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Fitting your Saddle

When you want to get the best out of your horse, it's vitally important your saddle fits correctly and comfortably.

It is important to have a basic understanding of the muscles, bone-structure and movement of your horse around the saddle area.

The specific saddle-support area (diagram 1) of the horse consists of: The Spinal Column and the Thoracic Vertebrae; The Wither; The Ribs; The Scapula and the Longissimus Dorsi. The muscular diagram of the horse shows 3 main muscles that can be affected by a badly fitting saddle:

Diagram 1: Muscular diagram of a horse showing Longissimus Dorsi, Latissimus Dorsi, Trapezius Muscle

Diagram 1

Where should the saddle fit on the horse?

Firstly, place the saddle forward of the horse's wither, then slide the saddle back as far as it will comfortably go. This is determined by the conformation of the horse, but the resting point of the saddle should correspond with the lowest point of the horse's back. The points of the saddle tree should now be located in the natural depression that is found directly behind the horse's scapula (shoulder) and must not rest on or impede the scapula.

Diagram 2: Position of the saddle in relation to the scapula

Diagram 2

Why is it important to get the saddle in the correct position?

For the horse's comfort and to allow you to adopt an effective riding position. A common mistake is to place the saddle too far forward over the horse's withers. (diagram3) This will have the effect of placing the points of the saddle-tree over the horse's scapula, causing pressure which could then impede the horse's movement and may even cause saddle sores.

Diagram 3: Position of the saddle in relation to the withers

Diagram 3

What your saddle fitter will look for

The wither measurement. Your saddle fitter will take an accurate measurement of your horse's wither. This measurement is crucially important to ensure the front of the saddle gives absolute clearance of this sensitive area of the horse. Any direct pressure here will cause pinching and discomfort and can result in loss of performance and resistance in the horse. This measurement also allows your saddle fitter to check whether the horse is narrow, medium or wide across the shoulders. Remember, your horse can change shape depending on fitness, age and time of the year and this will affect how his saddle fits.

Beware! An incorrect saddle-fitting of the withers will result in a saddle that is either too narrow or too wide at the wither. A saddle that is too narrow will be too high at the pommel.

Effect on the horse:

This will cause undue lateral pressure on either side of the withers, from the points of the saddle-tree and saddle-bars causing pain, sores/bruising of the muscles. In human terms this is similar to wearing shoes that are too tight!

Effect on the rider:

As the pommel will be too high the rider will be pushed backwards as though they are riding uphill. This will cause the rider to become unbalanced and subsequently cause the horse to feel unbalanced. A saddle that is too wide will be too low on the horse's withers.

Effect on the horse:

There will be insufficient clearance of the horse's withers, so the pommel of the saddle will put pressure on the sensitive wither area causing soreness and rubbing. The panel contact will also not be evenly distributed.

Effect on the rider:

The saddle will dip down at the front, making the rider feel unbalanced, like riding downhill.

The Saddle Gullet. Channel

The channel of the saddle gullet must be wide enough to ensure that it does not to press against the horse's spine, as this is another extremely sensitive area. The panel of the saddle should be designed so that it enables the rider's weight to be distributed evenly over the full extent of the horse's bearing surfaces on muscles either side of the vertebrae giving the spinal column sufficient clearance.

Diagram 4: Saddle tree

Diagram 4

A well manufactured saddle should allow for a gullet-channel with 3-4 fingers in width in order that the panels rest comfortably either side of the horse's spinal column and thoracic vertebrae.

What about the rider?

It's also crucial that the saddle fits the rider properly, to allow for an effective position to be maintained at all times.

SADDLE SEAT - The rider should be able to place a minimum of a full palms width of their hand in front and behind when seating in the saddle.

Diagram 5: Weight distribution

Diagram 5

SADDLE FLAPS - The lower leg should hang below the saddle flap, otherwise you will not be able to use your legs effectively.

If you have had your saddle fitted by a qualified saddle fitter, try and use a saddlecloth that is slim, bulky saddlecloths and numnahs can interfere with the fit. And remember - choose a saddle for your chosen discipline - i.e. jumping or dressage, alternatively a general purpose saddle is a great choice if you enjoy a bit of everything!

For more information on fitting your saddle contact Barnsby Saddlery on 01922 621676, Fax 01922 722575, email Barnsby Saddlery; Go to the Barnsby website.

Diagram 6: Lower leg beneath the saddle flaps

Diagram 6