Choosing a saddle that is correct for your horse and you.
Choosing a saddle that is correct for your horse and you.
Choosing a saddle is often a very overwhelming task, even if you have selected many before and especially if you are new to riding, but it doesn’t have to be.
Our goal at BlackJack Horse Saddles is to provide the best Saddles and Equipment available in the market and assist you in making the right purchase for your work or recreational activities.
Why is it important to choose a saddle that is correct for your horse?
Out in the competition arena, it is fast-paced and fierce. A split second can mean the difference between winning or losing, and if you are playing for the big bucks, let's face it, you would rather be rocking up to the pay window, right?!
Above all else, it is vital that your horse is comfortable, and understanding why this is essential to choosing a saddle that is the correct fit for your horse is the first step. Think of it this way; if you are wearing underwear or jeans that don’t fit properly, it can get mighty uncomfortable real quick. The same can be said for a saddle that doesn’t fit your horse correctly because it is not just about comfort for you as the rider.
It can become quite complex if you have a barn full of horses that are of different shapes and sizes. If you have the money to have several saddles, awesome! However, we will discuss a one saddle for one horse scenario.
How do I know if the saddle fit is incorrect?
If the saddle doesn’t fit the horse correctly, it can create numerous problems, and you may notice symptoms such as;
- Mild to severe muscle tension
- Hoof problems
- Dry Patches
- Saddle Sores
- Muscle atrophy
- Shoulder Soreness
- Wither Soreness.
While your horse may be able to put up with this kind of discomfort initially, it won't be long before they try and tell you in one way or another that they are hurting. Often behavioral issues are dismissed, and the horse is reprimanded for misbehaving, but horses don’t lie about pain. Signs your saddle could be hurting your horse can range from subtle to brutally obvious.
- Behave out of character
- Difficult to catch
- Become Sour
- Flatten their ears or bite when doing up the girth
- Shying away
- Flinch to the touch
- Throwing their head up
- Pulling back if tied up with the saddle on
- Shortened stride
- Difficulty changing leads
- Lugging on the bit
- Have difficulty stopping on cue
- Bucking or bolting
- Feel stiff on one or both sides
- Swishing their tail irritably while riding, to name a few.
Understanding how equine biomechanics work is also beneficial knowledge because how your horse moves can be significant when choosing a saddle.
Suppose your horse is not responding to something you are asking it to do. In that case, it can be because their movement is being restricted by muscle tightness, underdevelopment, or a joint mobility problem, potentially caused by a poorly fitting saddle.
How do I choose a saddle that is the correct fit for my horse?
Choosing a saddle that is the correct fit for your horse is essential. Due to the saddle panels sitting on either side of your horse's spine and directly on top of the muscles, not forgetting to add your weight to the equation, it can mean the difference between a comfortable horse and a very uncomfortable horse.
Saddle fitting has the same basic principles regardless of the discipline you ride in, which can be used as a standard selection criterion. Your horse, like you, is constantly changing. Selecting a saddle when they are young and ridden often can be different from fitting a saddle for a horse that is older and not as trim or fit. If used a lot, Saddles can also suffer from wear and tear, so it is important to check the fit of your saddle throughout the year.
Getting to know the structure of a saddle helps to make sense of fitting one correctly.
A lot of saddles consist of an item called a tree, and this is what you could consider the skeletal structure of the saddle. The tree is shaped similarly to the letter “T” with a little bit of pear shape added in there, the bars of the tree fit over the horse’s withers or shoulders, and the long stem of the T runs down along either side of the horse’s spine.
Each horse, like people, comes in different sizes and builds. Some horses a built like a barrel, while others are finer and more narrow. Each shape requires a different sized tree.
The type of tree can be a contentious issue with many great saddle makers standing by “a wooden tree is best,” however some prefer plastic, either can be rigid or flexible. Wooden trees have stood the test of time, however. After the tree is chosen, layers of thin leather are then glued over the tree and worked into shape.
Trees for Western saddles are formed with a saddle horn and wider bars. English trees don’t have a horn and generally have narrower bars. Australian stock saddles or fenders simply have a pommel.
Padding or filling can be added once the leather has been shaped over and around the tree to form a seat. If you are getting a saddle custom-made, the saddler should have a few different options for you to choose from.
The parts that make up the rest of the saddle include;
- Knee Pads or rolls
- Stirrup Leathers
- Grab Strap and Croup Strap
- Breastplate/Martingale (optional).
Choosing a saddle for a specific discipline
What discipline you choose to ride in and how the saddle will be used also needs to be taken into consideration. Trail Riding, Barrel Racing, Roping, Dressage, or maybe Endurance. A trail riding saddle can be a generic type of saddle but would need to be comfortable for the rider as well. Roping saddles need to be built durable enough to withstand tremendous torque;
There are many specialized saddles available for different types of genres and horses; check out the range at BlackJack Horse Saddles to get you started.
Measuring your horse for the correct saddle fit
This will be a breeze for you if you have been around horses for a long time and have a keen eye for saddle fitting. However, if you are new to the world of saddle fitting, it can be unnerving. If you have the ability and access to a master saddle fitter, it is recommended to have your horse measured professionally the first time around.
By having a professional fit your saddle the first time around, you will better understand what to look for and do next time when you fit solo.
If you don’t have that luxury at this point and time, don’t stress, our simple guide below will assist you in measuring your horse for the correct saddle fit.
Specific measurements to be aware of when measuring a saddle are:
- Seat Size
- Skirt Length (western)
- Flap Length & Angle (English)
- Saddle Width
Selecting a tree also comes into play;
Narrow — Very high or narrow withered horses may require extra padding behind the saddle bars. This shoulder bridge pad helps the saddle fit better.
Medium — A horse with average withers usually takes a medium or regular tree.
Wide — Horses with a block build or flat withers take a wide tree.
Extra Wide — Draft horses, draft crosses, or horses built “big and wide” need an extra-wide tree.
Flexible — Horses with big, well-developed shoulder muscles can be hard to fit. These horses may do well with a flexible tree.
Checking to see how well the saddle fits on the horse's back, specifically the withers, is vital. A horse's shoulders and withers need to move without being restricted; having a poorly fitting saddle will lead to numerous movement-related issues.
The following principles can be used for both Western and English saddles.
Step 1: Slide the saddle on from the withers to the horse’s hindquarters.
Step 2: Let the saddle rest naturally on the horse's back without buckling the girth.
Step 3: Slip your fingers in the area where the saddle tree clears the withers and take note of the space; this is commonly referred to as Gullet Clearance.
Fitting Western Saddles for the Horse
You need to first evaluate the saddle without any padding; on your horse’s back, you can utilize a sheet or towel if you so wish. Ensure that the gullet of the saddle is 2-3 fingers away from the horse’s withers. If the saddle is a good fit, it shouldn’t touch any part of the horse's spine. If the gullet is too wide, the saddle will press on the horses' withers, and if the gullet is too narrow, the angle of the saddle will cause pinching.
Ensure that the panels of the saddle apply even pressure on the horse's back. You can do this by feeling underneath the saddle. The saddle panels should not have large spaces that don’t have contact with the horse's back. If there are large areas not receiving pressure, there are other areas receiving extra pressure. Overall, the angles of the saddle panels should be parallel to the horse's back, and there should be even contact throughout the saddle.
While your saddle is on the horse without a saddlepad, rock the saddle from back to front and side to side. A small amount of movement is acceptable, but too much movement indicates a poor fit. If it moves more than a half-inch off your horse's back when you do this test, it doesn’t fit. The saddle must be almost perfectly level to ensure there is even pressure from back to front.
Fitting English Saddles for the Horse
Apply the same principles as checking the fit of a western saddle. Check to see that the pommel, gullet, or fork clears the withers by at least a couple of finger widths.
Ensure the front of the saddle panels/fenders are behind the shoulder blades.
Evaluate the panels/fenders on both sides to see if they are touching equally along the length. If they touch in the front and back, but not in the middle, it is called “bridging.” This can be fairly subtle to see and if slight, may go away once the horse is warmed up.
But it could be an indication that the paneling shape or length is not correct for that horse. This usually happens on a very short-backed horse or one that is hollow behind the withers or has a high croup.
Finally, when checking the saddle fit, you need to sit in the saddle physically. You should feel both centered and balanced once astride the saddle.
If you have the opportunity to try before you buy, take your horse for a decent ride. Upon return and unsaddling, check for an even sweat patch, dry spots, or ruffled hair. This will give you an indication of how the saddle sits under your weight.
How do I measure what size seat I need in a saddle?
The seat should be the correct size for each rider, irrespective of discipline and horse size and shape.
Fitting Western Saddles for the Rider
The easiest way to measure a Western Saddle seat size is from the base of the horn to the edge of the cantle. Your western saddle seat size is generally your English saddle seat size, then subtract 2″.
When you sit in a Western Saddle, you’ll notice the high swell at the front of the saddle that holds the horn, or if riding in an Australian Stock or Fender saddle, it will be the pommel. You’ll note the higher seat back, commonly referred to as the cantle. There should be a hand’s width between yourself and the swell and a hand’s width between you and the cantle.
Your seat should rest at the base of the cantle; if your seat tends to rest on the rise of the cantle, then the saddle is most likely too small.
When you determine how well your saddle will fit, the principles for fitting a Western saddle and an English saddle are similar but also very different. You need to consider the size of the saddle overall, the weight distribution, and the make of the saddle.
Fitting English Saddles for the Rider
The size of the seat when choosing an English Saddle must be selected based on the weight and leg length of the rider and giving consideration to the saddle style, brand, and model. Usually in flatter seat saddles, the seat size can be smaller than in a deep seat for the same rider.
When you sit in an English saddle, you should be able to fit a hand between yourself and the front of the saddle (the pommel) and a hand between yourself and the end of the saddle (the cantle.)
To measure an English saddle seat size, it is best to measure from either nailhead on the sides of the pommel to the end of the saddle or to the middle of the cantle.
We hope that you have found this guide useful and we look forward to assisting you in the search for the perfect saddle.