With sensitivity to feel a single fly, a horse’s back muscles support our weight, act as the center of balance, and maintain suppleness to shape his movement. Keeping such a dynamic part of the horse strong and pain free not only enables him to perform, but also to move soundly through day to day functions.
Spending time with saddle fitters can give us major perspective, and it exemplifies how fortunate we are having access to tack that helps develop our horses and optimizes athletic performance. With the expertise of a representative from Black Country Saddles, let’s talk about how to choose the right saddle!
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 shedding light on basic saddle fitting principles. The expertise that professional fitters bring to the table in identifying and crafting a proper fit is humbling and much appreciated by our equine friends! During his visit, Bryan offered insight to promote long term soundness as he fitted saddle to horse.
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 and leave a gap in pressure behind the withers. If the angle is too wide, the saddle will not have enough clearance behind the withers.
Just because points of the tree match at the horse’s withers does not mean the angle of the tree rails align with the horse’s back. The tree rails (skeleton for the paneling) should roll out with the shape of the horse’s back. If they don’t, the edges will dig against the horse’s motion. When looking at saddles with adjustable trees, consider that while the front of the tree may be narrowed or widened, the rest of the tree is fixed.
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.
Second to a proper structural fitting, it’s important to look at the panel quality of a saddle. Wool flocking may offer a superior fit to artificial fibers and foam panels. 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.
In order for the saddle to benefit the horse, it must also benefit the rider. 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!