Recently I was able to watch a saddle fitting session with a representative from Black Country Saddlery. It brought to light how fortunate we are to have access to tack that optimizes athletic performance and keeps our horses comfortable. I am a strong believer in the use of quality tack, particularly saddles.
With sensitivity to feel a single fly, a horse’s back muscles must support our weight, act as a center of balance, and have suppleness to shape movement. Keeping such a dynamic part of the horse strong and pain free not only determines his ability to perform, but also his ability to move soundly through day to day functions. With this in mind, I would love to share 3 considerations for anyone on the hunt for a saddle.
Use a Saddle Fitter
For me, it can be tempting to look at a saddle on a horse and say “yes, this looks good!”. There is plenty of wither clearance; the panels are fairly level on the horse’s back; it’s a good fit, right?
Maybe, or maybe not.
I’d like to give a shout out to Bryan Lynch and Creature Comforts for enlightening me in some basic saddle fitting principles. The expertise that professional fitters bring to the table in identifying and crafting a proper fit is humbling and very much appreciated by our equine friends! During his visit, Bryan made three points very clear to me as he fitted saddle to horse, and I would love to try and reciprocate the knowledge.
- We need someone with an educated eye to determine how the points of the tree lay against the horse. If these points hit too steeply, they will pinch in the shoulder, too wide, and the saddle will not have enough clearance behind the withers.
- Just because a tree is the right width does not mean the angle of the tree rails align with the horse’s back. The rails of the tree (skeleton for the panels) should lay flat with the shape of the horse’s back. If they don’t, the edges will dig against the horse’s motion.
- As a fitter analyzes how the saddle rests on the horse, he can finesse the flocking within the panels. This is a wonderful thing. In my experience it’s extremely helpful with thoroughbreds who have strong toplines, as a fitter can flock up the paneling around the shoulder to add wither clearance while keeping the tree width roomy for movement.
*Moral of the story*
Saddle fitters are wonderful for your horse’s well being! If you can invest in a fitting before purchasing a saddle, it could make all the difference for your horse’s movement and long term soundness.
Wool Flocking Works Wonders
Second to a proper fitting, I urge my fellow riders to look at the panel quality of a potential saddle. My preference is wool paneling. Primarily, as a horse’s back gets stronger and changes shape, wool flocking can be adjusted and rejuvenated. Unlike foam paneling that tends to hold its manufactured shape, wool will mold to a horse’s back. This is principle for greater shock absorption and custom fit. Wool is also breathable, helping the horse’s back to remain cooler during exercise.
The Saddle Must Fit the Rider
Lastly, I would like to point out that in order for a saddle to benefit the horse, it must also benefit the rider. I’ve learned this lesson the hard way! When we don’t fit well in our tack, we are forced out of position, creating an imbalance in movement and uneven weight distribution over the saddle. Personally, I get in trouble when I have too much leg for my saddle. It pushes me to the back of the tack, and creates a pressure point under my seat. So please remember friends, that while the saddle must fit the horse, it must fit you too!