Saddle Fitting Guide & Saddle Sores
A well fitting saddle is the single most important element when it comes to riding your horse. An ill-fitting saddle can result in a sore-backed horse & an uncomfortable seat for the rider. A good fitting saddle puts the rider's weight in concert with the horse's centre of balance.
Unfortunately one saddle doesn't fit all and saddle are designed for different disciplines, a saddle that is comfortable for Dressage wont be the best saddle for Show jumping or Trail Riding. Your changing horses weight is also a seasonal factor to consider. Many times when that animal is turned out to pasture or has an extended break from activity they get less exercise and tend to put on weight. Next time he is called up for duty , the saddle that was a perfect fit - no longer fits the overweight horse.
It is the individual conformation differences in the neck, back, and shoulder areas of each horse that gives rise to the shape of his withers. Because of the various sizes and shapes withers can take, they have always been one of the biggest challenges in fitting the saddle to the horse.As a result of your horse's aging, the saddle that fit perfectly a few years ago may not be an ideal fit today.
One of the most common mistakes made in saddling the horse is placing the saddle too far forward over the withers..
To properly position the saddle on the horse's back, place it slightly forward over the withers, then slide the saddle back until it seems to stop in a natural resting spot. In this position, the saddle bars or panels should rest 2 1/2-3 inches behind the horse's shoulder blades. Saddles with changeable gussets can allow you to use the same saddle on differ net horses, simply change the gullet as needed.
During the saddling process, clearance between the saddle and withers should be monitored. You'll want ample room above the withers as well as sufficient room on each side so that when the saddle is cinched, its gullet clears the top of the withers and the sides of the withers are not burdened. Check the clearance again after mounting, then once again a few minutes into the ride to be sure the saddle has not settled against the withers. Remember that once you add your weight, the saddle will settle lower.
You may have room enough for three or more finger widths on a flat-withered horse compared to only one finger width on a high-withered horse. The key is to maintain that clearance once mounted with weight in the stirrups. The best way to visually check saddle positioning is to view it from the side. It should be level; if the front or rear is tilted, it is in the wrong position or it simply doesn't fit the horse.
Pay attention to your horse's behaviour. The first hint that you have achieved the correct saddle fit might be a happier horse that no longer shows objection to being saddled. After you've climbed aboard, you will notice a more relaxed and willing mount beneath you.
What to keep an eye out for when fitting your Saddle.
Evaluate saddle fit without a saddle pad or blanket. Look at:
- The way the saddle is made look for symmetry and any twisting of the tree.
- The saddle's position on the back. The centre of the seat should be centred over the lowest point on the horse's back, and the saddle should sit squarely in the centre of the back.
- The tree should fit parallel to the withers and be behind the shoulder blade.
- The fit of the saddle tree to the horse across the withers. A low-withered horse might have four fingers' width or more between his withers and the tree while a high-withered horse might have just one or two fingers' width
- The saddle seat should be level.
- The gullet should be wide and high enough to clear the spine with a rider.
- Proper stirrup placement for rider balance. The ideal stirrup placement allows your leg to hang straight below your body for dressage and trail riding, and far forward for jumping. This keeps you from riding too far in front of or behind the horse.
Detecting a Sore Back
Riders should also learn how to detect a sore back in a horse. Feel the horses back with the palm of my hand looking for signs of swelling and heat. Stretch the limbs, front and rear, and check for the horse's reaction. After unsaddling, look for turned hair or rub spots in your horses coat.
A saddle can create a sore on your horse's back if it doesn't fit right. The most common locations for sores are on either side of the withers (caused by a saddle tree that is too narrow or wide), at the top of the withers (from a tree too wide, sitting too low on the withers), or over the loins (from too much weight in one spot, too long of a saddle). Sores can occur if the saddle moves too much.
The first sign of trouble might be a dry spot when you take the saddle off (the extra pressure in a small area has inhibited circulation and the horse was unable to sweat) or ruffled hair. The pressure or rubbing might break off some hair, leaving a rough-looking area at that spot. The hair might be standing up rather than lying smoothly. If you keep riding that horse with problem tack, he will develop a sore.
A sore starts as inflammation of the skin, and you should be able to feel it before you can actually see it. If you run your hand over the horse's back, you might find a raised, hot, or swollen area. If you continue to use the horse, this lump is subjected to more rubbing (since it protrudes upward), making the condition worse.
Too much pressure in one area can kill skin cells due to lack of proper circulation; blood is pressed out of that spot. A sore results if enough cells die. The affected skin sloughs off. The tissue death is called pressure necrosis. Sometimes there is no broken skin, but the new hair comes in white, creating a permanent mark. An old open sore that heals might also have hair grow in white.
Follow the link to First Aid & Vet Care Products.
Causes: Poor saddle fit is usually the number 1 cause - but some sores are caused by the way we ride. A rider out of balance with his horse can create as many problems as an unbalanced pair of saddle bags; the uneven weight distribution puts more pressure on one side of the saddle than the other. Saddle and girth sores are common in horses which are ridden hard.
Lumps in the saddle lining or something as simple as a twig or leaf that brush off in front of your saddle and work their way under the pad can inhibit blood flow to the areas of skin underneath them.
Sores are common when a soft horse is ridden for the first time after an extended break. Extra fat might allow the saddle to roll around too much,. Similarly , a thin horse can develop a sore if he doesn't have enough flesh on his bones to provide some natural padding.
Follow the link for a range of Saddle Pads, Numnahs & Half pads.
Treating a Sore: Once a sore starts, it can be hard to heal unless you quit riding the horse and unless you can adjust the tack so it doesn't rub. If you must keep riding the horse, change saddles or cinches, or adjust it so it doesn't rub. If you can't change saddles, try a pad that distributes pressure better, or cut a hole in the pad (larger than the sore) to take the pressure off that area.
Prevention: Apart from a good fitting saddle, a quick brush down before fitting the saddle is a common oversight - a tiny amount of dirt can lead to a sore. Be careful how you place the saddle pad. Never pull a pad or saddle forward; this ruffles the hair. If it's cinched up tight and ridden in this position, it might create irritation that could lead to a sore. When readjusting your saddle out on the trail, lift it up and put it more forward of its normal position, sliding it back into place--to avoid rubbing the hair (and sweaty dirt, if there is any on the horse's back from his exertions) the wrong way.