Selecting the Perfect Saddle for Your Horse (and You)
As equestrians, our horses are our cherished athletic companions, deserving the very best care. This includes ensuring their nutritional needs are met, providing a clean and comfortable stable environment, and maintaining a consistent workout regimen to build and sustain their strength. Equally important is the saddle we choose for them and ourselves. But do we truly comprehend why this choice matters so much?
The saddle serves as the crucial point of connection between horse and rider. An ill-fitting saddle can spell discomfort for the horse, resulting in long-term pain, injuries, and behavioural problems. Moreover, it can unbalance the rider, leading to discomfort, particularly in the back and pelvis regions. This imbalance can impact the rider’s upper body and leg positioning, subsequently affecting their use of aids and, ultimately, the horse’s performance.
Recognizing Signs of a Poorly Fitted Saddle
Early indicators can signal an poorly fitted saddle. Horses, when in discomfort or pain, attempt to communicate their distress to handlers and riders. Hence, it’s vital to interpret the horse’s body language to detect when something isn’t right. These signs can manifest when saddling and tightening the girth, including:
- Ears pinned back
- Head shaking
- Foot stomping
- Reluctance to stand still
Also, watch out for signs of irritation and skin sensitivity during grooming, especially over the back and girth areas. Such undesirable behaviours are referred to as ‘vices’.
If these communication attempts by the horse go unrecognized or unaddressed, the horse may resort to more drastic measures to convey its pain. This can involve lashing out, biting, or even kicking while being saddled. During riding, the horse may become resistant, refuse to jump, veer toward the gate, buck, or rear, which poses risks to both horse and rider. These issues will only intensify if not properly addressed and corrected.
Many individuals tend to reprimand the horse for these behaviors instead of delving into why they are acting out. In most cases, when identified early and corrected, these vices can disappear, and the horse can return to its contented state.
The Right Fit for the Rider
For riders, an improperly fitting saddle can affect balance and position. Discomfort while sitting in the saddle can lead to tension and incorrect leg and upper body positioning. As a trainer, I’ve encountered numerous riders who have forced their bodies into unnatural positions to conform to their saddles, which is unfair both to the rider and the horse.
When seeking the right saddle, consider factors such as gender, height, and leg length. Men and women have distinct physiques, and no two individuals are identical, so why settle for the same saddle?
Your upper body, seat, and legs must harmonize while riding. Any imbalance in these areas will affect your position and overall equilibrium. If your saddle isn’t suited to you, you may encounter the following issues:
- Upper body pushed forward or backward
- Legs pushed out of position
- Seat too far forward or back in the saddle
- How to Evaluate Saddle Fit
When assessing saddle fit on the horse, there are essential guidelines to follow, regardless of your riding discipline:
Sufficient clearance over the withers is essential.
The shoulders must have ample room for unrestricted movement.
The saddle panels should make consistent contact with the horse’s back, avoiding bridging.
The panels should be adequately spaced apart to prevent pressure on the sensitive area alongside the spine.
Professional Saddle Fitting
Engaging a professional to assess your current saddle’s fit or evaluate a new saddle before purchase is invaluable. Professionals employ various tools, such as the EQUIscan®, to measure the horse’s back and assess saddle fit. This specialized tool provides an in-depth view of the saddle’s interaction with the horse’s anatomy. With the aid of an experienced EQUIscan® partner, custom saddles tailored to you and your horse can be manufactured.
Selecting the right saddle is paramount for both horse and rider. Conversely, an ill-fitting saddle can have detrimental consequences. Always seek professional guidance when purchasing a new saddle or considering a custom-made option.