English Saddle Fitting Guidelines

No matter what your riding discipline is, a well-fitting saddle enables your horse's natural freedom of movement. It also helps you find a correct or more effective riding position. Because saddle fit is so crucial, consider contacting a professional saddle fitter for assistance after using these guidelines, or at the very least get a second opinion from your horse's trainer, veterinarian or chiropractor.

And remember— not only should you check a riding saddle that you're considering for purchase, you should check the way your saddle fits at least twice a year. As your horse's muscles or weight change through aging, an increase or decrease in workload, progression in training, changes in diet or illness, the way your saddle sits on your horse will change too.

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How to Check the Fit of a Saddle

Here are some guidelines to help you make a basic assessment about how a saddle fits your horse. To begin, ask your horse to stand squarely on level ground with his head and neck facing forward. You may find it helpful to have someone keep the horse still. As you go through the steps outlined here, monitor your horse. Look for signs of discomfort and irritation or conversely, relaxation.

1. Position the saddle correctly on your horse's back.

Don't use a saddle pad because you want to see how the saddle sits directly on your horse. Place the saddle slightly forward on your horse's withers, then slide it backward so that it stops at the natural resting place as dictated by his conformation. Repeat this process several times until you're sure of the spot where the saddle repeatedly stops. This spot should locate the saddle behind your horse's shoulder blades to allow his freedom of movement.

Note: Many people place saddles too far forward on the withers. When a rider's weight is then added to the saddle, the points of the saddle tree located on each side of the pommel press on the horse's shoulder blades, where they can hinder movement or cause pain.

2. Test wither clearance.

If the saddle you're trying is used or has synthetic or foam panels, you should be able to slide two to three fingers between the pommel of the saddle and your horse's withers. If you're trying a new saddle with wool-stuffed panels, it may settle as much as one-half inch as the wool compresses and molds to your horse. Therefore, you could consider three or even four fingers as acceptable.

If you have too much space for your fingers, the tree may be too narrow. If you don't have enough space, the saddle may be too wide.

Note: Sometimes you have to make minor concessions for wither clearance for horses that are either very flat and round at the withers, such as many Arabs and Morgans, or for horses that are very high and narrow at the withers, as you see in some Thoroughbreds. If this is your horse's case, adhere as closely as you can to other saddle fitting steps and then monitor your horse's back closely over time. Special padding or customized flocking can help with saddle fitting issues related to wither clearance.

3. Check the relationship of the pommel to the cantle.

Look at the saddle from a side view. Imagine a straight line drawn parallel to the ground and stretching from the pommel to the cantle. In a dressage saddle, the point of the cantle is designed to be higher than the point of the pommel—maybe a couple of inches higher—so your imaginary line should hit the cantle at such a point that there is space above the line.

Note: that in shallower seats such as those used for jumping, the cantle may be designed to be level with or just barely higher than the pommel. If this may be the case with your saddle, rely more heavily on other checks to determine proper saddle fit.

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