One of the most important aspects of ridden horses is saddlery. Saddles are individual to a certain horse and should not be swapped between different horses as it is unlikely to fit different back conformations.

It is often overlooked or ignored but poorly fitting saddles can contribute to numerous back problems. These include:-

  1. White Hairs
  2. Rub marks/hair loss
  3. Lumps in saddle area
  4. Muscle spasm
  5. Muscle fibrosis
  6. Muscle wastage
  7. Dorsal Spinous Process Impingement (“Kissing Spines”)
  8. Lameness

Several signs may be seen to indicate that the saddle is poorly fitting

  1. Head-tossing/head-shaking
  2. High head carriage
  3. Sticking tongue out
  4. Reluctance to carry themselves in an outline
  5. Hollowing in the back
  6. Bucking
  7. Rearing
  8. Reluctance to bend
  9. Tail-swishing
  10. Reluctance to go forward/move at all
  11. Girthing problems/pain
  12. Difficulty cantering/performing lateral movements
  13. Pain whilst grooming
  14. Cold-backed
  15. Bolting
  16. Reluctance to walk up or down-hill
  17. Saddle slips sideways or forwards/backwards

Basic saddle-fitting

There are several points to a saddle that fits well. The following is a brief summary:-

  • The pommel and cantle should be level
  • The last weight-bearing point at the back of the saddle must be approximately 2cm forwards of the last rib
  • There was be complete contact along the panels of the saddle in contact with the horse’s back
  • The pommel should be 4-5 cm above the withers
  • There should be no bridging
  • The tree should be solid and have no excessive movement or clicking/cracking
  • The gullet should be clear from front to back and there should be no pressure on the midline spine

Young horses are particularly sensitive because of the relative lack of muscle and weaker/poorer muscle tone. Serious damage to the young horse’s back can be done with poorly fitting saddles.

Saddles should be checked on a regular basis because of changes in shape of the horse. These may be changes in the horse due to seasonal changes- weight gain in the summer and weight loss in the winter or changes in muscle/fat as a result of increased or decreased exercise. Alternatively it may be changes in the flocking of the saddle or the leather because of the changes in temperature or drying out of the saddle.

Ultimately the best way to ensure a properly fitting saddle is to use a Master Saddler who is registered as such with the Society of Master Saddlers.

This information has been provided by Mr David Ashton, Master Saddler at Village Saddlery ( 01925 629629