Suzanne Gwyn on Saddle Fitting - Warning: Most People Put Saddles On Too Far Forward
Contact Suzanne Gwyn for all your saddle fitting issues or questions. We are more than happy to provide our knowledgeable saddle fitting experts to assist you in determining the best saddle for you and your horse. The cost is $50 for the fitting. This offsets the time and expenses for making the trip to your barn. This applies to Western and English. If you purchase a saddle after the fitting we will credit the $50 towards your saddle purchase. There is no fee if you bring your horse to one of our stores.
The most important point to concentrate on when fitting English saddles, is the width. Many people put a saddle on a horse, check that it clears the withers and are satisfied. But a saddle can clear the withers and be much too tight. Think about the width of the horse's chest, imagining a point about 6" below the wither, this is the width to guide the fit.
It is always better to have a slightly wider saddle and add flock to the wither area, (rather than one which is too tight), thus allowing the horse to work through his back and free the shoulder movement. The pressure of a too tight saddle either side of the wither is comparable to a belt which is too tight for you.
If a horse has been wearing a saddle for a long time which is too tight on each side of the wither, he will have deep hollows in the "junction box" area where the muscle should be.
English saddles which are wide enough to allow a horse to develop the muscle in this area would initially be too low on the withers because it would not yet have muscle to support it. And a saddle which appeared to fit would not allow for muscle development. So if the horse's shape is wrong, it is important not to fit to that wrong shape, or the situation will not get any better. This is where padding may help initially. But expert help should be sought in such a case; a saddle which is too wide will still be too wide, even when the horse is properly muscled and should not be padded to try to make it fit. The padding is a temporary remedial measure.
It is equally essential that the saddle, once fitted at the front, should sit all along the horse's back. To test this, girth the saddle on the first and third girth straps to anchor the saddle from front to back. If the saddle lifts at the back, the horse probably needs a saddle with either a deeper gusset or a panel that is flatter in the waist.
Positioning The positioning of the saddle on the horse's back is very important. Most people put saddles on too far forward. To find the correct position, place the saddle gently in front of the wither and slide it back. It normally finds its own resting place but, to check, put the hand against the shoulder and feel for the scapula. The saddle must sit behind this. By having the saddle in the correct position, the horse will have a longer stride and feel lighter in the hand.
Think! If your saddle is too far forward and sitting on the shoulder, the saddle will twist from left to right across the spine as each shoulder moves. At the same time, the horse has to lift the saddle, and you and stretch the girth on every stride.
To make sure that the saddle does not go too far back, put your hand next to the whorls which indicate the position of the loins. There should be at least 6" clearance between the back of the saddle and the whorls. Use the width of a hand plus 1" in as a rough guide.
When the saddle is in the correct position, check that the seat of the saddle is horizontal to the ground. If it is tipped backwards, the balance of the saddle throws the rider's weight to the back of the saddle, thus creating undue pressure and bruising in the sacro-iliac region (the loins).
If the pommel is too high (see left), the saddle may be too narrow, and the rider will be riding "uphill". This might also indicate that the saddle is too far forward. If the pommel is too low , either the saddle is too wide, needs reflocking, or the horse needs to build muscle and the front needs padding until it does so.
English saddles should fit behind the shoulder blades (leaving free movement of the shoulders) not "on" the shoulders. There should be a finger's width (see right) between the shoulders and the saddle.
In this position, the saddle should not normally allow more than three fingers' clearance over the wither (see left) when the rider is in the saddle. More than this may indicate a too narrow saddle. If the saddle is tipped forwards and has little room under the pommel, then it needs to be lifted. A reputable saddler should, in this instance, drop out the panel and feather the flock down the knee rolls and along the panel to graduate the flocking and smooth any lumps. A wedge of flock stuffed just in the front of the saddle will only cause discomfort to the horse.
When the saddle is in place and girthed, feel down the side from the wither and see if you can bring your fingers through easily. There should be no blockages. Then place your hand palm down under the sweat flap up to the stirrup bar area and pull gently backwards under the line of the saddle. (That is, with the panel sitting on top of your fingers and the underneath of your fingers running along the horse's back.) Your hand should feel an even pressure along the entire length without blocking.