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Fitting a Saddle to a Horse and Rider

By: Galadriel Billington

7:43PM May 6, 2004

A saddle is composed of some parts that flex and bend, and some parts that are fixed. The flexible parts may be adjusted, but the parts which are fixed must fit both horse and rider well. a saddle which does not fit a rider can cause problems with the rider's balance and stability. A saddle which does not fit a horse well usually causes pain. Bad saddle fit can contribute to "problem horse" behaviors such as resistence or acting out, bucking, rearing, "girthy"-ness, putting ears back or biting when saddled, not wanting to be caught or ridden, refusing to stand for mounting, and many more. A saddle which is narrow at the points may become excessively painful during posting.

After saddle fit has been adjusted, a horse may continue his previous behaviors for a while. He still expects the pain; he associates it with the saddle or with being ridden. You will have to convince him that the saddle will not hurt him any longer. Give him some time to get accustomed to the new fit of the saddle.

A horse who was often ridden in a badly fitting saddle may also have developed muscle problems. The saddle may have been digging into a muscle, or could have caused him to stay tense while saddled. If you have had a saddle fit problem, you may wish to consider an evaluation from an equine therapist.

Offering Saddle Fitting, Saddle Flocking Adjustments, Reflocking, Tack Repair and Alteration.
352-871-2943 or click "Contact Me" for appointments.
Discounts for Group Visits.
Serving the North Central Florida region.

Articles in this section

Comparing the Function of a Saddle to the Function of a Shoe

People often like to compare the fit of a saddle to that of a shoe. This can be similar in many ways, but perhaps a more on-target metaphor would be comparing to a backpack.

The "Barefoot" Saddle: Evaluation of a treeless

I had brief possession of a "Barefoot" treeless saddle, a demo model. I had a chance to get a pretty good look at it, and see how and how well it functioned.

Cashel Soft Saddle -- Review

The Cashel Soft Saddle is a bareback pad made of thick foam.

I am already certain my saddle fits because...

What are you currently using to judge your saddle fit?

Sweatmarks and Dry Spots

An even sweatmark does not guarantee that your saddle fits. However, dry spots under the pad bring certainty that you saddle does NOT fit. The dry spots are caused by pressure so great that it prevents the sweat pores from operating properly.

Saddle fitting and custom saddles are expensive!

Well, in truth, sometimes getting a saddle that fits correctly is expensive. However, that's the rarer case. For most horses, an inexpensive fitting option is out there.

Customizing a Saddle: Adjusting Flocking and Re-Flocking

I've said that it's not very precise, and can be damaging, to try to adjust the fit of a saddle with a pad. See Saddle Pads for more discussion of this issue.)

How, then, can you adjust the fit? Well, an English saddle is almost infinitely customizable by altering the flocking.

An example of Flocking Irons

An example of Flocking Irons

What's wrong with foam panels?

To fit well, a saddle must match the shape of a horse's back. It must match all along the length of the underside of the saddle, not just the "gullet width."

However, it must also allow for motion of the back, with its shape and its substance giving to the motion. In all three of these--matching, shape, and substance--foam panels fall short of fitting a horse well.

Gullet Clearance in the English Saddle

When we look at the gullet of an English saddle, we typically look at the front, and how the points of the tree sit on the horse's shoulders. There's a bit more to it.

Half-Tree Saddles

The half-tree saddle is often misunderstood. Let's look at the "tree" of the half-tree saddle and examine its effect on the horse's back.

Recommended Saddles: Manufacturers and Makers

Instant Relief: Does it mean the saddle fits now?

Instant Relief: Does it mean the saddle fits now?

Using Saddle Pads

There are all sorts of pads out there designed to "make" a saddle fit better. Unfortunately, the only way to truly make a saddle fit better is to change the saddle itself.

Shoulderblade Interference

If the saddle flap interferes with the shoulderblade, it may cause the horse to feel a "pinch" with every stride. He may begin to form scar tissue behind the shoulderblade. This scar tissue may resemble a muscle, because it is deeper under the skin, and firm.

Fitting Saddles to a Swayed Back

You have several options with a horse with a swayed back. One is to realize that most swayed backs are NOT congenital, and not true sway. They're a result of lack of muscle across the topline, and building back muscle will raise that back up straighter again.

There are also options if you have a horse who does have a congenital swayback, or has a condition of some kind that will not allow his back to lift even with more muscle.

Muscle Damage Caused by Poorly Fitting Saddles: It Needs Treatment

Once a horse has developed damage to his muscles from a poorly fitting saddle, that damage doesn't heal on its own. The horse will still have that damage 20 years later. Horses who have been retired for years still have damage and tender spots.

Whether the saddle was yours, a previous owner's, a saddle used by a trainer for 30 days, or any other circumstances...Once a horse has worn a poorly fitting saddle, that muscle damage will be with him for the rest of his life--UNLESS the muscles receive the proper physical therapy.

Tree Sizes

English trees may be narrow, medium, or wide. Western trees may have regular, semi-QH, QH, full QH, or Arabian bars.

Twist in Trees and Twisted Trees

"Twist" is a deceptive term when used with respect to a saddle. It could indicate a natural part of the tree, it could indicate a defect in a tree, or it could be the width/narrowness of the saddle at the waist.

Carrying Weight and Distribution

A Western saddle is typically heavier than an English saddle. However, a Western saddle may be more comfortable for a horse carrying a heavy rider--even though it means that the horse is carrying *more* weight overall. -- In addition to reading about weight distribution, you can also play with Javascript calculations on the second page, Weight Calculations.

When should you see a saddle fitter? When should you have your English saddle adjusted?

When should you see a saddle fitter? When should you have your English saddle adjusted?
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2004 Galadriel Billington. All rights reserved.