Equestrian Tack Specializing in products and information relating to equestrian tack.


Equestrian Tack: Fit Happens

Editors Note: Equestrian Tack highly recommends that you get your horse fitted with a saddle by a professional saddle fitter.  This article  serves to educate you with SOME of the fine points of saddle fitting but does not and should not replace a professional saddle fitter ...enjoy! 

I've always loved equestrian tack.  The bridles  The smell of  leather in equestrian shops.  The  attractive horse riding apparel. Putting on those brand new  full seat breeches and horse riding helmet ,  not only looks good, but helps keep you safe.  Besides shoes, what keeps the horses safe?  The answer to that is a proper fitting saddle.  

Let's say you are shopping for used western saddles or ranch saddles.  Do you know that you can't buy  the first saddle that tickles your fancy and slap  it on your valuable horses back?   Not if you are concerned about the welfare, comfort  and performance of your horse.   Not if you don't mind your vet bill rising.  

To insure a good fit, make sure horse is on a flat surface.

Gullet/Channel Width
It is important that the saddle NOT sit on the horse’s spine.  There should be obvious spinal clearance when looking through the saddle from front to back or vice versa.  The horses spine must align with the middle of the saddle .    As a rule of thumb, you should be able to see all the way though to the back thereby having  obvious spinal clearance. Sometimes the saddle might lean from one side to the other. 

Note that sizes are not  standard.  One saddle fitter’s medium might not be another’s  mid size.  One of the reason’s for this is because a saddle “tree”, the instrument used to measure a horse for a saddle, comes in different widths.  Also, various saddle makers measure sizing space in different ways.  

Typically, there are three saddle sizes -

  • Narrow saddle - fist width between the panels
  • Medium saddle  - fist width plus 2 cm extra
  • Wide saddle - fist width plus 3 cm extra

Note that some saddles have channels which are wide in the front and narrow in the back.  Make sure to get a saddle that is as wide in the back as is in the front.  This will help when the horse turns.  

First, mark the back edge of the shoulder blade in order to place the front of the saddle.  Second, go to the last rib and follow the line up to the spine, to mark.  Finally, the saddle needs to sit between those two lines.   Put the saddle on the shoulder blade and slide back so that it is directly behind the shoulder blade between the lines.    If the back of the saddle goes behind the back line,  it will sit on the lumbar area.  This puts pressure on the lower back which can cause spinal damage.   If the saddle is too far forward, the saddle will restrict the horses range of motion thereby restricting his movement.  This will not only shorten the horses stride but it will affect the bio-mechanics of the front leg, causing lameness.

Most horses are “left handed”.  To determine this look at the fall of the mane,  If it falls from the left side to the right side, then the horse is a left shouldered horse.  You can check this by standing in the back of the horse and look down the midline of the horse.  Look over the top line to see which shoulder is bigger. 

Shim the saddle with a non-compressionable shim.  The idea is that the rider needs to be on the center of the horses back.

Once the saddle is on, view from front  and back.  The arch at the front  (the pummel area) should be high enough to place 3-4 fingers.  The seat should be horizontal to the ground. 

Note that it is important to check the saddle for fit on a regular basis.   A horse changes its shape throughout  its lifetime.  It will require a new saddle to accommodate the new shape.  It is also important to note that the flocking in saddles can wear and become lumpy, creating pressure points on the horse's back.  

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