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Saddle Fit: Why it Matters for Your Horse's Comfort and Well-Being

Riding a horse can be an enjoyable and fulfilling experience for both the rider and the horse. However, a poorly fitting saddle can cause discomfort, pain, and even health problems for the horse.

Why is saddle fit important?

Your horse's comfort and well-being should be a top priority, and a poorly fitting saddle can negatively impact both. The right saddle fit is crucial because it distributes the rider's weight evenly across the horse's back. This helps to prevent pressure points, chafing, and other types of discomfort for the horse. A saddle that's too tight can put pressure on the horse's spine, leading to pain and discomfort. A saddle that's too loose can move around too much, causing the horse to be unbalanced and putting additional strain on the horse's muscles. In extreme cases, a poorly fitting saddle can even cause permanent damage to the horse's spine.

Additionally, a saddle that doesn't fit properly can also impact your riding experience. A saddle that's too small for you can make it difficult for you to maintain proper balance, while a saddle that's too big can make it hard to feel secure.

How to determine the right saddle fit

The first step in determining the right saddle fit is to assess the horse's body shape. This includes measuring the horse's withers, spine, and back. It's also important to consider the horse's breed and riding discipline, as different riding styles require different types of saddles.

Once you have an idea of the horse's body shape and the appropriate style of saddle for your riding needs, you can start trying on saddles. It's important to choose a saddle that is the right size and shape for the horse's back, as well as one that is comfortable for the rider.

When trying on saddles, it's important to pay attention to the following:

  • Wither clearance: There should be enough clearance between the saddle and the horse's withers to prevent pressure and discomfort.

  • Twist: The twist of the saddle should be wide enough to accommodate the horse's spine and not put pressure on the horse's withers.

  • Spinal clearance: The saddle should not press down on the horse's spine, as this can cause pain and discomfort.

  • Tree Width: The width of the saddle tree should match the width of the horse's spine.

  • Panel Fit: The panels of the saddle should make contact with the horse's back evenly and without pressure points.

  • Balance: The saddle should be balanced, with the weight evenly distributed across the horse's back.

  • Stirrup placement: The stirrups should be positioned in a way that allows the rider to maintain proper balance and stability.

  • Length: The length of the saddle should be appropriate for the horse's back length, with enough room for the horse's shoulders to move freely.

A simple rule of thumb that you can do yourself at home is to ride in the saddle with a white saddle pad and check afterwards that the sweat pattern is even across the whole pad. While it's not the only consideration, it can help you determine an obvious bad fit.

It's also a good idea to have a professional saddle fitter involved in the process to ensure that the saddle fits properly and to make any necessary adjustments. As with all equine services, do your research and find a saddle fitter that is recommended by previous customers. For example, you might be skeptical of someone who claims they can assess your saddle fit based on one close-up picture of one side of your saddle without seeing the whole horse, or the saddle from other angles. It's much better to have your saddle assessed in person.

Saddle fit is an important factor to consider when riding horses. A properly fitting saddle not only enhances the riding experience for both the horse and the rider, but it also helps to prevent injuries and other health problems. By taking the time to determine the right saddle fit, you can ensure that your horse is comfortable and happy while riding.

Here is some further reading on saddle fit:

  1. Roepstorff, L., Egenvall, A., Rhodin, M., & Byström, A. (1998). Saddle pressure patterns of three different types of saddles used with and without saddle pads. Equine veterinary journal. Supplement, (26), 20-25.

  2. Clayton, H. M., & Lane, J. (2002). Influence of saddle design on thoracolumbar pressures in the horse: a preliminary study. Equine veterinary journal. Supplement, (34), 489-493.

  3. Roepstorff, L., Egenvall, A., & Rhodin, M. (2002). The effect of saddle design on pressure distribution and behaviour of horses and riders. Equine and Comparative Exercise Physiology, 239-245.

  4. Clayton, H. M., & Dyson, S. J. (2004). The influence of rider: horse bodyweight ratio and rider-horse saddle fit on equine gait and behaviour: a pilot study. Equine veterinary journal, 36(1), 83-85.

  5. Clayton, H. M., & Kaiser, L. J. (2007). Pressure testing of saddles and riders: a preliminary study. Veterinary journal (London, England: 1997), 173(3), 538-541.

  6. Dyson, S. J., Ellis, A. D., Guire, R., & Carson, K. J. (2008). An investigation of riders’ ability to evaluate saddle fit. Veterinary journal (London, England: 1997), 175(3), 374-381.

  7. Clayton, H. M., & Kaiser, L. J. (2009). Saddle pressure measurements in horses: effects of saddle and girth type. Journal of Applied Physiology, 107(1), 71-75.

  8. Dyson, S., Murray, R., Schramme, M. C., & Branch, M. (2010). Inter-observer and intra-observer variability in working horses in hand lameness assessment using a 0-10 numeric rating scale and an extended stride. Equine veterinary journal, 42(S38), 283-288.

  9. Ellis, A. D., Newton, S. A., Knottenbelt, D. C., & Welsh, E. M. (2012). A preliminary study into the pressure exerted on horses’ backs by saddles used in the UK. Veterinary Record, 170(18), 462.

  10. Kotschwar, A. B., & Harman, J. C. (2015). The effect of a pressure-distributing saddle pad and a professional saddle-fitting session on saddle pressure of horses. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, 35(6), 481-487.


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