SADDLE FITTING for a willing horse

SADDLE FITTING for a willing horse
Saddle fitting for a ready horse

Saddle fitting for a willing horse can make all the difference regarding comfort and safety for both horse and rider. It’s the crucial link between horse and rider. The right saddle fit can improve your horse’s comfort and performance. A saddle can either foster movement and clear communication between the rider and the horse or cause discomfort and behavioural issues. Evaluating a saddle’s fit necessitates knowledge of saddle structure, horse anatomy and dynamic movement, and rider impact.

Some of the common problems are caused by an ill-fitting saddle.

Lumbar pain, a horse that is irritated in the shoulder, may take small steps when travelling downhill, hoof balance issues (saddle fit issues can cause horses to move unevenly or push the front and rear legs to move at different speeds), girthiness, stumbling (caused by a saddle that is too narrow), systematic soreness, wither soreness and atrophied back muscles.

The saddle is too long for the saddle support area.

The most commonly affected vertebrae are the last two thoracics and the first two lumbar (T17-T18-L1-L2). Additional issues arise when the bars twist or fall to the side and shove the vertebral spinous processes to the left or the right because of greater muscling at one shoulder. The resulting pain also causes the horse to protectively tighten the back muscle (longissimus dorsi), which further pulls the vertebrae out of alignment. Therefore, direct trauma or secondary muscle traction is to blame for the resulting occurrence of Lameness. The saddle channel protects the dorsal spinous processes if correctly fitted and centred. However, when the rider sits too far back, or the saddle tree is too long, the horse may experience tremendous pain over the lumbar transverse processes, which are not designed to carry the weight of a rider and saddle. The horse then hollows its back and hyperextends, resulting in sacroiliac, hock, and stifle problems. Although there could be health-related issues not caused by saddle fit, it is worth considering the saddle as an instigator before investigating other potential causes.

long saddle for the horse
Long saddle
What is muscle atrophy, and what role does it play in Lameness?

Suppose a saddle puts too much pressure on a muscle because of being out of balance. In that case, the horse wants to avoid and lessen this pressure – resulting in a protective postural change which affects his gaits and causes muscle contraction. These muscles then begin to atrophy, as they will experience circulatory inhibition and receive a less necessary nutritional supply.

When the problem is fixed,

When the problem is fixed, the picture can change for the better. The Sacroiliac regions may be sore secondary to other issues such as hock arthritic, stifle pain, an ill-fitting saddle and imbalanced riding that causes the horse to hollow its back. It’s essential to have a thorough physical and Lameness examination performed by your veterinarian to determine whether or not the SI areas are primary or secondary problems.

The effects of poor saddle fit can be far-reaching.

As you can see, the effects of poor saddle fit can be far-reaching throughout the entire horse and not always obviously related. The horse’s back is dynamic and in constant motion, designed to move in many directions. A saddle is essentially a static object placed on this feat of biological engineering, and therein lies the problem. It is essential to ensure that any saddle you look at needs to be fitted to the moving horse, not just a static horse. The horse’s back and muscles will also change throughout the year and his life. Suppose you change your horse’s routine and workload. In that case, he has time off or the type of work changes, even just you having lessons and sitting differently will likely affect the fit of a previously fitted saddle very quickly.


Lameness is another result of an ill-fitting saddle. Frequently, obscure rear leg lameness or stiffness originates in the back. Such Lameness occurs because the hind legs cannot engage or come underneath the body with normal, strong movement. Instead, the hind legs tend to trail behind the horse. This causes excessive stress and concussion on the rear leg joints. Reluctance to use the back and hindquarters properly is caused by too much pressure from the back third of the saddle.

A horse that travels in a hollow-backed position from a back dysfunction hits the ground harder than a horse travelling with a free and loose back. Consequently, a hollow back can lead to heel pain, commonly assumed to be navicular.

Conditions such as front leg lameness and frequent stumbling or tripping can result from shoulder movement inhibited by the weight on the saddle and rider on the shoulder blades.

The effects of saddle fit on performance and behavioural issues
brown horse swinging its tail to protect from insects picture csp21468819 edited
The effects of saddle fit on performance and behavioural issues

Dr. Kerry Ridgeway, veterinarian, saddle fitter and equine chiropractor, had the following to say on the effects of saddle fit: After spending many years specializing in equine performance issues, I, unfortunately, found that saddle fit is often the root of problems that can lead to not only performance and behavioural deficits but also back pain and even unsoundness. My obsession with saddle fitting is that saddles affect muscles. I refer to muscles as the forgotten system in veterinary medicine Veterinarians are involved in performance problems, and Lameness tends to think in terms of tendons, ligaments and joints. After all, those are what show up as injuries and require treatment. However, the tendons and ligaments respond according to one anatomical structure – the muscles – those in action or those failing to be appropriately in action. We all recognize that a very poorly fitting saddle can be a torture device for the poor horse. But, what many do not realize is that what seem to be relatively minor saddle issues gradually affect muscles and their ability to function correctly. An insult to one muscle works progressively to spread that insult to another and yet another muscle in a chain reaction. That chain reaction will affect the way of going, performance and foot conformation.

Extreme saddle fit issues that have been ongoing
Extreme saddle fit issues that have been ongoing

Carried to its logical conclusion, it will cause performance deficits and progress after sub-clinical Lameness. Eventually, the problem will lead to outright Lameness. … Lameness that can be attributed to having started with saddle fit includes suspensory issues, tendon strains and bows, carpal fractures, degenerative disease of knees (carpal joints), hocks and stifles.

Extreme saddle fit issues that have been ongoing

Extreme saddle fit issues that have been ongoing will result in pronounced and developed symptoms. The symptoms listed above are only a handful of the possible results of an ill-fitted saddle. Ideally, you want to pick up the subtle clues much earlier, long before such extensive damage is done. Examples of such cases could include back problems, spinal and pelvic misalignment, soreness in back muscles, wasted wither muscles, kissing spines, Lameness in the limbs, Navicular disease, distal limb degenerative disorders, etc.