Horses do not consciously behave badly… not all anyway. They react to outside stimuli – a poorly fitting saddle or an incompetent or untrained rider. How and where a rider’s weight is carried can also make a huge difference and create a reaction from the horse.
SCHLEESE SADDLERY has made some fantastic videos that give sound advice about finding the correct saddle fit for your horse.
To check for bad fitting saddle all of the following steps should be performed with your horse standing squarely on level ground. Be sure to check both sides of your horse, as most horses are slightly asymmetrical. All these steps of saddle fit should be done with the saddle in direct contact with the horse’s back- no pad.
FIND OUT HOW TO SEE IF YOURS IS A BAD FITTING SADDLE.
Check for white hairs anywhere that your horse saddle is contacting your horses back. Most commonly found in the withers area, but you can find them anywhere. Catching it early and fixing the problem is the only solution for white hairs. (unless of course your entire horse is white! ) Then you just have to check for sensitive spots after and before each ride.
There should be approximately two to three fingers’ clearance between the underside of the pommel and the horse’s withers. Adequate clearance should extend all the way through the gullet of the saddle. along the horses spine, between the two panels. More than three fingers’ clearance may mean the pommel is too high.
THE CORRECT FIT.
A horse saddle with less than 2-3 fingers may mean that it is a bad fitting horse saddle, as it may be too wide. But again, check for the other symptoms as well. For some horses, as long as the saddle is sitting level, and is not contacting the withers or spine, you can have less than 3 fingers clearance. The two to three finger rule may not apply to horses with flat round withers.
CHANNEL CLEARANCE/GULLET WIDTH.
There should be adequate clearance over the spine and connective tissue throughout the channel of the saddle. Feel the width of the spine and connective tissue with your fingers and estimate its width. The channel of the saddle should completely clear this width, resting on the long back muscle instead.
LENGTH OF SADDLE.
The saddle should never go behind the 18th thoracic vertebrae, which is essentially the back of the ribcage. Behind this vertebra are the lumbar vertebrae, which do not have adequate, supporting bony structures.
FEEL WHAT YOUR HORSE IS DOING.
With the rider up and the saddle correctly evaluated, observe your horse’s body language. Is the horse moving more freely? Is it lifting the back, or traveling “hollow”? The horse will more freedom to move with a correctly fitted saddle.
Not all unhappy body language is related to saddle fit but fixing it is the first step on the road to improvement. Always check for soreness, lameness before buying a new horse saddle. Don’t test ride a new saddle on a horse that already has a back problem from a previous saddle.
The most common problems associated with incorrect saddle fitting are; seats too small, saddles sitting too high in front and saddles in which the rise to the pommel extends too far back.
FINDING THE RIGHT POSITION.
If your position is causing a sore back, you might see this mirrored by the horse.
Jochen Schleese’s videos very useful source of information and explain what a bad fitting saddle can do to your horse.