4. Check to see if the seat is level.
The deepest part of the saddle seat should be parallel to the ground, not tilted backward or forward. A level seat enables your weight to be properly distributed over your horse’s back, and it assists you in finding the correct riding position.
5. Check the vertical angle and width of the tree points.
Tree width does not necessarily ensure a proper saddle fit. For example, a wide tree in one saddle may be appropriate for a certain horse, but a wide tree in another saddle may be inappropriate for the same horse. This discrepancy could be because the length of tree points and their angles varies between saddle models and makes. Also, the shape of a tree affects the angle of the points.
Under the saddle flap near the stirrup bar, you should see a pocket into which the points are fitted. You’ll see a point on each side of the saddle. If the angles of the points are too narrow, the points will dig into the horse’s muscles and most likely, the middle of the saddle will not come in even contact with your horse’s back. If the points are too wide, the saddle will sit low in front, putting pressure on top of the withers or the back. If your horse has hollow spots behind his withers, the points should not press down into them.
Note: All horses are asymmetrical. When comparing the angles of tree points, use your horse’s widest shoulder as your guide. The fit on the narrower side can be adjusted by a professional saddle fitter through the use of flocking, shimming or correction pads.
6. Check channel or gullet clearance.
Turn your saddle over, and you’ll see a space between the panels that runs the length of the saddle. This area is referred to as the channel or gullet, and it allows room for your horse’s spinal processes to work.
Older saddles tended to have very narrow channels, but advancements in the study of equine biomechanics lead to saddles being designed with wider channels. If the channel of a saddle is too narrow for a particular horse, it will affect the freedom of a horse’s movement by pressing on the spinal processes or creating pressure on the spine. For example, wide-backed horses may require very wide gullets.
Conversely, if your horse is very narrow with a high spine, or if your horse’s back muscle slopes dramatically away from his spine, you have to be sure the gullet isn’t too wide. If so, it could put pressure directly on his vertebrae.
Feel your horse’s spine and the soft tissue running along it. The gullet on the saddle should completely clear this area so that the panels rest only on your horse’s long back muscle. That way, his muscle will bear your weight and not his spine.
Being careful not to be kicked, stand toward the back of your horse and look to see light coming through the gullet.
7. Check panel pressure and contact.
Saddle panels are supposed to distribute your weight evenly along your horse’s back when you ride. Panels can be stuffed with wool, foam or synthetic-filled systems to absorb pressure.
Press on the seat of the saddle with one hand, and run your other hand under the front of the panels. You want to feel even pressure under the saddle points; you don’t want the front of the panels to pinch the horse’s withers.
Next run your hand under the entire panel along the back, on both sides, feeling for even pressure. Any unevenness in pressure that you feel would be felt by your horse as you ride.
A common problem in saddle fitting is bridging. Bridging occurs when the front and the back of the panels are in contact with the horse, but there is no even pressure in the center of the saddle. If the saddle has wool-flocked panels and all other steps in the fitting process make you feel that the saddle is essentially a good fit for the horse, a professional saddle fitter may be able to adjust the panels to correct bridging. Otherwise, the saddle will be uncomfortable for the horse to wear and you should consider another choice.
8. Check the stability of the saddle.
The saddle should remain fairly stable, not shifting side to side or rocking front to back. Shifting may be a result of your horse’s natural asymmetry, and a saddle fitter should be able to make suggestions to lessen or eliminate the problem.