The Coolest Things I Learned About Saddle Fit

Here are my top 6 takeaways from a two-day introduction to saddle fitting.
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The Coolest Things I Learned About Saddle Fit
The two-day introduction to saddle-fitting course offered plenty of hands-on demonstrations. | Photo: Alexandra Beckstett

A couple of weeks ago I attended a two-day, 16-hour introduction to saddle-fitting course put on by the U.K.-based Society of Master Saddlers. The timing was impeccable, as I’ve recently begun questioning my own saddle’s fit as my young horse’s body shape changes. During the course I learned not only the basics of determining a good- vs. an ill-fitting saddle, but also what a true science saddle fit is. Here are some of my favorite take-homes and coolest facts from the weekend:

1. Naturally, you don’t want a saddle to sit any further back on a horse’s spine than the T18 vertebrae (T17 in some Arabians)–this is the point of junction for the last rib. If the cantle rests beyond T18, the horse’s kidneys and other internal organs bear the brunt of your weight, and that’s setting your horse up for a host of discomfort. One saddle fitter in attendance works with gaited breeds and noted that some of them develop back soreness due to saddle seat riders’ position sitting way back in the saddle. Another attendee noted a similar issue with some short-backed Western riding horses whose saddle skirts dig into their loins.

2. You also don’t want a saddle to sit any further forward than two inches behind the horse’s shoulder, or you might compromise his movement and cause discomfort. One presenter explained the dilemma he has with polo players who place their saddles right up on and over the scapula and withers so as to more easily swing their mallets under the horses’ necks. He proposed coming up with a different saddle construction to meet that sport’s needs

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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.

15 Responses

  1. re: The Coolest Things I Learned About Saddle Fit

    This is an introduction to saddle fitting, not an entire course. The basics Alexandra mentioned are just that: basics. I attended the entire course in the UK in 2003,  and can say from experience that it is extremely detailed and demanding. When y

  2. re: The Coolest Things I Learned About Saddle Fit

    Susan Kauffman’s comment is right on target.

  3. re: The Coolest Things I Learned About Saddle Fit

    Oops, sorry Alexandra; failed "reading comprehension" on the article title.

    Well, now you know about the "low-tek" pressure test system, too, altho I will agree that the Pliance has a huge "cool" factor. Bet they’re

  4. re: The Coolest Things I Learned About Saddle Fit

    Interesting article but I dare say a lot missing.  Was there any discussion about the fact that the horses back changes during movement, &/or the biomechanics of movement?  Fitting a stationary horse is not all that should be involved as

  5. re: The Coolest Things I Learned About Saddle Fit

    Hi Steve, thanks for that advice. Look for articles from the saddle fitting course to roll out in the coming weeks with practical advice from the actual experts, not me :).

  6. re: The Coolest Things I Learned About Saddle Fit

    Well, OK Alexandra, so, how do the less fortunate among us, who lack a high tech pressure evaluation tool evaluate saddle fit?

    Since your article failed to offer anything, here is something you might try.

    First, visually assess fit, there

  7. re: The Coolest Things I Learned About Saddle Fit

    Each horse is an individual and what one horse likes, another will not. That said, I have found that most horses tend to like Balance International saddles. Their design is based on the biomechanics of the moving horse, as opposed to conventional saddl

  8. re: The Coolest Things I Learned About Saddle Fit

    with treeless saddles it’s kind of obvious that the whole pressure Comes from the riders seat bones. What also most People seem to miss- most treeless saddles where originally not invented for 200 pound passengers…

  9. re: The Coolest Things I Learned About Saddle Fit

    We are very fortunate to have Jochen Schleese come to our barn.  All of that history has not been lost and Herr Schleese is glad to share it. He is also not afraid to point out modern training methods that are doing long term damage to the horse.

  10. re: The Coolest Things I Learned About Saddle Fit

    I love the article . I didn’t see anything about the fact of the panels underneath narrowing? That was one of my problems with my saddle on my TB. It fit her fine up front but at the rear the saddle was practically on her spine. I’ve read that they do

  11. re: The Coolest Things I Learned About Saddle Fit

    Steph,

    I had the same problem with my very round, short-backed Foundation Quarter Horse mare.  I did a lot of research on saddle fitting and made some templates out of cardboard for the width of the bars I downloaded off the internet. &nbsp

  12. re: The Coolest Things I Learned About Saddle Fit

    I was amazed at the lack of literature on saddle history. We are acting like we are inventing the wheel. Where is all the old wisdom from the past centuries of horsemanship? If you search Amazon or Google, there is almost nothing. I would welcome any l

  13. re: The Coolest Things I Learned About Saddle Fit

    The study you refer to regarding treeless saddles was performed using only one kind of treeless saddle and NO pad underneath. Treeless saddles are, for the most part, designed to be used with special pads that are specifically designed to create a chan

  14. re: The Coolest Things I Learned About Saddle Fit

    This was a most interesting article. Since our farm has several thoroughbreds of varying back length and type. We have always preferred a saddle with a flexible metal tree. We have always been leery of fiberglass trees because of their non-flexing abil

  15. re: The Coolest Things I Learned About Saddle Fit

    Bad habits of english polo players don’t help much. Argentine players don´t need to place their saddles over their horses shoulders to hit under neck.

    Naughty boys!

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