With the nicer weather we are sure many of you will be out riding your horse or pony. Make sure you’re doing the best for your equine companion. Here’s our non-nonsense facts about saddle fitting
Saddle fitting fact sheet
This fact sheet is a guidance document. HAPPA recommends you should always seek advice from a qualified and reputable saddle fitting consultant when purchasing a saddle, the fit of a saddle should be checked at least twice per year and monitored for any changes. As your horse’s muscle and weight changes through aging, an increase or decrease in workload, progression in training, or changes in diet or illness, the way your saddle sits on your horse will change too.
Why check the fit
No matter what your riding discipline is, a well-fitting saddle enables your horse’s natural freedom of movement. It also helps you find a correct and more effective riding position. Because proper saddle fit is so crucial, HAPPA recommends contacting a professional saddle fitter for assistance along with using these guidelines.
The essence of good saddle fitting is for the saddle to evenly spread the weight of the rider over as large an area as possible on the horse’s back. It is essential that the shape of the underside of the saddle is as close as possible to the exact shape of the horse or pony’s back underneath the saddle. In fact, the underside of the saddle should be a mirror image of the horse’s back. Every aspect of your horse or pony’s wellbeing can be severely threatened by an ill-fitting saddle and every aspect of your enjoyment of riding them can be blighted.
Even though most horses tell you they are in pain through their behaviour there are some horses and ponies who will bear the pain and behave beautifully despite their discomfort (sometimes referred to as stoics). So, whether your horse behaves well or badly, it is essential to check the fit of the saddle.
The main areas that need checking before even taking the saddle to the horse is the tree (this is the component inside the saddle that holds the structure together). A twisted tree will not sit properly on the horse’s back and will cause uneven pressure. A broken tree will not spread the weight of the rider evenly. Most likely it will put the weight on a small area.
To minimise the effects of an ill-fitting it is important to check these three main areas:
- The wither area – A dip at the front or hollow at the back of the wither can indicate muscle wastage in the trapezius (this can be a result of restrictive saddle at the shoulder).
- The back area which the top part of the panels sits over – these should sit flush with the horses back resulting in an even pressure on either side of the horse’s spine.
- The cantle area – this should be no further back than the horses last rib and there needs to be enough room through the gullet of the saddle to prevent it pinching at either side of the spine.
To maintain this you must also be aware of when a saddle becomes un-level. If the saddle is tipped up at the front or at the back it will throw the rider’s weight in that direction. The saddle will no longer be able to spread the weight of the rider and the majority of the weight will be felt either at the front or the back of the saddle.
You also need to look at yourself and your own balance. If the rider is out of balance their weight will not be spread evenly across the saddle. If the rider leans forwards or backwards or to one side, the horse will feel the pressure of the rider’s weight in one area and this may be uncomfortable.
Often an overlooked element of saddle fitting is the position of the saddle on the horse’s back. Too far forward and it will interfere with the action of the shoulder. Too far back and it will lie on the loin, an area of the horse that is not designed for weight bearing and where weight will cause pain
Old, overused and unchecked saddle panels can become too hard or too soft. You should run your finger all over the surface to check for uneven pressure, lumps or sharp areas.
The surface area of contact to the horse on the underneath of the saddle needs to be sufficient. The smaller the surface area of the underside of the saddle, the greater the pressure per square inch.
Important facts to remember
- The comfort of the saddle will affect your horse’s ability to perform properly and is often the main cause of tension and bad behaviour. It is one of the most important factors in a horse’s wellbeing.
- An inexpensive saddle that fits well is much better than an expensive one that doesn’t. Quite often the effects of a badly fitting saddle will result in endless physiotherapy, vet and farrier bills!
- The whole of the underside of the saddle should fit the horse, not just the wither area. It should be a mirror image of the shape of the horse’s back.
- Never, ever guess the fit of the saddle – always measure it.
- Your horse and saddle can change shape so it is advisable to check yourself every month or so if there has been a change of diet or exercise or if the saddle is new or recently stuffed. If either have changed the saddle may no longer fit.
- Some horses are stoics, they don’t let you know that they are in pain and don’t show any of the signs of their saddle not fitting. Check your saddle’s fit anyway – just in case.
HAPPA recommends that all tack items are checked by a qualified Master Saddler a minimum of every six months. If you are a Borrower of a HAPPA Rideable equine we may request evidence of fitting appointments at any point during the loan period.