Saddle Fitting Notes

Saddle Fitting Notes

Before fitting your saddle on your horse, check the saddle for symmetry of the panels and any twist in the tree. To do this hold the saddle by the edge of the seat so you are looking down the gullet with the panels facing out. Find the mid point of the cantle and the pommel to see if the panels are set at an equal distance from the centre of the gullet. If you run a string between the centre of the pommel and the cantle then right around the entire saddle, it is often easier to judge. Check the panels to see if they are equal distance in width and if the amount of stuffing is the same in both panels. Very often one side of the panels will have more stuffing than the other and will have high and low points. When the panels are not symmetrical, the saddle will press more on one side of the horse’s back and throw the rider off to one side. This can make riding in a balanced position more difficult.


If you are buying a new saddle, check the saddle in this way in the tack shop and you will find that most saddles are not symmetrical. If the saddle is stuffed with wool rather than foam, this can be changed by a saddle maker. When ever possible, buy from a tack shop that offers the service of helping fit the saddle to the horse. This is not always possible because very few people understand how to fit a saddle. At least find a tack shop that will allow you to take a saddle, and try it on your horse with the understanding that it can be returned, if it does not fit.


Place your saddle on your horse without any saddle pad or girth. To check the fit on the front of the saddle place your hand in under the panel. Be sure to check both sides of the horse. Is it tighter on one side than the other? If it is tighter, it may not only pinch, but it can cause the saddle to rock and create a tendency to sit off to one side of the horse’s back. Are there any pressure points? If it is tight or pinching without the girth, imagine how it will feel once the girth is tightened and the rider is mounted.


Do you have the saddle sitting in the “lock in point”? To find the “lock in point”, where the front of the saddle tree should sit on the horse’s back, run the side of your hand over the top of the shoulder blade. The point where you hand drops off the shoulder blade and onto the back is the “lock in point”. Check this point with your horse standing fairly square and using a piece of chalk, see if the ‘lock in points” are the same on both sides of the horse. In many horses one shoulder will be slightly farther back than the other. This means you would ideally fit the saddle to the side with the “lock in point” which is furthest back. If one side is interfering with the shoulder and the other side is free, it could cause unevenness or stiffness on one of the horse’s sides when he turns.


Reach under the panel of the saddle along the horse’s back and check whether there are any hollow spaces where the saddle is not connecting with the horse. Often horses who are low in the back will have a space here. While your saddle is sitting without pad or girth, look at your horse from behind and see if the saddle sits evenly on your horse’s back. If the stuffing is uneven, the tree twisted or your horse is uneven (many horses are), the saddle may not sit straight. If you always feel like you are riding off to one side, any of these could be the reason.


Once the saddle pad is on and the girth is done up, check the front of the saddle once again. Does it feel tight? Are there uneven pressure points? Is one side different from the other? Even if your saddle feels okay at this point, be sure to check the front of the panels when you are mounted! Check the back of the saddle to see how much give there is in the pad. Some nice thick pads give the appearance of the saddle being level until you press down on the cantle. Which is what happens when the rider mounts. The saddle should be stable without rocking either back and forth. If the saddle is not stable enough, it tends to rock forward and drive the front of the panels into the horse’s shoulder.


For those of you who ride western, be sure to check the front of the saddle, including where it is sitting in relation-ship to the shoulder, and see if the back of the saddle actually sits on the back. Often when you have a thick, fluffy pad, it may only look like the saddle is distributing the weight. If you put your hand underneath the pad at the back of the saddle, you will find little if any weight on the horse’s back and may find too much pressure on the front of the saddle.


Another area to consider is the girth. Notice how the girth sits 3 to 4 inches behind the elbow. This is where it will lie on many horses when the saddle is sitting properly behind the shoulder rather than on top of it. In recent years, the trend in English tack has been towards narrower girths and girths which are narrow in the elbow area. The narrower the girth, the more concentrated pressure it applies under the belly making it less comfort-able for the horse. You may also find that when your girth is done up on the same hole on each billet strap that it will be considerably tighter on one side of the girth than the other. It is often necessary, in order for the girth pressure to be even, to do the girth up on different numbered holes or punch an extra hole.


For those considering having a saddle custom fitted to their horse you may be interested in Jochen Schleese, who operates Schleese Saddlery Service. Jochen is a master saddler who apprenticed with Passier & Son in Hanover, Germany. He makes some useful suggestions: When you buy a new saddle it should be restuffed after about six months, and then every few years. Many saddle problems can be fixed providing the tree is of good quality - the panels can be restuffed, the gullet width can be altered and even the tree can be modified. Certain saddle pads cause the tree to break down more quickly and cause pressure points - these can include the “keyhole” pads used to level a saddle by bringing up the back (the saddles may be low behind because they are set on the shoulder). Dry spots under the saddle, after riding, indicate pressure points which cause discomfort. Although he custom makes saddles and bridles most of his business is in repairing and refitting saddles. He encourages people to consider the option of repairing their saddle (if they like it) before deciding to buy a new saddle.

c)2001 by Karen Murray. All rights reserved.
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