Saddle Up Series - Understanding Your Horse's Back - Part Six
 By Polo the Weirdo   •   23rd Jul 2013   •   3,317 views   •   2 comments
Saddle Up Series

So far in this series, we've briefly covered equine back pain all the way from causes to treatments, but as we reach the final leg of the series, it seems we've missed one extremely important topic, perhaps the most important of all - Prevention.

Now, as this series has taught us, it really isn't possible to completely ‘prevent’ back pain in horses. Any athlete – equine or otherwise – will take strain, and as riders, it is our responsibility to maintain the physical well-being of our horses (through the methods previously mentioned). What, then, do I mean by ‘prevention’? Well, the answer is this: The leading cause in equine back pain is (And probably always will be) an incorrectly fitting saddle. This, of course, means that the best way to prevent back injury in your horse is by ensuring that your saddle fits him correctly.

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Related Article: Taking Care of Your Horses Back

Saddles come in many different shapes and sizes, but for the purpose of this article, we’ll be looking at three main types: Dressage, General Purpose, and Jumping. A General Purpose (or GP) saddle is meant, as its name would suggest, for ‘general purpose’. It allows for a little bit of jumping and a spot of dressage, although to do either job properly in a GP saddle is both challenging and highly uncomfortable, even for the best of riders. In my opinion, GP saddles only have a place with riders who do not intend to pursue a competitive career in either jumping or dressage, since they certainly do a rider’s position no favour. The knee rolls aren't quite forward cut enough for jumping, yet not quite long enough for dressage, meaning that you’re always in that frustrating middle ground that just doesn't feel ‘quite right’. That being said, a GP saddle can be a comfortable and affordable option for a lower grade rider looking to dabble in a number of disciplines.

Dressage saddles are intended for use in dressage only, or possibly some showing. They were certainly never meant for jumping (And if you've ever jumped in one, I’m sure you’d agree). What sets the average dressage saddle apart from other saddles is the long, straight knee roll – often raised and padded to keep the rider’s leg back. These saddles also often sport a deep seat to assist in sitting trot.

Jumping saddles, obviously, are designed for riding over fences – be it showjumping, eventing, or hunter classes. Jumping saddles are usually close contact, fitting close to the horse’s back, and sporting forward cut knee rolls to allow for the shorter stirrups and bent legs a rider needs to stay in the saddle over big jumps.

When selecting a saddle, the first thing to take into account is what you, as a rider, will need. You need to think carefully about what you will be doing in the saddle, then select what will best suit your needs. If you’re going to be showjumping, you need to make sure that the cut of the knee roll fits your legs, and with any saddle, you must make sure that the seat is neither too big nor too small for you. Generally, you should be able to fit four fingers behind you when sitting in the saddle, and three in front. That being said, the only way to tell what is really the best size seat for you is to ride in a number of different sizes and see which suits you best.

Once you've determined what sort of saddle you need for yourself, you face an even bigger challenge: Finding one that suits your horse as well.

Image Credit: © Jarihin |
So, I have a question. Next year, I am hoping to get a project horse, just an equine that hasn't had any decent training, just yahoos getting on and "Go!"ing, like my mare was, to train over the summer and sell in the fall. I will most likely need to buy a saddle for him/her as we don't have an extra, and it probably wouldn't fit anyway. I can't decide if I should get a GP or a jumping saddle. I am hoping to train him for eventing, but would also probably be showing in hunters too, since there are sooo many hunter shows close by. What would you suggest?
  Jul 23, 2013  •  4,422 views
I've never had any trouble jumping in a GP saddle, but I'm only jumping around 3'-3'6", however, flatwork is a nightmare! I do have one dressage saddle, but I keep begging mum for another :P
  Jul 31, 2013  •  4,053 views
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