A saddle is only as good as the tree under it. And without a top quality tree, life for the horse and rider will be nothing but a series of sore backs and aching muscles….kind of like when your boots don’t fit quite right. Horses that have been ridden with badly fitting saddles have had muscular damage.
You might find your saddle is leaving dry spots or your horse is becoming irritable and unresponsive , has trouble extending, flinches when you touch his back, moves away when you saddle him , bobs his head, or is unwilling to make sharp turns, these responses are due to poor saddle fit. If you look at most horses you will see that their back drops off abruptly just back of the withers. A properly made saddle will conform with this curve, but if you look at the bars of most saddles made today you will see that they are either flat or they have an upwards curve between the fork and the cantle, this curve is meant as a quick easy way to accommodate the stirrup leathers, but it causes the saddle to bridge the horses back, causing much discomfort to the horse.
An ill-fitting saddle will cause pressure points, cut off circulation,& cause the horse major discomfort. As a horse ages his back changes , a saddle that fit perfectly last year may cause major discomfort this year .When you start training , a horse muscles up , this drastically changes the contour of his back often pointing to the need of a saddle adjustment. Every time you put a saddle on you should first check for a sore back, If you find that the saddle is causing the sore back you should immediately have it adjusted In most cases a saddle can be adjusted to fit the horse and relieve any discomfort for both horse & rider.
The major cause of sore backs in horses is that the saddle is bridging their backs, (not contacting the area directly behind the withers) meaning that there is a gap between the saddle and the horses back just behind the withers. Now all the weight is being carried on 4 small points one on either side of the withers and one on either side of the loins.
A saddle must be rigged so as to hold the saddle level on the horses back, and not pull the saddle down into the horses shoulders causing pressure points.
To see if your saddle is rigged correctly, watch the back skirt of the saddle as you tighten up the chinch if the skirt starts to lift as the chinch is tightened then the rigging is out of balance and should be changed so as not to pinch the horses shoulders. The center of the Rigging Dee on Western saddles should be about 2 inches toward the cantle from the center of the forks and the strap that attaches to the back of the Rigging Dee should go directly to the back of the cantle not to the side of the flank Dee as most saddles do. It is much simpler and less costly to put full rigging on a saddle than 3/4 rigging and that is why full rigging is used on most saddles. It is also one of the reasons why most saddles lift up at the back as you tighten the chinch, causing the saddle to pinch the withers.
Saddles have been designed to distribute weight evenly over the horses back and to give the rider security when riding. The bars of a Western saddle flare out at the edge in order to taper away from the horses back so there is no sharp edges to dig into the horses back, the panels on a English saddle perform the same function. If the edges don’t curve away from the horse then they will dig into his back.
Many people think they can solve the problem with the type of pad they use but in most cases this just adds to the problem. A thicker blanket will only compound the problem, try putting a thick blanket on your horse then try running your hand up under the saddle just behind the withers you will find that the saddle is now bridging your horses back between the forks and the cantle. A saddle blanket should not exceed 3/4 of an inch in thickness, any thicker will only tend to make your saddle role on the horses back and cause the saddle to bridge.
If your saddle is to narrow then the points of the tree will dig into the horses shoulder, the saddle will ride too high on the horse’s back and the bars or panels will press into the tissue at the edge of the spine.
Putting a heavier pad on will make a narrow saddle even more narrow and will cause the saddle to bridge the center of the back. The heavier pad will not change where the weight rests, it will only cause the points to dig into the horses shoulder more.
Fitting a saddle
With the horse standing on level ground start the fitting. Start the saddle fitting by putting the blanket you will use with the saddle you are fitting on the horse . With the blanket in place, put the saddle on.
With the blanket in place run your hand up under the saddle just back of the withers, you should feel even contact for the full length of the bars.
- If you feel a gap between the saddle and the horses back just back of the withers running toward the cantle than your saddle is bridging.
- If the saddle is tipping up at the back.
- If the saddle is tipping up at the front.
- If the pommel is close to the withers.
- If the pommel is too high 2.5 inches or more above the withers.
- If you feel lumps along the panels.
- If the panels are uneven side to side.
- If the tree points are digging into the horses shoulder.