basic tips for checking saddle fit
How do I know if my saddle fits? Here are a few
tips to take the mystery out of checking for basic fit.
What does your horse say?
Look at your current saddle and evaluate what your horse is
telling you about it with his body language. Is he moving forward less
freely under saddle
unhappy with the saddling process (pinning ears, tail swishing, moving
back, nipping at the girth etc.)? When you mount your horse does he toss
his head and hollow his back? Look at the sweat pattern on your horses
ride. Can you see an even contact pattern of the saddles tree from front
to back of the saddle? No? These signs may point to an ill-fitting saddle.
Is he lame or sore? Be
related to saddle fit but fixing an ill-fitting saddle is a step on the
road to improvement.
All of the following steps should be performed with your horse standing
squarely on level ground. Be sure
to check both sides of your horse, as many horses are slightly asymmetrical.
All these steps of saddle fit should be done with the saddle in direct
contact with the horse's back- no pad.
1. Position of the Saddle
First place the saddle slightly forward on the horse's withers. Next press
down on the pommel and slide the saddle rearward until it stops at the
resting-place, which is dictated by each horse's conformation. Repeat this
procedure several times until you feel the saddle stop in the same spot
repeatedly, well behind the shoulder blade. Resist the temptation to place
the saddle too far forward on the withers. This is a very common fitting
mistake and can interfere with your horse's soundness and movement.
2. Point Angle/ gullet width
The pommel "points" of the saddle (the two sides of the tree)
should lie parallel to the withers, and not sitting on top or sticking
into the musculature. If the angles are too narrow, the points will dig
into the musculature, and will cause a pressure point with the riders
weight in the saddle. If they are too wide the saddle will tip down in
pressure on top of the withers, and often give the rider a feeling of
tipping forward in the seat.
3. Panel Pressure
(NOTE: The panels are the stuffed bottoms of the saddle, which rests
on the horse's back.) With pressure on the top of the saddle, run your
down the front of the panel between the horses skin and the saddle,
and feel for any uneven pressure. The front edge of the panel l should
pinch the withers in any area. If it pinches toward the top, and feels
like there is no pressure or uneven pressure at the bottom, it is probably
too wide. In this case the saddle will also most likely have less than
3 fingers clearance between the pommel and the withers. if it pinches
toward the bottom of the points, and feels "looser" at the
top, it is probably too narrow and in this case it may also have more
than 3 fingers
clearance between the withers and the pommel. You may also notice that
the seat is tipping back towards the rear of the horse. With pressure
on the top of the saddle, run your hand, palm up, along the entire panel
the sweat flap to ensure that the panels fit snugly and evenly on both
sides of the withers and along the back. Check for Bridging in the middle.
Also be sure that the Angle of the panels lie closely to the sides of
the withers when viewed from the front and also the rear. Notice how
much area the panels
are actually contacting with the horses back. Panels that are at the
wrong angle or have too much flocking (too round) will have less contact
This can make a difference in how the saddle distributes the weight of
the rider- the more contact area that you have, the better the weight
of the rider is distributed. This is especially important for a heavy
rider that is using an english saddle with small panels.
4. Level Seat
The seat itself (the part of the seat that your sit bones are sitting
on, ) should be level. Even a subtle tilt forward or back can make
a difference. If the tree gullet in the saddle is too narrow and causes
the saddle to sit too high in front and too low behind, the lowest
point of the saddle is displaced toward the rear, placing most of the
rider's weight back into a very vulnerable part of the horse's back.
Saddles that sit too high in front because of a gullet that is too narrow,
often slide forward. Despite the fact that the saddle is sitting low
behind, the rider often feels he is tipping forward. Tipping forward
is a bodys' natural response to compensate for the saddle sitting too
low behind. Unfortunately, this causes the rider to break forward over
the waist at the sitting trot, absorbing the movement in his or her lower
back instead of going with the movement. Another compensatory response
is for the leg to creep up because the flap is forwardly displaced.
Trying to correct this problem by using a bounce pad under the rear
of the saddle, can cause bridging in the center, and also lifts the back
of the saddle up, which only adds more pressure to the withers and makes
the entire saddle laterally unstable, tipping side to side-. The
correct solution is a wider, properly fitted tree.
WHITE HAIRS. Check for white hairs anywhere that your saddle is contacting
your horses back. Most commonly found in the withers area, but you can
find them anywhere. When there is a pressure point sufficient enough
to cause scarring in the skin tissue, pigmented hair is unable to grow,
and the hair will grow out white in that area.
Catching it early and fixing the problem is the only solution for white
hairs. (unless of course your entire horse is white! ) Then you just
have to check for sensitive spots after and before each ride.
5. Wither Clearance
There should be approximately two to three fingers' clearance between
the underside of the pommel and the horse's withers. Adequate clearance
should extend all the way through the gullet of the saddle along the
horses spine, between
two panels. More than three fingers' clearance may mean the pommel is
too high, i.e. the tree is too narrow- but check for the other indications
mentioned above before you assume the saddle gullet is too narrow.. A
saddle with less than 2-3 fingers may mean that the saddle is too wide.But
again, check for the other symptoms as well. For some horses, as long
as the saddle is sitting level, and is not contacting the withers or
spine, you can have less than 3 fingers clearance. The two to three finger
rule may not apply to horses with flat round withers. Also, if
a horse is underweight, and its muscles along each side of the spine
are not well developed, the saddle can have the correct gullet width
but not have the spine clearancein back or the wither clearance in front. You
would see this at both the front and the back of the saddle. This is
few cases when a saddle pad with inserts along the entire length of the
spine will work. It will lift up the entire saddle and fill the area
to the spine- use it until the horse gains weight, and the saddle should
fit just fine without adjustmen to the flocking.
Note that a saddle will settle lower with the weight of the rider, so
check these measurements with and without someone on the horses back.
6. Channel Clearance/Gullet Width
There should also be adequate clearance over the spine and connective
tissue throughout the channel of the saddle. A channel that is too narrow
will impede the horse's movement dramatically and may even cause the
spine to be observably sore. Feel the width of the spine and connective
tissue with your fingers and estimate its width. The channel of the saddle
should completely clear this width, resting on the long back muscle instead.
7. Length of the Saddle
The saddle should never go behind the 18th thoracic vertebrae, which
is essentially the back of the ribcage. Behind this vertebra are the
lumbar vertebras, which do not have adequate, supporting bony structures.
The tree of the Sommer saddles works for the short backed horse
or the gaited horse and does not interfere.
8. Feel what your horse is doing.
Again, with the rider up and the saddle correctly evaluated, observe
your horse's body language. Is he moving more freely, extending his front
legs and reaching under himself with his hind legs? Is he lifting his
back, or is he traveling "hollow"? Does he have more freedom
to move with a correctly fitted saddle? After a few minutes in a correctly
fitted saddle, he should tell you if he's happy.
Again, be aware that that not all unhappy body language is always related
to saddle fit but fixing an ill-fitting saddle is the first step on the
road to improvement. Check for soreness, lamness before buying a new
saddle. Dont test ride a new saddle on a horse that already has a back
problem from a previous saddle- the new saddle will not fix the problem-
give the horse time to heal so that you can faily evaluate the new saddle.
Most rider discomfort can be alleviated with proper saddle fit and design.
The most common problems associated with saddle fit are: seats too small,
saddles sitting too high in front and saddles in which the rise to the
pommel extends too far back. A saddle with a very wide twist can cause
hip soreness, but sometimes that same feeling is caused by a saddle with
a seat that is too large for the rider- the rider is sitting too far
back in the seat. A rider in too small of a seat will have the feeling
similar to a very narrow twist, or having too steep a rise into the front
of the saddle. For an english or western saddle you sould be able to
place your hand sideways in front of you on the pommel and you should
be able to put at least 3 fingers horizontally behind your rear end at
the back of the seat at the cantle. Note** any size rear end that is
crammed into a seat that is too small, looks BIGGER!! :) so...you will
be more comfortable, your horse will be more comfortable and you will
look better, in a seat that is the correct size, no matter what that
size may be.
The most common rider position problems that cause discomfort at sitting trot
are breaking forward over the waist into the pommel. With western saddles,
bracing with the feet into the stirrups and pushing the rear end into the back
of the saddle, causes the balls of the feet to to go numb, and also causes
sore lower back for the rider. Sometimes this is just an unconscious habit
of the rider and sometimes it is caused because the gullet of the saddle is
too wide and the rider is compensating for the forward tilt of the seat without
realizing that they are doing it. This rider position also places the riders
weight into the back of the saddle and puts pressure on the lower back area
of the horse. Remember this...if your position is causing YOU to have a sore
back, it is also mirrored in the horse and the horse will also be sore in this
area if you ride them long enough- they are obviously stronger than you, so
it takes longer for a horse to show soreness .. Sore knees can also be caused
from bracing, as well as stirrup leathers that are too stiff and are twisting
the riders toe in towards the horses side.