Did you know that an ill-fitting saddle can lead to muscle damage, training and behavioral problems, and a host of other issues in your horse? The majority of saddles are manufactured primarily with rider comfort, not the comfort of your equine athlete in mind. This saddle fitting guide will help correct saddle fit and a majority of performance, horse, and rider issues.
Understanding the Basics of Saddle Fitting
Saddle fitting really begins with a thorough inspection of not only how a horse’s saddle is structured, but also how the saddle is positioned as it sits on your horse’s back, and how and where the saddle bars and panels make contact with your horse’s back.
You’ll want to inspect your saddle closely and at all angles for significant differences in symmetry and balance, and also for defects like twisted trees and asymmetrically installed flaps and panels.
An English saddle should contain panels of sufficient width to offer good support, and a gullet that’s between 2.5 and 3 inches wide so that it completely clears the spine.
A Western saddle’s bars must have sufficient twist and rocking ability to conform to the curves in your horse’s back, and the gullet must be tall enough to clear your horse’s withers while being at the correct width.
Other key factors which will influence good fit include:
- Absence of pressure
- Placement of girth
- Seat size
- Stirrup placement or position of stirrup bars
- Fit of saddle trees, first across the withers and then to your horse’s back
- Rider fit in the saddle, including levelness of the seat
- Sit of the saddle
The Importance of Proper Saddle Fit for the Rider
For the rider, improper saddle fit can impact balance, comfort, and posture. An ill-fitting saddle can lead to tension in hip flexors and joints. This, along with poor posture, can lead to pain and possible injury.
The proper fit of a saddle will allow for a better connection between you and your horse, as well as provide increased movement and freedom and improved equitation.
Getting in touch with a professional saddle-fitter will help ensure your saddle fits properly, providing you with a more natural seat that doesn’t place undue strain on your body.
The Impact of Proper Saddle Fit for the Horse
The fit of any saddle should be considered as a critical element of your horse’s care. This is because an ill-fitting saddle can cause a whole host of serious health and behavioral problems.
One sure sign of improper saddle fit is the formation of patches of white hairs, which indicates excessive pressure and rubbing by the saddle and tack. An ill-fitting saddle can negatively impact your horse’s posture, causing ewe neck to develop.
It can also result in your horse hollowing its back. Injuries your horse can sustain from improper saddle fit include swollen withers, girth sores, scarring, and sores along the horse’s spine.
A horse experiencing pain and discomfort from an ill-fitting saddle may lay their ears back during riding, become skittish, and sometimes buck or rear. All of these are responses to stress.
No pain, discomfort, or behavioral issue in your horse should be ignored, because these can all be indications of problems with the fit of the saddle. No horse can perform at their best with a sore back, aching muscles, and painful raw areas.
A professional saddle fitting will consider your horse’s unique movement, anatomy, and more into account and ensure their comfort every time you ride. As well, a fitting will eliminate responses caused by stress, ultimately contributing to your horse’s health and longevity.
The Process of Saddle-Fitting
Before you call a professional saddle fitter, ensure that a suitable riding area is available. You’ll also want to have your girth and saddle pad at hand and groom your horse prior to the session.
Your professional saddle fitter will begin by speaking with you about your horse and the things that can indicate problems with saddle fit. These include their age, general health, or lameness problems; what activities they engage in; and their fitness level.
You can expect the fitter to ask that your horse be trotted and walked. They will also feel along your horse’s back to check for lumps, heat, or reactions to touching and assess their conformation.
During this stage, the fitter will also take measurements of your horse’s girth and use a flexicurve to create tracings of their spine, back, and withers.
You’ll be asked to saddle up so that the fitter can check for even sitting of the saddle panels along the back of your horse, as well as proper clearance at the withers and free shoulder movement. Then they will rebalance your saddle by making alterations to its flocking.
Finally, your fitter will want to confirm proper fit by observing how you ride on both reins during canter, trot, and walk and will ask for your feedback.
Common Saddle Fitting Problems and Solutions
A common issue, bridging, involves pressure being placed on the saddle’s front and back edges, but minimal or no contact through the saddle’s middle and along the panels. This can often be corrected by removing some flocking.
Pinching occurs when the front of the saddle doesn’t provide sufficient space. This problem can affect withers rotation, and it prevents your horse’s shoulder blades and legs from moving freely. It can be corrected by reducing padding, removing blankets, and ensuring the saddle isn’t pulled down on the withers.
Excessive rocking can cause your horse’s back to be dry in the middle, but wet under the cantle and pommel. Common corrections can include shims and padding.
Because both your horse’s body and yours will change over time with work and age, so will your seat and the fit of the saddle. Therefore, it’s a good idea to schedule a saddle fitting every 8 to 12 months, depending on how much you ride.
Weekly maintenance of your saddle will also help to ensure better fit and help extend the life of your saddle. Regular cleaning and conditioning with mild saddle soap followed by conditioner is recommended for cowhide saddles. A damp sponge and cream leather conditioner is best for calf or buffalo skin saddles.
During maintenance, inspect your saddle for stitching and other wear so that any issues can be addressed before they become more troublesome.
Quality Products Help to Ensure Proper Saddle Fit
Ensuring that your saddle fits properly will eliminate unnatural balance that can place strain on your muscles and joints and cause potential long-term damage and discomfort during riding.
Proper saddle fit will eliminate the pain and discomfort that can cause future health issues, behavioral problems, and stress in your horse, which all have a detrimental effect on their quality of life.
Where it comes to your horse’s health, there can be no denying the benefits of proper saddle fit. This must be predicated by products that have been properly and meticulously developed and manufactured for top quality and performance.
Developed by veterinarians, Sedelogic saddle pads are fully breathable, keeping your horse comfortable, drier, and cooler. Sedelogic pads are also constructed using a 3D weaving technique, which allows the entire pad to act as a shock absorber and pressure distributor to relieve pain on pressure points.
Vitafloor carries a full range of top-quality equestrian equipment, including Sedelogic saddle pads and tendon boots, horse vibration plates, exercisers, and much more. Our products are trusted by trainers, riders, and veterinarians worldwide.
Take your performance to the next level; visit Vitafloor today!