The importance of a comfortable saddle fit for your horse cannot be over emphasised. Yet this essential aspect is often overlooked. The rider looks for comfort for themselves, often neglecting the comfort of their horse. Yet, the comfort of the horse is far more important.
Getting a saddle professionally fitted is the best way to ensure your horse is comfortable while you’re riding him. If the saddle is uncomfortable or painful, your horse will not be able to work efficiently.
The obvious signs of fur worn away, or worse, an open wound, means you have a problem with your saddle.
If your horse has an open wound anywhere that comes into contact with the saddle, girth or bridle, then you have no option but to rest the horse, until the wound is completely healed. Totally healed.
If the fur has simply been worn away, you can get away with getting a new saddle fitted.
One of the best ways to check if your have a good saddle fit is to ask your horse. As you approach your horse with the saddle, how does he react? If he moves away, or tries to, if he puts his ears back, if he tenses his mouth, the chances are that he finds the saddle uncomfortable.
If he reacts when you put the saddle on, this most likely indicates the same problem.
The pad is also important. Some people use thick pads to compensate for a badly fitting saddle. This doesn’t work. Instead you should have a well fitting saddle with only a thin pad, whose sole purpose is to protect the saddle from sweat.
If a saddle looks too high at the front, when viewed from the side of the horse, it is too narrow for the horse. If it sits too high at the back, it is too wide.
There should be a good four finger clearance between the saddle and the horse’s spine.
There should be a good clearance between the widest part of the saddle gullet and the shoulder of the horse, to allow free movement. It this is not there, the saddle is probably too narrow.
The saddle should be so positioned that your weight fits over the horse’s centre of gravity. Many English and Western saddles position the rider’s weight too far forward.
Some hints when riding, that your horse will give you that he is not comfortable include:
- a high head carriage
- a disinclination to travel down slopes
- a disinclination to move freely or bend easily
- a disinclination to transition down easily
- a sour expression
- ears back
- a tense mouth
An indication of a good saddle fit, is that when you remove it, the sweat is evenly distributed over the whole of the covered pressure areas. Any dry patches indicate undue pressure at these points. This will lead to muscle damage.
Any signs of white hair show that this has happened in the past.
When a horse shrinks away from touch on his back, you have either a very tender back or a problem. Sometimes, rubbing the back to relax it first is all that is necessary. If, after the massage, the horse doesn’t shrink away from touch, this indicates he simply has a ‘cold back’.
When you saddle up, always watch the horse’s head for signs of unhappiness. They can’t yell out at you to say it hurts, so you have to watch for their body signs. A horse also swishes his tail when he is not happy, so you need to have eyes everywhere!
There are many different saddles around now, with a variety of different benefits and problems. Whatever the saddle, the most important aspects for a good saddle fit are:
- no weight on the backbone of the horse (check the tree is not broken, if the saddle has one)
- allows the horse to move freely, bend easily
- the horse does not react to the approach of the saddle or its fitting
- the horse does not show signs of discomfort when ridden
- sweat has occurred evenly under the whole area of the saddle weight bearing parts
I once regularly rode a farmer’s horse, who had no time to himself. He was self taught and didn’t understand the importance of a good saddle fit. The saddle he wanted me to use had a broken tree (it was possible to squeeze the saddle, and it settled onto the spine after mounting). When I refused, he still didn’t believe the tree was broken. I had to ask a local sadder, before he believed me.
Even a small child on a pony can cause pain and discomfort if the saddle fits badly.
One of the best saddles to use is the bareback pad. This has no stirrups and encourages a good balance from the rider. It doesn’t impede the horse’s movement at all, so they like it. It can also be used to bring a saddle shy horse back into riding.
If you live in Australia, you can purchase them here.