Its very important to ensure your saddle fits your horse correctly and that it is a suitable size for the rider. In this guide, we aim to give you some useful hints and tips for checking the fit. This guide does not aim to replace having a fully qualified saddler fitter out and we recommend you always have a saddle fitter come and check the suitability of your saddle. If you are local to us we have a saddler fitter available.
Our horses come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and it’s important to ensure that your saddle matches your particular horses shape.
When getting ready to try a new saddle before you start, ensure your horse is standing square on a level surface. Place the saddle on the horses back slightly forward of the whither without using a pad. Then take the saddle by the pommel and pull it backwards it should lock in when it’s in the correct position. A common mistake is to place the saddle too far forwards this will restrict the movement of the horse’s shoulders. The shoulder moves back by as much as 3 inches when the horse is moving.
The tree angle must be the same as the angle of the horse's shoulder at 2 to 3 inches behind the horse’s shoulder blade. This can be determined by doing a wither tracing at this point and matching it to the angle of the tree of the saddle. The saddle must then be looked at, with a rider on board. There should be an equal and even pressure all the way down the front of the saddle (it shouldn’t be tighter at the top or the bottom) The points of the saddle tree determine the saddle's width, and this is probably the most important aspect when evaluating a saddle's suitability for a specific horse. When the width of the tree is not right for a horse, the saddle will not fit.
Ensure the stirrup bars are parallel to the horses body or within 10 degrees of parallel to achieve the correct width of saddle for the horse. If the angle of the points is steeper than the angle of the horse's body, the tree is too narrow which will pinch the horse. If the angle is greater, then it is too wide. Often leading to it sitting right on top of the withers, offering not enough clearance, or once sat on, it will drop down in front.
The saddle tree angle is the only point that adjustable gullet saddles allow you to change.
The saddle Tree Width is the width of the tree at the front of the saddle, between the panels. It is quite possible to have a horse that needs a wide or extra wide tree width, but a narrow tree angle at the same time. This tree width is important, as the horse must be able to rotate the shoulder backwards without the tree being in the way.
Saddles that are too narrow in tree width also cause hollows to develop behind the horse's shoulder. These hollows are caused by the death of the muscle fibres due to pressure and constant trapping between the shoulder blade and the tree.
The gullet must be wide enough not to interfere with the spinal processes or musculature of the horse's back (3-5 fingers), All the way from front to back. Stand near the horse's hindquarters and ensure you can look down the gullet (the open space between the panels) ideally, the gullet clears the entire length of the horse's spine and does not touch the connective tissue on either side. If your horse is developing these hollows at the wither, the saddle doesn’t fit.
With the saddle correctly placed on the horse's back and the horse still standing squarely on even ground, check for the lowest point of the seat, which in most cases is half way between the front and back. This is the ideal position.
When the deepest point of the seat is too far back, the rider slides toward the cantle (back of the saddle), loading the back panels and causing the horse to hollow his back. If the saddle's center is too far forward, the rider tips forward. If the seat is not level this may indicate a serious saddle-fit problem, or it may mean that the panels require adjustment.
If the saddle is sitting slightly low behind and as long as the saddle tree is not too narrow, a qualified saddle fitter may be able to adjust the flocking to the back of the panel to raise the cantle.
Firstly evaluate pommel clearance when no rider is in the saddle, two to three fingers should fit into the space. Assuming that the tree fits, if there is not sufficient room, a saddle fitter may be able to add flocking to raise and/or balance the saddle to ensure that it clear the horse's withers. The saddle must also have 2 to 3 fingers clearance with a rider on board and it also has to have at least 2 fingers distance all around the withers, at the sides as well
When the horse moves, his shoulder blades rotate upwards and backwards. The saddle must have an opening (clearance) on the sides of the panels to accommodate the shoulder rotation, allowing the rear of the shoulder blade to slide, easily, under the front of the panel.
The weight-bearing surface of a saddle should be between the horse's wither area and the point where the last rib meets the spine. To find this point (technically known as T18), find where his hairlines come together in the area of his flank and draw a line straight up to his spine.
If the saddle sits too far back beyond this point, it will rest on the lumbar region--the weakest part of a horse's back--where it can cause injury, because the lumbar region cannot support a rider's weight.
The panels should be in full contact with the horse's back evenly all the way from front to back. Saddle trees vary from Flat, (which suits a lot of cob types) to Banana shaped trees (which suits many older and sway backed horses)
To check this, saddle up with the girth done up and run your hand from front to back under each side of the panels. There should be even pressure all the way along.
The horse will tell you whether he is comfortable by his movements and actions. A horse that moves freely, without hesitation or signs of distress, is probably wearing a saddle that fits him correctly. Most horses show a change in behaviour and movement when a badly fitting saddle is the source of pain.
Saddle fit may be the reason a horse fidgets when approached with a saddle. It also may be why he collapses, "crabs" away, or hollows his back when his girth is tightened. So if you see any of these behaviours get it checked!
Quite often we see the saddle fitted to the horse but it doesn't fit the rider.
It is important that the flaps are a suitable length for your leg.
The seat must also fit the rider, problems arise when the seat is either too long or too short. The rider should sit centrally and not over the back of the saddle. The stirrup bar also needs to also be in the correct position for the riders leg.
Often something that is forgotten about but is really important. A girth with elastic at one end can cause the saddle to pull to one side.
It is important that you have the right shape of girth an incorrectly fitted girth could lead to the saddle moving and becoming uncomfortable.
Society of Master Saddlers