How to Fit a Saddle

by Tammy Patterson

Styles of saddle:

Dressage Saddles - Most offer a closer fit to the horse, maximising contact between horse and rider. Knee rolls and saddle flap length are often longer, helping to create a longer, more effective leg position. The pommel and cantle are often a little higher giving non restrictive security and support when in the seat and excellent centre of balance for the rider.

Jumping Saddles - Aims to give the rider extra grip and closeness. The saddle flaps and knee rolls are positioned further forward to accommodate for the more acute knee angle of the rider, providing better grip at the knee. The pommel and cantle are not raised high, enabling the rider to move in and out of jumping positions easily and without restriction.

General Purpose / All Purpose Saddles - A widely used, versatile saddle. The cut of the saddle flaps and the height of the pommel and cantle allow for use in dressage, cross country and show jumping.

Western Saddles -The most widely used in the North America and growing with popularity in Europe and the rest of the world as more people embraces the American Western lifestyle. Developed from working saddles the Western Saddle still retains many of its rugged working features like the horn.

Fitting saddles:

Fitting saddles requires a lot of skill and should be done by qualified saddle fitters. There are a few points that can be observed and monitored by you to ensure the saddle is not uncomfortable for your horse.
Saddle size is determined by measuring from either side of the pommel (at the front of the skirt), to the middle of the cantle in a straight line. When sitting in the saddle the rider should be able to place 4 fingers between themselves and the cantle.

The saddle,
• Should not place any pressure on the spine, too wide or too narrow can cause pain and damage or bruise the spine or muscles running along the horses back.
• Should not sit any further back than the 18th rib. Past this point there is soft and sensitive tissue that, if pressure is put on them, can cause discomfort.
• Should sit clear of the horse's shoulder blade allowing for freedom of movement and preventing any pinching, bruising, soreness or loss of blood circulation to the Trapezius muscle.
• Should spread the weight of the rider evenly across the horses back. This will help to prevent pressure points from occurring.
• Should clear the horse's spine by 4 cm between pommel and withers (without a numnah) when the rider is on the horse.
Saddles, their fit to your horse and their fit to you should be checked twice yearly or more so if competing. This will accommodate for any changes that have arisen in your horse or saddle due to weight loss or muscle tone, work load or type of work done.
It is important to be aware of the factors that affect the fit of your saddle:
• Ensuring you sit squarely in the saddle will help to prevent the saddle from becoming unevenly balanced.
• Mounting from the ground continuously on the same side can, over time, pull the saddle out of the correct shape and put strain on the muscles of the horses back.
• Both stirrup lengths should be the same, otherwise this contributes to uneven rider weight distribution.
• Correct cleaning and maintenance of your saddle will keep it supple, allowing it to adapt to the horses shape fully, reducing pressure points.
• Correctly sized numnahs and the use of them will prevent the saddle from cracking due to dirt and sweat from the horse.
• Changes in weight and size of the rider or horse however subtle can affect the fit and comfort of the saddle on the horses back.
• Changes in frequency, type and level of work that the horse is undergoing can alter the fit of the saddle.
It is easy to spot signs that your horse is uncomfortable under the saddle if you know what to look for,
• Bucking.
• Reluctancy to go forward, jump etc.
• Reacting negatively at the sight of the saddle or when you go to put the saddle on their back.
• Their back dipping as you mount or sit your weight on the saddle.
• Unevenness /changes in their stride or changes in their movement on certain reins.

About the Author:

Tammy is an avid rider who likes to promote the proper ways to be looking after horses. Tammy works part time for Anything Equine online retailer in the UK who specialise in equestrian saddles as well as horse riding gloves in the UK.

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