ADJUSTABLE WESTERN SADDLE TO FIT YOUR HORSE
Through age and fitness cycles, horses change shape over time. Then it’s nice to have an adjustable western saddle that fits your horse. Saddle shims and cable rigging are the main ways to adjust saddle fit on an Easy Fit Saddle.
As for the rigging, a loop of coated stainless steel cable runs through the fork and cantle. The high-strength cable reduces weight and bulk under your leg. The cable pulls evenly from front to back, the cinches settle into the groove under your horse, and the latigos are centred on the cable. You can adjust the cable to any rigging position (full, 7/8, 3/4, or centerfire), but it is best left to center itself.
Saddle Shim Pockets
Saddle shim pockets have been built into pads we have attached under the tree bars. This allows you or a saddle fitter to shim for asymmetries or a change in your horse’s back as he changes over time or fitness.
Most Horses are Asymmetrical.
Often they will have one wither pocket deeper than the other, or the scapula will sit further ahead on one side. This may cause the saddle to fall to one side. This not only causes the rider to be unbalanced but also causes muscle atrophy on the weighted side, making the problem even worse. A saddle shim can help to level up the saddle, and in turn, the rider, which will help to properly distribute the weight of the saddle and rider on the horse’s back. Additionally, the cable rigging can be adjusted differently on one side to help keep the saddle balanced.
Horses Change Through Aging and Condition Cycles.
Horses change through ageing and condition cycles. Older horses will often become more sway-backed and may hold their weight in different areas than when they were younger. Horses who have been under work may be more muscled up than one that has been enjoying the life of leisure in a pasture for a year. Mature horses will maintain their general bone structure throughout their lives, so a custom saddle may just need to be shimmed, or the rigging set at a different angle to maintain fit.
EFS Remedy – We’re just going to give you this answer right at the start because saddle fitting without the right measuring tools or the right saddle maker who can build the saddle to those measurements is really difficult. Before we make any saddle we measure the horse so we have a really comprehensive, 3-D description of your horse’s back from the scapula to the last rib. When the saddle tree is built, it is moulded to your horse’s dimensions. Adding shims into the bar pads under the tree can help maintain fit should your horse change through age or conditioning. We have a measuring kit you can purchase from us or if we have a fitter in your area, they can do it for you.
Issues faced in saddle fitting – The angle and width of the horse’s back change by degrees all along its length. Trying to put that into something measurable is a challenge. But we all know that if your saddle doesn’t fit your horse, he will likely be cranky and sore, and may also be restricted in his movement. And just like shoes for people, one size does not fit all.
The permutations for the shape of a horse’s backs are infinite as are the shapes of saddles produced. If your horse is to carry you comfortably, you want to get it right. If the saddle is too narrow in the front it will pinch the wither. Too wide and the saddle may fall onto the wither. If the tree bar (the framework inside the saddle) is too flat then only the tips of the bars will sit on the horse losing equal weight distribution along the bars. Too much rock and all of your weight are on the center and the saddle will feel unstable. Too long and the saddle may hit them in the hip. These are just some of the things to consider in saddle fit; many fitting solutions require more refined evaluation.
Let’s talk about some not-so-great methods of determining saddle size requirements – Standard saddle sizes: It’s interesting to note that there is no industry standard for the terms Quarter Horse bars, semi QH or anything else, so you can’t rely on those terms when you are looking at fit. Equally, you cannot lump various breeds into size categories.
Measuring between the conchos – Not all conchos are placed in the same spot on all saddles, so you will not likely be comparing apples to apples.
Measuring between the tree tips – People often measure saddle tree width by measuring the distance between the front of the tree tips. Consider that the longer the tree bars come down, the wider they will measure.
Feeling under the saddle – Running your hand under the saddle to feel for tight or loose spots is a common method. If you have done this a lot then you may glean some information from doing so, but it requires you to lift the saddle to get your hand under there and move it along. It also requires you to have the horse on-site to try the saddle.
Rock – How do you measure the rock (curve along the length of the horse’s back)?
What you can do – Analyze your horse – First, stand back and take a look at your horse. You may have to look at other horses to get a feel for how your horse compares although, having measured many horses, looks can be deceiving, so it’s not a scientific method, but it will give you some information: Are the withers high or rounded? Make note of how long your horse’s back is. (Back of scapula to last rib.) If it’s short, then a longer saddle may hit them in the hip and/or poke up. Does it have a lot of rock or is it quite flat? (Curve along the length of the back.) Stand on a stool behind them and look at their back. Does one side have a bigger wither pocket? If you feel the back of the scapula, is one side further ahead of the other? Horse asymmetry is very common.
Use wire – You can take wires and shape them to the contours of your horse’s back, and make note of the distance between each wire. For the rock, lay the wire 4” off the spine, approximately where the tree bars will sit. When you place the wires under a saddle you are considering purchasing, you must pay special attention as to where exactly they sit on that saddle. The angle in relation to the rock in each area is very important. If a horse has a deeper pocket behind one, whither find a saddle you can shim on that side, so the saddle sits level.
Saddle placement – Ensure the saddle is placed in the proper spot. Placing the saddle too far forward will turn a perfectly fitted saddle into one that does not fit.
Horses changing shape/size – Horses of different breeds mature to full size at different ages. Horses who have been under work may be more muscled up than one that has been enjoying the life of leisure in a pasture for a year. Mature horses will maintain their general bone structure throughout their lives, so a custom saddle may just need to be tweaked on occasion to maintain fit.
Weight changes – If your horse goes from fat in the winter to slim in the summer, get the saddle to fit for the larger size and compensate with different blanket thicknesses or shims. You can’t do much for the horse if the fit is too tight.
Saddle fitting is complicated. The expertise of a professional saddle fitter can make the whole experience much easier and provide better results. EFS sells a measuring kit that you can use to measure your horse now and down the road when you think he may have changed. Alternatively, if we have a fitter in your area, they can come and measure your horse for you.
– Rider sits heavy to one side
– Horse is asymmetrical
– Saddle tree is warped
– Rider – shims under seat bones to tilt pelvis side to side
– offset stirrups on hook & loop tape, so one stirrup is slightly longer than the other
– Horse – analyze horse from behind, look for asymmetry
– Shim up the low side
– Saddle – Wooden trees can warp over time. Our trees are made from polymers that don’t warp or change shape
Possible reason: Too much rock in the tree results in very little contact between the tree and the horse’s back. As the tree rocks forward and back it works the saddle pad back.
– Saddle – We measure your horse’s back before we build your saddle. The measurements include rock, so your saddle will distribute rider and saddle weight evenly across the horse’s back.
The saddle pad should be cut out just below the rigging, when cinched up this will hold the pad in place.
– Rider is trying to tighten the cinch too much, too quickly.
– Horse has a sore back.
– Saddle hurts him, and he’s anticipating another painful ride.
– Rider – Slow down when saddling; tighten in increments. Consult an equine chiropractor. Palpate his back to determine if it is sore
– Check your saddle fit – We can measure your horse’s back, and compare those measurements to the saddle being used.
– Horse has a sore back
– Saddle hurts him, and he’s anticipating another painful ride
– Rider – Consult an equine chiropractor. Palpate his back to determine if it is sore
– Saddle – We can measure your horse’s back, and compare those measurements to the saddle being used.
Horses come in all shapes and sizes, and often it is hard to find a saddle that fits your horse well. Without measuring, you may not even know your saddle has a poor fit until your horse tries to tell you through pinning his ears when saddling, constant tail swishing, or just general bad behaviour. White spots on the wither indicate that some real damage has been done to underlying tissues.
EFS Remedy: Measuring your horse gives us excellent 3-D data on the shape of your horse’s back. We measure your horse using our 3D back profiling system, which provides us with measurements in 10 places along your horse’s back. Additionally, we measure the rock (curvature front to back). From these measurements, we custom-build a tree to fit its back type.
Once your horse reaches maturity, his bone structure will change very little, but your horse will change shape through conditioning and age cycles. And often horses will be asymmetrical, especially through the wither area. An interesting exercise: with someone holding your horse straight, stand on a stool directly behind your horse and look for symmetry/asymmetry along your horse’s spine all the way up to the wither.
EFS Remedy: Removable pads under the tree bars have shim pockets that allow you to change the rock and/or angles to keep the saddle fitting as your horse changes shape throughout conditioning and age cycles, and to keep the saddle sitting straight side to side. Simply moving the bar pads down on the tree bars can also make significant changes to the fit.
Cable rigging is what the latigo and off-side billet are attached to on the saddle and from which the cinch is hung. In our Easy Fit Saddles, the cable rigging is a continuous loop of 1/4” poly-coated, stainless steel, aircraft cable which is moulded into the swell and cantle of the tree. This type of rigging was invented by a well-respected saddle maker named Hamley around 1918, but the idea was difficult to apply in a wooden tree. It’s an old idea, whose time has come.
Why use cable rigging?
1. Cable rigging can be adjusted to any rigging position (full, 7/8, ¾, or centerfire) unlike traditional saddles which only accommodate one position. The full position is the most forward position and puts the cinch behind the horse’s elbow. Your horse’s conformation, particularly the wither and shoulder, will determine which position is best for him. You want the rigging to allow the horse to move his front legs freely without being bumped or rubbed by the cinch. For asymmetries, the position can be adjusted differently on each side, in conjunction with shimming, to pull the saddle off of a small, weak, or atrophied shoulder, so it can rehabilitate.
2. The cable rigging pulls evenly on both the front and back of the saddle tree, giving it even contact and weight distribution along the length of the bars. And, because it is holding both the front and back of the saddle, it can eliminate the need for a back cinch.
3. All the leather and steel plates used in traditional rigging are replaced by cable, providing you with less bulky, close contact, lightweight rigging.
Bar lengths usually vary with seat size, a bigger seat usually requires a longer bar.
The horse’s thoracic vertebrae are attached to ribs back to T18, which look like regular vertebrae and move more or less with the front of the horse. The lumbar region behind them is unattached to ribs, looks the vertebra look like airplane wings, and move more or less with the hind end. A saddle that extends past T18 straddles the 2 areas and can interfere with the horse’s movement. Many western saddles have done this for years.
A longer saddle also moves the rider into the back of the saddle, creating more interference. Keeping the rider balanced over their feet and as close to the withers as possible makes the rider a much easier load for the horse to carry. If you ride in alignment (shoulder, hip, heel) and are balanced in the stirrups you don’t require as long of a saddle seat. You start to use all your body’s natural shock absorbers instead of bracing against them, which minimizes the sore muscles. You move with your horse, and your horse will start to use their hind-end to move more freely and with more power.
Short saddle skirts:
– prevent interference with the hip when flexing and turning
– allow freedom of movement between thoracic and lumbar regions
– keep the horse cooler
– make for a lighter saddle
– position the rider more forward on the horse’s back
EFS Remedy: We keep our saddle skirts short. We make shorter trees with thigh cutouts in the swells to get a larger rider into a shorter tree.
Who has ever heard this? “I’m tired of needing my husband to lift my beast-of-a-saddle onto my horse!” Lightweight is important for ease of saddling.
Lightweight means less impact and less effort for the horse especially when a 100th of a second counts.
- EFS Remedy: Easy Fit Saddles are lightweight, and we have gone to great lengths to build them that way.
- Our saddles weigh an average of 22 pounds (10 kg).
- How we make them lightweight:
- – The tree is made of lightweight, modern materials.
- – It incorporates the ground seat, which strengthens the tree and eliminates multiple layers of heavy leather as found in a traditional western saddle.
- – The cable rigging replaces all the leather and steel plates used in traditional rigging, providing you with less bulky, stronger, lighter and adjustable rigging.
- – The single strap stirrup system utilizes modern, lightweight, high strength materials to give you closer contact, adjustable, strain-free riding while eliminating pounds.
- – We have paid close attention to leather thickness, heavy where we need it, thin where we don’t, never skimping on the quality we use.
- – Short saddle skirts mean less material used and therefore less weight.
When measuring horses that are asymmetric through the whither with my EFS horse measuring system, I suggest that you pad up the small size until both are equal, then measure over the shims. I have also measured the large side and used the resulting measurements on both sides to build a symmetrical tree. Either way, we always build the tree symmetrically, and when you get the finished saddle, you will need to shim the tree to level it. The asymmetry usually comes with a rotation, the cable rigging position can be altered with a strap on one side to help keep the saddle from falling over to the small side.
Young horses grow and build muscle to about 5 -7 years of age, level off, and then start to lose their topline and muscling in their later years. Horses also change shape through conditioning cycles; they generally come in fat and out of shape in the spring and lose weight and increase conditioning through the summer work.
Ideally, you should measure your horse when they are in their normal riding condition, and when they are fully grown and filled out. EF saddles have a few ways to compensate for changes: bar pads can be repositioned, or they can be shimmed, and the cable rigging allows the rigging to sit in the proper position for the horse.
Rock refers to the curve of a horse’s back along its length, from the wither to the last rib. It is important to consider rock when looking at saddle fit. If your horse’s back has lots of rock (a distinctive curve/drop) and your saddle tree doesn’t, it may bridge, meaning the tree bars only make contact in the front and back and not in the middle. If your horse’s back has very little rock (flatter), then a saddle with lots of rock might only make contact in the centre and tip forward and back like a rocking horse. Either scenario will result in high pressure points and soreness on your horse’s back. The rocking horse scenario would also be very unstable.
The EFS Saddle fitting template system includes rock cards that are used to determine the curvature (rock) of the horse’s back along its length from the wither to the last rib. The cards also help us to determine the length of the horse’s back and wither.
This is how it works: The card is placed 4 inches off the spine. The B mark in the centre of the card is placed on the mark at the base of the withers and held perpendicular to the horse’s back. The card should rest on the last rib offset mark and base of the withers offset mark and extend over the withers. Try the various card profiles to determine the appropriate card. Record the card number. Record the distance forward to the back of the scapula and backward to the last rib. Recorded as (example) Rock card 2, front 7.5 & back 8.5. The card should run over the scapula; if necessary, make a note of the gap of the pocket behind the scapula. Make a note of the asymmetry and rotation of the scapula side to side. If you can take a few pictures, so I can see what you see, that helps.
Another way to take a look at how the saddle fits your horse is to take him for a moderate ride, then unsaddle him and observe the sweat pattern. It should look like this horse’s back. Everywhere you should have had contact between saddle and back should be sweaty.
There should be no odd dry spots, which would indicate that contact is not being made between the horse’s back and the saddle. It could also indicate that too much pressure is building in one spot, not allowing the sweat glands to function.
If your horse is riding in a new saddle and starts acting bizarre, pay attention. Sometimes it is just a sign of the horse noticing and getting used to the new saddle, but it could also indicate a fitting problem. Some of the more common behavioral cues that something may be wrong are when your horse:
- Lays his ears back, swishes his tail, and tosses his head
- Walks off when you try to girth up or mount
- Bites the saddle
- Excessively stumbles or simply refuses to move
- Becomes sensitive to you touching his back
- Increasingly acts up the longer you ride
- Can’t seem to relax under the saddle
- Slows down, bucks, runs away for no apparent reason
We’re very confident in our online remote saddle fitting service if one of our saddle fitters cannot travel to your region. We have had excellent success in building saddle trees that fit, with people measuring their horses, and sending those measurements to us.
The first step is to order a 3D Equine Back Templating System from us. (https://shop.easyfitsaddles.com/saddle-shop/) This cost is refundable, less shipping, if you return the templates to us.
The cards come with written instructions. Online, you can watch our video and download a PDF (https://easyfitsaddles.com/3d-equine-back-profiling-system/)
We invite you to arrange a call with us on a video chat if you are unsure, so we can see what you are looking at.
Option 1: Onsite saddle fit. Depending on your location, if there is a Representative that can get to you, your horse can be measured up and your saddle order can take place onsite. Discover our EFS REP to find one nearest to your region.
Option 2: We also have remote saddle fitting kits which are easy and convenient. We provide simple step-by-step instructions with everything you need to take measurements of your horse. With a self-addressed express post bag, everything is convenient to suit your busy lifestyle and remote location. Once we receive your measurements, we can begin the process of ordering your custom-mad
Our online shop is open to select countries around the world.
Easy Fit Saddles, I can send you a measuring kit, then from the measurement build you a tree to fit. Fit is angle change all along the back coupled with rock. Those measurements capture the 3-dimensional shape of the back, to give you width, flare, twist, angle, gullet, channel, rock, and re Our remote saddle fit option is available
Western saddle trees have no standard of sizing, each manufacturer produces mostly one size, some a few sizes, very few any more than that. There is no good system for horse owners to quantify and communicate to saddle makers the shape of their horse’s back. There are common sizes that fit a lot of horses, and that is what most of the mainstream industry supplies. We are breeding and cross-breeding horse breeds from around the world and well as crossing cart and workhorse with our riding horses, so the demand for odd shapes and sizes of saddles has increased. In general, our horses have gotten wider and shorter through the back in recent years.
Bar lengths usually vary with seat size, a bigger seat requires a longer bar. The horse’s thoracic vertebrae are attached to ribs back to T18, which look like regular vertebrae and move more or less with the front of the horse. The lumbar region behind them is unattached to ribs, looks like airplane wings, and moves more or less with the hind end. A saddle that extends past T18 straddles the 2 areas and can interfere with the horse’s movement. Western saddles have done this for years. A longer saddle also moves the rider’s into the back of the saddles, creating more interference. Keeping the rider balanced over their feet and as close to the whither as possible makes the rider a much easier load for the horse to carry
We make shorter trees with thigh cutouts in the swells to get a larger rider into a shorter tree. As well, once you are balanced in the stirrups, you don’t require as long of a saddle. You start to use all your bodied natural shock absorbers instead of bracing against them, which minimizes the sore muscles. You move with your horse, and your horse will start to move more freely with more power.
One of my customers said it nicely
Although it took some adjustment for my horse and me to get used to the close contact feel. It wasn’t long before I realized that what I was experiencing was freedom of movement in my horse I was not accustomed to. My horse is more engaged and more willing in her forward motion. I couldn’t be happier with the results and fit.
The equine pain face – Horses may not be able to say how much it hurts with words, but researchers show their face tells all. Learn to recognize the signs of the equine pain face, also known as the equine grimace scale, with Karina Bech Gleerup.
Recognizing pain and pain intensity in horses has been a challenge for veterinarians and anaesthetists, making it difficult to assess if horses are receiving appropriate pain relief. New research, however, shows that, as happens in humans and other animals, certain facial expressions can indicate a horse is in pain, and that learning to recognize the signs is relatively easy and feasible for veterinarians, nurses and horse owners alike.
A team of researchers from Denmark and Sweden followed up with another study that agrees that facial expressions of pain can be appreciated in horses and suggests an easier way for people to recognize the pain face.
The study shows that it is possible to score a ‘pain face’ as a simple yes/no (instead of using a scale) and that the intensity of the expression may be sufficient. This makes Gleerup’s Equine Pain Face more applicable than the Horse Grimace Scale.
Karina Bech Gleerup, a veterinarian and lecturer from the University of Copenhagen, presented a poster of the findings at the 10th International Equitation Science Conference, Denmark.
A simplified approach
Bech Gleerup and her team have identified five key areas to watch out for:
- Muzzle and
- Facial muscles
They also showed that learning to recognize facial expressions of pain is feasible. After a 20-minute lesson, the participants successfully scored a pain face (yes/no) and grade the pain intensity as ‘low’, ‘medium’ and ‘high’ with, on average, 82% accuracy.
Gleerup added that learning to recognize the equine pain face in their horses may help owners identify chronic or low-grade pain at an earlier stage.
The hook and loop tape, not actually Velcro, is covered by the seat, so it collects very little debris, and what does collect can be easily cleaned with gentle sweeping action with a wire brush on the hook side and by using a vacuum on the loop side.
The tape we use is rated for 1000 pulls but once you get your stirrups positioned where you like them, you won’t be changing them often.
Using the right glue along with staples as a mechanical fastener was the strongest method of attaching the hook and loop tape (tested to 2000lbs,).