Seven Common Saddle Faults

A poorly designed or damaged saddle affects not only your riding but also your horse’s comfort. Learn what to watch for.
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Seven Common Saddle Faults
Overflocked, lumpy, uneven, or overly hard panels can cause pressure points on the horse’s back. | Photo: Alexandra Beckstett/The Horse

A poorly designed or damaged saddle affects not only your riding but also your horse’s comfort. In fact, he’s probably going to feel any asymmetries and defects long before you do.

During the 2015 Society of Master Saddlers Introduction to Saddle Fitting Course, held May 1-2 in Hagerstown, Maryland, U.K.-based master saddler Laurence Pearman described seven common—but unacceptable—faults found in English saddles.

Here’s what to keep an eye out for in your saddle:

1. A twisted tree.

A perfectly good saddle tree can become twisted if, for instance, a horse falls or rolls over it. Twisted saddles do not sit straight. Instead, they move from side to side with a twisting action, causing potentially damaging pressure on the horse’s back.To determine if your tree is crooked, view it from behind and see if the nail heads and piping line up evenly on each side. It they don’t, and it’s obviously not a simple nail placement error, you will need a new tree or saddle.

2. Panel problems.

Overflocked, lumpy, uneven, or overly hard panels can cause pressure points on the horse’s back. Signs of these include swelling and/or patches of white hair, indicating the horse has been in extreme discomfort.In this situation, have a professional saddler reflock your panels properly. Ideally, said Pearman, you’d want to have your saddle completely reflocked every two years.

3. A broken tree.

Trees can break for a variety of reasons: A horse rolls over on the saddle; the metal becomes fatigued from constant flexing; or missing rivet heads cause flexing and cracking. You might notice your tree is broken if the saddle suddenly drops down in front with little or no withers clearance, said Pearman. You might also hear a squeaking noise or feel movement in the saddle.Never repair or weld a broken saddle tree, he added—you’re likely to end up with another break, hard ridges, or asymmetries. Instead, find a new properly fitting saddle for your mount.

4. Poor flexible points.

A flexible point is the leather cover over the otherwise unyielding point of the saddle tree. If the leather does not cover the point fully, it can be painful for the horse.

5. Poor panel fillings.

Sometimes when a saddle is reflocked, the materials used are lumpy and firm, which can cause uneven pressures throughout the panel. Ensure your flocking is a material such as high-quality long fiber wool and that the saddler does not mix different textures or types of wool, said Pearman.

6. Snapped girth straps.

These affect rider safety, rather than horse comfort, and should be repaired immediately. Pearman suggested having a saddler inspect these on a regular basis to detect early signs of damage, such as cracking, stretching, splitting, and buckle hole stretching or lengthening.

7. Stirrup bar problems.

If your stirrup bar (the metal piece that holds your stirrup leather securely in place) bends (e.g., got caught on a gate or object) or fractures, you need to replace it. Also check to be sure your stirrup bar doesn’t move and that the rivets are intact. Any defects with the stirrup bar are major safety issues for the rider.

Look out for your horse’s as well as your own well-being when evaluating a new or used saddle. If purchasing second-hand tack not from a professional saddler, always have it checked to assess its fit and safety, said Pearman. A qualified saddle fitter can help you assess your tack and/or make any necessary repairs.

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Written by:

Alexandra Beckstett, a native of Houston, Texas, is a lifelong horse owner who has shown successfully on the national hunter/jumper circuit and dabbled in hunter breeding. After graduating from Duke University, she joined Blood-Horse Publications as assistant editor of its book division, Eclipse Press, before joining The Horse. She was the managing editor of The Horse for nearly 14 years and is now editorial director of EquiManagement and My New Horse, sister publications of The Horse.

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