Are you on a quest for the perfect saddle and the best fit? Here are a few words of advice from performance horse practitioners and equine sports medicine scientists:
- Does the saddle fit pretty well but is a tad wide for your horse? A sheepskin pad might be the most beneficial (better than foam, gel, and other materials) in improving the fit, says Hilary Clayton, BVMS, PhD, Dipl. ACVSMR, MRVCS, Mary Anne McPhail Dressage Chair at Michigan State University.
- Is a treeless saddle the solution for the hard-to-fit horse? Not necessarily, says Kevin Haussler, DVM, DC, PhD, of Colorado State University. The lack of panels and tree means that pressure is concentrated under the rider’s seat bones rather than spread over a large area.
- Saddle panels with a banana-shaped curve tend not to fit well unless the horse is quite swaybacked, says Clayton.
- When getting on your horse, use a mounting block or ask for a leg up. Mounting from the ground causes highly asymmetrical pressure on the left and right sides of the horse’s back. Clayton says the horse braces himself against these forces and could wind up with unevenly developed shoulder muscles as a result (which could lead to training issues, saddle-fit problems, and more).
- Western saddles are designed to be used with thicker pads than English saddles, but their fit is equally important. Sue Dyson, MA, VetMB, PhD, DEO, FRCVS, head of the Animal Health Trust’s clinical orthopeadics departments, suggests consulting a reputable saddle fitter who is knowledgeable about your intended equestrian discipline before you buy.
- Some time-tested methods of assessing saddle fit still hold merit: Look at the dirt and sweat patterns on a thin, clean saddle pad, says Clayton. The dirty areas show where the saddle contacted the horse’s back; compare sides and front/back. Dry spots on an otherwise sweaty pad indicate areas of such high pressure that the blood supply to those sweat glands was cut off.