by Cynthia Cooper | naturalhorseworld.com
Over the past few years, awareness about saddle fit has increased dramatically as we look to get better performance from our horses, especially in the field of endurance. In any sport where long hours with a saddle and rider on board, a horse’s back, movement, expression and willingness will tell you the truth about your saddle fit.
Today there are a many new saddle designs that are catering for the increased size and broadness of the horses we are breeding now. There are a variety of flexible trees, treeless saddles, adjustable gullets and air panel systems that all help to achieve a good fit on most horses, mules and donkey’s.
So what do you look for with saddle fit?
Firstly, notice what your horse does when you approach with the saddle – is he/she trying to move away, pinning their ears, head tossing or even trying to nip you as you put the saddle on or girth it up? If so, they are probably trying to tell you that something is very uncomfortable for them.
Put the saddle on with a thin pad and girth it up to where you can get on so you will be able to see how it sits on your horse’s back.
Using a thick pad can be useful when your horse’s condition is lighter but shouldn’t be used to compensate for an ill-fitting saddle. It would be like putting thick socks on with shoes that are already too tight.
Saddle pads were originally designed to keep the underside of the saddle clean, but have now become a complicated choice and is a topic needing its own article.
Looking at the saddle from beside the horse – does it sit evenly? If it’s too high at the front then it’s probably too narrow and will tend to roll from side to side or slip when you mount no matter how tight the girth. If it sits up at the back, it may be too wide in the gullet and be unstable when you rock it from front to back.
It should also be easy to run your hand freely behind the shoulder. If you have trouble freely running your hand between the shoulder and the widest point of the gullet, then its probably too narrow for your horse.
Then view the saddle from the front – does it clear the wither by at least 4 fingers? Even treeless saddles should have good wither clearance.
Another issue with fit is the placement of the saddle. The design should allow the saddle to fit far enough back from the shoulder to reduce interference when the horse moves. If your saddle does not girth up in the horse’s natural girth channel, when positioned back far enough, than it is not the right one.
Some saddle designs have a Y shaped girthing system that allows for the adjustment of the girth positioning.
Now its time to ride your horse so take notice of issues such as high head carriage, reluctance to transition down gaits, reluctance to travel down hill easily, reluctance to stride out freely, a sour expression and raising the head suddenly (even squealing) when you dismount.
Ride until your horse has a good sweat under the cloth and this will tell you even more about fit.
When you remove the saddle, there should be no sign of dry patches. This idicates that the pressure on the muscle in this area is restricting blood and sweat flow that will lead to muscle damage and dead tissue, eventually growing white hair.
There are so many problems that develop from saddle fit that we can remove or reduce by being aware and listening to our horse. Many behavioural and even health issues start with physical discomfort so its up to us to become good detectives and do our research.
With so much information available today, we have no reason to be ignorant and compromise our horse’s enjoyment of being ridden.