How can I make my saddle fit better?

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The pressure from a new or different saddle typically affects the horse’s back differently than it would with an old saddle. Initially, the horse may feel quite relieved and perform significantly better because the various locations are frequently not yet sore. As time goes on, new sore spots keep developing! But how can I make my saddle fit better?

It’s a bit like us buying a new pair of shoes that looked great but were a little tight. They seemed fine for the first three weeks of continued use, and then we reached a point where we just couldn’t put them on again because our feet were so sore. Horses are much the same with a new saddle that is not right for the horse.

If your saddle has a significant structural problem, often replacing the saddle with an appropriate one will be the only solution. Some saddles will only need minor adjustments. Such an adjustment can make a huge difference to the comfort and movement of a horse.

Where the saddle is too wide in the gullet or is uphill, front or back riser pads may be a temporary solution. Pads, however, are a poor long-term solution compared to using the right saddle.

The idea that saddle fit problems can be overcome by using a number of saddle blankets or a thick saddle pad is completely flawed. At best, the area of tissue damage created by the saddle is moved, giving some temporary relief.

Too many saddle blankets or too thick a saddle blanket cause problems of their own. This extra thickness under the saddle, while padding out the area more completely, tends to increase the pressure on the withers and along the spine in a similar way to wearing an extra pair of socks in a pair of shoes that are too small, and therefore ends up causing more problems.

Often, too, the pressure is put on the muscles close to the horse’s spine, something that very readily causes major back soreness over a few rides. Also, the distance between the horse and the rider is increased, creating more movement of the rider relative to the horse, which in turn causes more pain and stress on the back.

Poor back posture and back strength are major contributors to poor saddle fit. Weak-backed horses, which readily drop under the rider’s weight, and swaybacked horses often have poor back contact with the middle of the panels, and as a result, the rider’s weight is mainly carried by the wither and saddle seat area. Horses that go along with their heads high often have this problem too.

Saddle fit will change as the horse changes in weight and muscle, so a saddle that fitted well early in a season or early in the preparation for an event may not fit so well later when the horse’s shape has changed. Also, the fit of a saddle will vary from when the horse is standing still to when the horse is in extended movement and also according to the weight of the rider on its back.

Correct saddle fit is of paramount importance to the performance and behaviour of your horse. The science and art of saddle fitting are very complex. To get it right, I suggest you seek very well-qualified help and have the fitting re-checked every three months.