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Fitting Saddles to a Swayed Back

By: Galadriel Billington

9:42PM Mar 17, 2005

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.

Lady Katherine Dropped Topline
Here we have a horse with
not much topline muscle.
Her back droops.
Lady Katherine Topline
Here we have the same horse,
when she was fit and had
significant topline muscle.
Her back is much straighter,
has more lift.

However, if you use a saddle that doesn't fit, it'll destroy the muscle you're trying to build, and the topline will never lift.

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.

With an English saddle, you have more options; the flocking in the saddle can be adjusted and readjusted to match the horse's curves. You will have to look at a number of saddles to find one which can be adjusted to fit. Some saddles will have panels which are simply too small to allow for very different flocking. Some saddles with straighter trees may not allow for more curve. With trial and error, you can eventually find one which can be adjusted to fit.

With a Western saddle, it can be a little more complex. The tree makes up almost all of the saddle; if the tree itself does not fit, then you must find another saddle. You can examine a number of brands to see if you can find a tree that will come close; depending on where manufacturers get their trees, the overall shape may vary. The same saddle brand and model may vary from year to year, if the manufacturer changes his source for saddle trees.

You can have a tree custom made and then have a saddle built on top of it. A custom tree may not be unreasonably priced; shop around. You will have to find a saddler who can build the saddle around the tree; however, you might be able to find somebody willing to use Cordura or lesser quality leather and end up with a total cost that is not unreasonable.

(After the tree is made, all that's really left to the saddle is to cover the tree on all sides with leather or fabric; the great majority of the Western saddle IS the tree, and the tree rests directly against the horse's back.)

You can also consider one of the treeless options, if you're primarily a trail/pleasure/light work rider. If the rider is overly heavy or you're asking for serious schooling, then a treeless may not be appropriate--but if you're asking for serious schooling, you should be building up that topline quickly anyway. (See this article for an evaluation of a "Barefoot" treeless.)
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2005 Galadriel Billington. All rights reserved.