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Saddle Up Series - Understanding Your Horse's Back - Part Seven
 By Polo the Weirdo   •   11th Aug 2013   •   8,637 views   •   0 comments
Saddle Up Series

Saddle fitters are the main reason that I have trust issues, and I know I’m not the only one. When it comes to saddle fitting, the best advice I can give you is this: Trust no one, not even yourself.

Unfortunately for us ignorant riders, saddle fitting is an art. Even qualified saddle fitters sometimes won’t have the ‘eye’ to see if a saddle truly fits, and since saddle fitting is such a tricky and controversial topic, it’s very easy to end up taking the wrong advice. The best method is to find a good, trustworthy saddle fitter, and stick to them like the stink on their feet. If you try to take advice from a number of different fitters, you’re sure to get so many contradicting orders that even your maths textbook will start to make sense in comparison. What you need to do is ask around – speak to well renowned, trusted horse people, do research, and find out which saddle fitter comes most highly recommended. This is the person you want to fit a saddle to your horse, because as we all know, it’s very easy to make a mistake in fitting a saddle, and one mistake could eventually cost you your whole horse.

I’m no saddle fitter, but I’ve suffered through enough fittings to tell you what it is that the average saddle fitter will check when fitting saddles to your horse.

Related Article: Kissing Spine - Could This be Troubling Your Horse [Video]
Related Article: Taking Care of Your Horses Back

Length
As we know, a horse’s weight bearing area ends at its last rib. A saddle fitter should palpate your horse’s rib cage to find the last rib, and trace it upwards to find the end of the horse’s weight bearing area. This will determine the maximum length of the saddle that your horse can carry. But of course, the length of the seat must suit the rider as well. The typical adult rider usually needs upwards of 17”, while children and small, short adults can sometimes settle for 16”, perhaps less. If the seat of your saddle is the correct length for you, you ought to be able to fit one full palm between yourself and the end of the saddle both in front and behind when seated.

Width
All saddles come in different gullet sizes. Some saddles, like Wintecs, have adjustable gullets, whilst others have fixed gullets. For a horse that changes shape often – particularly a young, growing horse – a saddle with an adjustable gullet is always the best choice. Horses change shape according to season, work level, feeding schedule, age, and so many more factors. When buying a saddle, the rider must be aware that a saddle that fits the horse perfectly one day might be a completely different fit in three months’ time.

When placed on the horse, the saddle must be wide enough that it does not restrict the horse’s shoulders. This can be checked my sliding a hand between the saddle and shoulder of the horse while the rider the rider is seated, and the horse is walking. There should be enough space for a flat hand to fir snugly between the horse’s shoulder and the saddle, without too much tightness or discomfort.

The width of the gullet also determines the balance of the saddle. If the gullet is of the correct width, then one should typically be able to fit three fingers between the pommel and the wither of the horse. A gullet that is too narrow will raise the pommel too high, and thus adjust the balance so the saddle is tipping back, but a gullet that is too wide will sit too close to the wither, and perhaps even press on the spine, along with the effect of the rider’s weight tipping forward.

Panel Shape
A saddle’s panels come in many different shapes and sizes, which is just as well, because no two horses are the same shape, either. Every horse’s back has its own shape, and the panels of the saddle should fit this shape. You should see your saddle fitter tracing the saddle panels to make sure that their shape fits the horse’s back. Panels that are too small for a horse creature pressure points, while a straight panel on a banana-shaped horse can bridge – meaning that pressure is centered at the front and back of the saddle, without any contact being made in the middle. A saddle with flocked panels can be adjusted by a saddle fitter to better suit the shape of the horse, but a saddle with memory foam panels cannot be adjusted. Changing the flocking of the saddle is one way to assist in maintaining the fit of a saddle with a fixed gullet on a horse that is constantly changing shape. Flocking can be added or removed depending on the shape of the horse.

There are many more aspects to saddle fitting, but to learn all of them takes many years of experience and professional training. For now, this series seeks to educate the average horse owner on how to check the basic aspects of their saddle, and how to keep their horse from suffering a back injury.

This brings us to the end of our series, so I hope that those of you who have followed it from start to finish can ‘saddle up’ a little wiser.

Image Credit: © Jarihin | Dreamstime.com
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