenly over the horses topline without setting too deeply in the center under the rider so as to enable the horse to carry the weight comfortably and allow the shoulders to move freely, the bottom of the pommel should not rub the withers, cranial nerve#11 located just behind the shoulder should not be pressured, and also stay clear of vertibrae #18 in the loin and not bruise the kidneys and/or ovaries by pressing too tightly on the loin, the rigging should be set incorrectly so that it does not interfere with the elbow and the Deltoid muscle or pull the saddle out of position… The most common saddle fitting issue that I deal with however, is bridging. People are trying to correct it by using a saddle with a wider gullet. But this is not the proper correction and causes other equally significant issues for the horse as well as the riders low back.
**Definition of bridging: the saddle only makes contact with the horse in the front over the shoulders and at the back over the loin and does not make sufficient contact with the ribs under the rider to support the riders weight properly, whereby damaging the scapula bone and the muscles over the top named the front and hind trapezius and the underlaying back extensor muscle and damage the loin.
The saddle sets level, the pad is the correct length because it doesn't elevate the rear of the saddle as would a longer pad, the loin is not pressured, the saddle is positioned behind the scapula, the rigging is correct, the cinch is the proper length, the gullet is open at the top to allow the shoulder to move freely. These are only the visual points of interest in saddle fitting. be advised~ a perfect sweat pattern is not evidence of a good fit. I have seen many great sweat patterns from horrible fitting saddles.
Saddle fit isn’t an exact science. It takes some savvy to determine whether or not you have a good fit and what is necessary to correct the issues- and there may be many. Fitting the moving horse is absolutely necessary if the he horse is to be comfortable. Consult a qualified saddle fitter for diagnosis. Your horse will thank you! The insignificant amount of money you might spend is a pittance to what you WILL spend later if you don’t get a diagnosis!
You will also need a variety of different thicknesses of Navaho blankets or underliners to accommodate the seasonal and physical changes your horse goes thru. in order to keep your saddle balanced front to back. See THE RIGHT FIT SADDLE PADS
The basics of a properly fitting western saddle are: The pommel should comfortably clear a horse’s withers by 2-3 fingers stacked vertically when placed on top of the unpadded withers, the bars should be wide enough to set on the back 1/4 of the shoulder so as to allow for free movement of the scapulas to pass under the front lip of the leather and slide comfortably back under the pommel, the pommel should not be so concave that it feels like a knob of pressure against the horse, the bar angles need to match the ribs top to bottom so that the back extensor muscle doesn't become fatigued, pressured and begin to atrophy, and also and the end of the tree bars and saddle leather should not pressure the ovaries and kidneys.
The saddle tree and leather need to be the proper length and depth so as not to cause injury or restriction of movement, the bar angle and shape needs to parallel the angles of the shoulders and ribs and mirror the shape of the horses back, and be properly padded to either create or maintain front to back and left to right balance in order to provide good weight distribution while the horse is in motion
That’s proper saddle fit. If you ride horses of different breeds or significantly different sizes, then you’ll need to invest in multiple saddles- or a “Right Fit” saddle pad that can be customized quickly to allow your saddle to fit each horse you ride.
MY REASON FOR THIS POST (copied from my FB page: The "Right Fit" Saddle Fitting where there are many saddle fitting tips just like this one)
Riding season is warming up and its time to remind those of you shopping for saddles that gullet width (GW) is a separate area of fit than bar flare.
I see posts from people saddle shopping that read something like this: I need a saddle with an 8" gullet....In my 11 years experience as a saddle fitter I have seen very few saddle horses requiring an 8" or more gullet and those have All been drafts or draft crosses. And that us why these people never seem to get a good fitting saddle, because 8" is so wide that the saddle sinks in front and pinches due to the fact the saddle is horribly out of balance front to back... So then they shop for an even wider saddle and the disfunction, frustration, damage to the horse, and disappointment continues.
Confused? Gullet width is the area of fit behind the shoulder. Bar flare is the amount of room necessary for the shoulders to slip under the front edge of the bar tips.
Practical Application: When u ask someone for a gullet measurement and they show you a tape measure across the front of the leather... That is bar flare as well as leather flare since the leather extends pad the bar tips and increases the measurement. Gullet width is very difficult to get an accurate measurement on an already made saddle since there is approx 1/2- 3/4" of leather applied to each side of the gullet. The best way to attempt to get this measurement is: To peek underneath the jockey just in front of the concho to find the place that the bottom of the pommel meets the top of the bars and place the tape there to measure across. How do u know what your horse needs? Go to the saddle fitting page of my website named "how to make fitting wires" to get the 2 measurements you need to saddle shop properly.
If you need additional assistance you can invest in a "Limited Consult" for $50.00 and download, print and fill out the required steps and take the pics I need to advise you of any other areas you will need to be concerned about while you shop. This service has been a wonderful service to people across the nation. 30 minutes of Saddle Fitting advice might be all you need, and if you need more time and advice simply pay again and your consult continues.
Hope this helps!
Go to my Facebook saddle fitting page to read dozens of free saddle fitting tips that have been posted over the years. It is active and up to date on all the saddle fitting tips and concepts because I am active on FB every day asssiting folks with saddle fit!