Saddle fit is one thing everyone struggles with, whether they are aware of it or not. It easily relates to Aristotle’s quote:
“The more you learn, the less you know”
If you’ve never been taught to be aware of saddle fit it doesn’t really stand out necessarily when a saddle is a bad fit, for the horse or the rider. There is a little bit of a theme where we tend to blame our animals for their bad behaviors, but should be really be blaming them when asking them to perform in an ill-fitting saddle?
I am not pointing fingers but instead speaking from experience. I never even thought about the impacts of saddle fit until three years ago when I started riding more than one horse on a regular basis and notice the change in fit using my saddle at the time on multiple horses. We can’t always expect the same saddle to fit a broad backed, no withered Warmblood and a shark-fin wither, narrow barrel Thoroughbred perfectly.
I understand, horses aren’t the cheapest hobby, but I don’t think most riders are educated on this topic or understand the impact of what their saddles are potentially doing to their horses. Even if you don’t have a big budget if you take some time to educate yourself you’ll find you’ll have a much happier horse.
In recent years foam panels have taken over the saddle market, especially if you are looking to purchase a close contact saddle, luckily for you dressage riders many of those saddles are still available with wool flocking. Most of the major, well-known brands available today don’t have wool flocking, which was traditionally used to fill saddle panels.
Now, the problem with the foam is that it offers little adjustability. Basically the saddle as it comes cannot be changed. Now, there are some adjustments that can be made with padding but you have to be very careful with that, and ideally we want the saddle to fit well with simply one pad underneath.
Another issue with foam is that over time it can breaks down, it basically compresses and most of the time it doesn’t compress evenly along the panel, which results in bridging in the saddle. Bridging basically means that there is contact on the front and back of the panel but in the center there is no contact with the horses’ back. This is exaggerated when your weight is added to the saddle because those points of contact become pressure points and therefor your even weight distribution along the panel is lost.
Now, it is important for me to mention that wool can do that same thing; it packs down in certain areas and results in an uneven pressure along that panel. However, the beauty of wool is that we can have it serviced by a saddle fitter and the wool can be re-flocked and restored back to a shape that will comfortably fit your horse. To a certain degree adding lifts to the foam panels and shims in saddle pads can help with some of this. Or the panels can be replaced with certain companies.
Now, the solution seems simple right? Let’s all just buy a wool-flocked saddle but the sad truth is that they can be very difficult to come by, so few brands offer them and for those of us who prefer to buy used your pool of saddles is even smaller to choose from. Unfortunately, there isn’t a quick and easy solution to every saddle fit situation.
The best piece of advice I can give, from someone who has had enough saddle struggles and learned from them, consulting a professional if you can is the best course of action. That being said, if you do choose to hire someone it is important to make sure that they are looking out for you and your horses best interest and not just looking to sell you a saddle, even if it isn’t a great fit for your horse.
I realize and fully appreciate the fact that not everyone has access or the resources to have a saddle fitter, which is why there so much great literature out there, one of my personal favorites is ‘The Horse’s Pain-Free Back and Saddle-Fit Book by Dr. Joyce Harman. She has written both English and Western saddle book. Even if you are not able to consult a professional saddle fitter, having a good book to educate yourself on can give you great insights as to whether or not the saddle is making your horse uncomfortable.
You can also contact us either using the form on this site or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would be interested in more information on a virtual saddle fit available through Miranda!
I wish each and every one of you the best of luck in finding a saddle that is a great fit for both you and your horse, it can be a bit of a bumpy road but your horse will thank you in the end!
Meet the Bloggers
Miranda and Julia bringing over 20 years of experience in the horse industry in a wide variety of experiences and disciplines. Here on this equestrian blog we'll share our horse experiences, tips, plus advice on surviving as an adult amateur rider.