English Saddle Fitting 101
Saddle fitting; it’s the most glamorous, exciting, fun part of your entire equestrian career. Well, not really. Saddle fitting is actually something many of us would rather just skate by and hope for the best. Good saddles are expensive, and that moment when you realize that your best buddy saddle doesn’t fit your new best buddy horse — well, let’s just say it’s not pleasant.
So how can you tell if your saddle is doing a good job of fitting to your horse’s back? Here are a few steps for a saddle fitting session. Set the saddle on your horse’s bare back and let’s take a look!
Check your clearances: You don’t want the saddle and the withers bumping together. You don’t want the tree and the spine bumping, either. Clearances are everything: two to three fingers should fit between the withers and the pommel on a horse with normal withers. Three to five fingers should fit into the gullet of the saddle.
Watch the balance: The saddle should sit parallel to the ground: not tipped up, not tipped backwards. When viewed from behind, it should sit perfectly even, not slipping to one side.
Angles: Watch the billets before you attach a girth — they should hang perpendicular to the ground, not angled forwards or backwards. Once you have a girth buckled, check that the girth hangs straight and is at the narrowest point of the rib-cage, just behind the front legs.
What if it doesn’t fit? In some cases, minor issues with saddle fit can be addressed with corrective gear. If your girth slides forward and rubs behind the horse’s elbow, you can try using a girth with a larger curve in its design to prevent that contact. For saddles that allow a minimum of clearance through the pommel and gullet, be sure you are using very thin saddle pads — thick saddle pads exacerbate the tight fit and require the saddle to be girthed that much tighter, meaning the pressure increases all around. If your saddle seems to be sitting unevenly, you can try special pressure-distribution pads. Sheepskin pads are another good choice for reducing friction caused by an uneven saddle.
Of course, your horse will let you know if the saddle just isn’t working out. Painful expressions and acting out, swellings and bumps that may be scar tissue, rubs and missing hair — these are all tell-tale signs that it’s time to rethink your saddle.
If you’re looking for a custom-made saddle, here’s an interesting way to send measurements to the saddler: the Equimeasure system. The Equimeasure pad creates a mold of your horse’s back and can be sent on to a saddler. A rider could also take the mold into a tack shop and use it on the spot to see what saddles fit the horse’s back. One drawback to the Equimeasure, though — it requires an oven near your barn to heat up the pad. Find out more at equimeasure.com.
Once you’ve found that perfect saddle, protecting and properly maintaining it can add years, even decades, to the life of your saddle by following these basic steps: https://equinefacilitydesign.com/equine-care/horse-tack-saddle-care-quick-tips.htm.