If you and your horse are to be comfortable, it’s vital that you buy a saddle that fits both of you correctly. A poorly-fitting saddle can leave your horse with sores and a stiff back while you’ll suffer with postural problems and back pain.
English saddles come in four different widths of tree: narrow, medium, wide and extra-wide. They are also of different seat sizes, ranging from 16” up to 18.5”. Saddles also have different flap lengths, knee and thigh roll positioning, and pommel styles to accommodate different shapes and sizes of rider.
Although the saddle flocking can be adjusted, it’s essential that the actual tree is the right fit for your horse in order for it to remain comfortable for him. Never try to ‘make’ a saddle fit by using a saddle cloth or numnah to pad it out. If you want to keep the underside of the saddle panels clean and free from grease and sweat, use a thin cotton cloth, but make sure it doesn’t alter the basic fit of the saddle.
Remember that your horse may grow and change shape as he gets more fit or matures, and you may have to either change your saddle or have the flocking adjusted from time to time.
It’s important that the saddle seat size is right for you. If it’s too small, you’ll find yourself pushed backwards into the cantle. If it’s too large, you’ll slide around all over the place as soon as the horse moves.
Fitting a Saddle
These basic saddle-fitting principles apply to all English saddles; dressage, GP and jumping.
Always begin by putting the saddle onto the horse without using a saddle cloth. Tighten the girth so that the saddle is secure. Ask someone to sit in the saddle with their feet in the stirrups.
Keeping your fingers flat, slide them underneath the pommel of the saddle, near to the horse’s withers. At least three of your fingers should fit comfortably between the withers and the arch of the pommel. If the saddle sinks too low, it could rub or pinch the horse’s withers, causing painful sores, and resistance to being ridden.
Now ask someone to lift the horse’s foreleg and pull it forward, keeping your fingers between the pommel and the top of the horse’s shoulder blade. The saddle should not restrict the horse’s shoulder movement. Repeat this test on both sides.
Stand behind the horse (at a safe distance) and make sure you can see right down the gullet of the saddle. A well-fitting saddle will allow you to see daylight shining through. It’s also extremely important that the saddle is not too long for the horse. The back of the saddle should not be pressing on the horse’s sensitive loins.
The deepest part of the saddle’s seat should be flat on the horse’s back. The saddle should not tip forwards or backwards.
Ask the rider to walk the horse forward and watch to see if the saddle moves. Do the same in the trot and canter. The saddle should remain in place and the rider should not feel that they are tipping forward or slipping backwards.
When you take the saddle off, the marks it leaves on the horse’s coat should be equal and there should be no signs of uneven or excessive pressure to the horse’s skin.
A correctly fitting saddle is essential for the comfort of both horse and rider. If you’re unsure whether your saddle fits properly, always ask the advice of a qualified saddle fitter.
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