Saddles for the Hard to Fit Horse


A lot of horse owners think their horse is very unusual, when in fact it is becoming more common to have trouble finding saddles for hard to fit horses. They have gone from shop to shop and tried several saddles with no success. In general, horses are trending toward wider and shorter backs, and cross-breeding of horses from around the world has created even more shapes. One saddle will not fit all horses. This is similar to you fitting into your brother or sister’s clothes. We are all unique.To compound the problem, there is no standardization in the industry and limited ways to describe the fit you are looking for.

In the end, each horse is as unique as we are as individuals. A saddle size will fit a range of horses very well, and others on each side of the ideal in a less ideal fashion. Horses with severe atrophy, asymmetry, muscle loss, and saddle pinching may be unaware that their horse needs additional help beyond what a saddle shop can provide.  If we get information on an abnormal horse or off the end of the bell curve of horse shapes, we will talk with our customer to determine what can best help this horse and owner, whether that be medical help, special pads, etc. 

If you were to go hiking in a pair of shoes that were either too big or too small, you’d be uncomfortable. Chances are, you’d wind up with painful blisters on your feet, and you might end up with a backache. It’s no different for your horse. A saddle that doesn’t fit causes tension, and when his body is tense, every footfall hits the ground with greater force. That kind of repetitive concussion can contribute to soundness issues down the road. “

Likewise, some behavioral problems may be traced to discomfort related to saddle fit problems. “It’s easy to assume a horse who walks away from the mounting block, can’t stand still, or is excessively spooky is just that kind of horse,” says Anderson. But sometimes, ear pinning, tail swishing, teeth grinding, evasion of the bit, and even difficulty with upward and downward transitions can be linked to discomfort in the horse.” And much of that discomfort can be traced to poor saddle fit.”

Finding Perfect Saddles for the Hard-to-Fit Horse

When you can’t find an ordinary saddle for your horse, here’s where the process gets a little tricky. Chances are that your horse beats the norm. So, you need to be a bit more specific when finding a saddle that fits perfectly on his back. Not knowing your horse may create more problems.

Therefore, learning crucial details about your horse seems like the only fitting solution. It can be a plus in crucial situations where your horse’s physique is interrupting your saddle choices.

You can start by ensuring that the saddle is centrally placed on the back of your horse, which is standing upright with its back straight. This levels the ground for saddle placement. Now, see if your horse is short-backed or has a high frame.

We’ll recommend you get western saddles for short-backed horses because they provide an easy fit. Try placing the saddle without a pad below. Now, see if the saddle needs more tightening. Usually, for short-backed horses, saddles fit without tightening the cinch. Just make sure your saddle stays in the centre of your horse’s back. Do not let it slip sideways to avoid falling.

Finding The Best Saddle For A High-withered Horse

The wither is the high-craned part of your horse that measures its height. Some horses have a towering wither as high as 12 inches, which may cause trouble when finding a saddle that fits them. But it doesn’t mean you won’t find a saddle. You just need to put in a little extra effort.

First things first, figure out if your horse has a higher wither than the standard length or if it is a low-withered horse. You can easily measure your horse’s length and find a chart online to compare it with. After that, check for the wither clearance of your selected saddle.

Hold three of your fingers straight out (index, middle, and ring finger).

Meanwhile, your thumb should be pointing upwards.

Now, place your hand on the back of your horse and slide it slowly between the space left below your saddle and the top of your horse’s withers.

Your horse’s saddle should have enough side space for the withers to move, but it shouldn’t be loose from the top of the withers. The space enables your horse to bend easily while riding. Getting an English saddle for high-withered horses seems to give the best results because English saddles are not too tight or too wide but just have sufficient wither clearance.

Finding Saddles For Horses With Big Shoulders
Finding Saddles For Horses With Big Shoulders

The second most important part of your horse that affects your saddle placement is its shoulders. Starting from the fine distance between his shoulder blades to its spinal region, the saddle should sit smoothly over the back of your horse. The right saddle should allow the horse to easily move its shoulders while still holding its place firmly in the centre of the horse’s back.

You can use the same technique that you used to check the wither clearance to find the right saddle measurements. You shouldn’t have much hollow space under the pommel of your horse’s saddle. See if you’re able to move your fingers sideways over the shoulder blades.

Also, don’t forget to check the gullet channel. It may also affect your saddle selection. A wide saddle may allow side movements, but would not have enough room for a gullet channel. This will put direct pressure on the spinal ligaments of your horse.

But, if your horse has a hard-to-fit physique, you might be asking, is it even possible to achieve a good fit for him?

The answer is a resounding “yes!” Over the last several years, innovations in saddle making have made it possible. Whether your horse is the full-figured type like a lot of Haflingers and Fjords, or angular and athletic like many Thoroughbreds, or even if he’s one of those in-between horses who is either still growing or has confirmation that doesn’t fit the mold of the average horse—there’s a saddle out there to fit him. Here’s how to find one.

Form and function

Saddle fit starts in the tree. If the tree fits the contours of your horse’s back, everything else will fall into place. For that reason, your saddle search begins with a solid understanding of tree shape and how it relates to saddle fit.

Aside from a little tweaking here and there, the basic design of the saddle tree hasn’t changed much in almost 2,000 years. Today’s saddle tree looks a lot like the ancient versions—just two strips of wood (or composite) connected by two arches—a pommel or fork at the front and a cantle at the back.

“Think of the tree as the skeleton of your saddle.” Its function is simple—to provide stability and support, both to the saddle and the rider. It must distribute the rider’s weight evenly over the horse’s back while keeping pressure off its spine. To do its job right, the tree must fit the contours of your horse’s back. Too narrow, and it could bridge, creating pressure points. Too wide and it could sit too low on your horse’s spine.

How to Improve Your Saddles for the Hard-to-Fit Horse.

When you own a horse that goes against the norms, standard saddle shapes and sizes will be a little hard to fit. Yet you don’t have to worry because you can still find the right saddle for him and make it work!

Yes, you heard it right. You can still improve your favourite saddle to fit it on the back of your low-withered horse. You just need to fix it using a few props and fixtures. Here, we’ve listed some common, easy-to-use solutions that you can try for your hard-to-fit horse.

1. Using Sideways Shims,

Shims are like stuffed foam paddings that are meant to go inside the side pockets of your horse’s saddle. These are usually for tightening a wide or loose saddle to fit your horse and make its grip stronger. Depending upon your requirements, you can choose to place single, double, or sometimes even multiple paddings behind the back swing scapula point of your horse. This helps to reduce pressure from its hard-working shoulders and ease him off the tightened saddle belts.

Make sure to balance the sims correctly, so your saddle won’t go flying away in the air in the middle of the ride.

2. Using Shim Foam On Top

Shims also help to avoid wither unbalancing by fixing your saddle right in the centre of your horse’s back. Shims may be used to fill that hollow low spot found on the backs of curvy horses. The foam padding is tapered to fill in the gap. This way, the saddle lifts and stays firmly on the back, strengthening the overall arrangement.

If your horse is extra curvy and has a large hollow space deepening just below the wither part, you can use multiple paddings. You can also get a single extra-thick shim of foam that is capable of lifting the entire saddle assembly. This protects your horse from scarring his back in case the saddle digs deep into its curves.

How Do Western Saddles For Short-Backed Horses Have the Perfect Lengths?

When you have a short-backed horse, you should pay special attention to the length of the saddle. Saddle length matters the most so that the saddle can sit properly on the back of your horse. Extra-long saddles cause welts on your horse’s skin.

Similarly, for a low-withered horse, a long saddle cuts deep into its flesh with every step it takes.

Western saddles are trendy and structured to fit on short-backed horses. These saddles sit in the center back portion of your horse’s back between both shoulder blades, just over its lumbar bone. The correct length of the saddle helps in distributing your weight equally, so your horse won’t feel pressured at a single point. It also keeps the saddle stable even when the horse is running or racing.

How to Check if Your Saddle Has the Right Length?

Checking the length of your saddle doesn’t mean measuring it with a scale. You can measure it by positioning the saddle on your house. The saddle with the correct length should sit over his back starting from his withers and not extend beyond the last rib of your horse.

Even if your saddle goes behind its ribs, you can adjust your seating position to minimize the effects. Western saddles are long, but the seating capacity makes them a perfect fit for hard-to-fit horses. When you sit comfortably on top of your horse, the saddle tree distributes your weight over its back, only allowing your horse its necessary movements. Whenever the horse tightens its muscles to move, it further stabilizes the saddle.

Studying Saddle Trees May Help to Get Western Dressage Saddles for Short-Backed Horses

Dressage saddles are meant to beautify your dear horses according to your taste. Some people want to find the best saddle for short-backed horses just because they want their horse to match their standards. Designed to scale up the efficiency of your horse with a unique beautifying touch, dressage saddles look good on low-withered horses.

No matter if you’re looking for western dressage or a trail saddle, studying the saddle tree is important for every horse owner. Whether you’re a rider or a horse trainer, you should at least know that the saddle tree is based on five important parts.

  • The Swell
  • The Fork
  • Two Parallel Bars
  • The Horn
  • The cantle
Understanding the following terms can help you make an informed decision.

Bars are the two strips that run parallel to your horse’s spine and are connected in front of the fork or pommel and at the back by the cantle. Since the bars of the saddle stay in direct contact with your horse, they’re responsible for distributing your weight on the back of the horse, making the saddle stable.

Bar spread is an old term used to try to describe the bar angle; see below.

Bar angle generally refers to the angle of the bars behind the scapula and below the withers.

Bar twist in western saddles refers to the change in bar angle from front to back, coupled with the rock. The angle and rock must match the angle and rocker of the horse, front to back on both sides. In an English saddle, it refers to the width and angle of the saddle under the rider’s thighs.

Bar flare refers to the bar tips, front and back, where they curve up to help guide the scapula underneath and in the back to stop the tree from digging in.

Bar rock” refers to the amount of curve in the bars from front to back. A horse with a flat topline, for instance, will need a tree with very little rock, while a swaybacked horse or one with a dip will need a tree with a significant amount of rock.

How Do Western Saddles For Short-Backed Horses Have the Perfect Bar Angles?

The bar spread of your selected saddle should be fitted to your horse so that it matches the angle between its withers and its shoulders. The angle is easily visible, but for your confirmation, you can use the wither clearance check technique that we told you about above to verify that your saddle is a perfect fit.

English and Western saddles for short-backed horses come in different sizes based on bar angles and bar twist. You may be offered to pick the regular saddle or a saddle having a semi-or complete bar twist. You can also go for an extra-wide saddle with quarter bars. Just know that the measurements of these saddles can vary from brand to brand.

Do You Think You’ve Found The Best Saddle For Your Short-Backed Horse? Let’s Go For A Test Ride

Nothing works better than the old trial and test method. If you think you have found the perfect saddle for your short-backed horse, it’s high time you took a test ride. A test drive can do wonders when it comes to trying out a saddle on your horse for the first time. It can reveal so many secrets and point out details you didn’t even pay attention to before.

We have seen countless incidents just because the selected saddles for the hard-to-fit horses were not the right fit. You never know if the saddle is perfect until you can feel it on your ride. You may hesitate to take the first turn, but we recommend you take a TEST RIDE and see for yourself how well your saddle assembly fits your short-backed horse. Furthermore, you can compare if your saddle is well-balanced or if it needs further upgrading with shims.

Now let’s take a look at three of the most challenging equine physiques and saddle suggestions to fit them.
Challenge 1: The mutton-withered, broad-backed horse

You know them—Fjords, Haflingers, most Mountain and Moorland breeds—
Just about any horse that has huggable but hard-to-fit conformation will do.

The problem that mutton withers create in saddle fitting is that most saddles are built with normal withers in mind. The withers help keep the saddle in place, creating a ridge. A broad-backed horse will probably take a wide saddle, but be aware that those with very wide twists can be uncomfortable for the rider. Easy Fit Saddles are designed with a shim in the seat. The thicker the shim, the narrower the effect of a wide horse and saddle will feel.
Many round-barrelled horses are also short in the back, so consider round-skirted Western saddles over square skirts if that’s the case for yours.

Challenge 2: The High-withered Horse

Many Thoroughbreds and their crosses, Appendix Quarter Horses, and other athletic riding types sport high, sharp “shark” withers that make saddle fitting a challenge. Abnormally high withers can improve your horse’s performance because of its increased ability to lengthen its stride. This means that once you get the right saddle fit, your horse will stride out more and be freer in its movements. Getting the right fit is easier for a high-withered horse because the symptom is more common than in other hard-to-fit conformations. Many of these horses have withers that taper into a broad, athletic back with a well-sprung normal rib cage. Picking a narrow saddle by only measuring the angle and width at the wither on this kind of horse will probably cause pain because, for these horses, the angle at the rear of the bars will not fit. The idea that it’s OK to fit a saddle too wide and then pad it up is erroneous. It’s just as uncomfortable on the horse, like a saddle that’s too narrow.

Challenge 3: The In-between or Immature Horses

Horses of just about any breed, age, or gender can be found in this category. They can look like a bulldog from the front, with a concave pocket behind their shoulders and a fairly average back. Getting a saddle to fit him was tough. Your horse might be young and still growing or getting back into condition; either way, his back could change. In general, smaller horses mature faster than larger ones. All horses will put on muscle as they mature and work. Ideally, a horse should be in its normal fit working condition, but you need to be honest about what that is. A young horse started in an ill-fitting saddle will affect the way they move and develop. Continuing to work in an ill-fitting saddle could permanently change their way of going, but they need to be worked to reach their full potential.

Challenge 4: Sway Backed

The goal of saddle fitting is to have the rider’s weight evenly distributed. This is especially crucial for swayback horses, as too much pressure on their already weak ligaments can cause kissing spine. Building a saddle to fit their shape can help them, but could make the problem worse. It is best to get some X-rays as well as a veterinary check. There are lots of pads out there to help with this problem, but again, padding just hides the problem. Lots of riders end up with a thick pad in the wrong place.

Challenge 5: Short Back

The problem area for a short-backed horse comes in the length of the bars of the saddle tree and the length of the skirt. The saddle tree or skirt should in no way interfere with the movement of the horse’s hip. After the last rib (look for the change in the way the hair lies on the side of your horse; follow that up to the spine) or 18th vertebra, the vertebra changes from being attached to ribs to being attached to a bone that looks like airplane wings. The spine ahead of this junction moves differently than the spine behind, and some horses are very sensitive to this difference in movement. There should be no pressure from the saddle behind this junction; the bar and skirt should flair up and away. The skirts can float behind, not applying pressure. They can be so long that the hip can push the saddle up into the wither with each stride and or as they turn and the back shortens on one side.

Challenge 6: Flat Backed Horse

Bar crowns refer to the roundness of the bars. There is so much variation in this group that you’ll want to consult a certified saddle fitter. Although we all know the basic types of equine conformation, horses are as individual as we are. And often, traits that seem to go together naturally—tall and narrow, round and short, and the like—don’t when it comes to equine withers and backs. But if you take the time to analyze how your horse is put together and what a “good fit” means for him, you’re more likely to choose a saddle that will make you both happy. All horses appreciate a good fit. A better understanding of how to achieve a perfect fit will pay off in a quiet and focused ride.

Challenge 7: Gaited Horses

Gaited horses tend to be hard to fit because of the laying back of their shoulders and the unique muscling in their backs and shoulders. Gaited horses also need more freedom of movement in the shoulder area than do non-gaited horses, calling for a saddle that fits differently than most others. Although the saddles are generally designed to fit the gaited horse’s back, saddle makers know that each horse has its own conformational issues.

Challenge 8: Draft Horse Saddles

Draft horses are being used under the saddle more often now than ever, resulting in a need for saddles designed specifically for their very wide backs. These saddles are marketed specifically as draft horse saddles and are only suitable for larger horses. We can make a saddle for

Draft horses are wide-backed horses being used under the saddle more often now than ever, resulting in a need for saddles designed specifically for their very wide backs. These saddles are marketed specifically as draft horse saddles and are only suitable for larger horses.r

Although almost all drafts and draft crosses have wider backs than standard-size horses, back conformation and size vary. Smaller drafts that measure around 16 hands have different needs in saddles than do larger, hitch-type drafts that measure 17 hands or taller. Besides these differences, individual horses within each breed or type show differences in their shoulders and withers. To accommodate these differences, draft horse saddles come with or without draft bars and in different tree widths.