Perfection is fleetingperfection-pursuit.  The only constant is change

Just this summer I have witnessed 3 different horses have dramatic ‘behavioral’ changes when saddle fit was addressed. Here are a few stories for you, if you’re not in the mood for story-time just skip down to the Q & A section:

  1. Large paint gelding who has been bearing his teeth & biting other horses specifically on trail rides. This big love & his owner (who adores him!) came to one of my retreats. Luckily the owner was open to riding in a different saddle because after checking saddle fit (without her in the saddle) I wouldn’t allow them out on the trail with the set-up they had. We were lucky to find another saddle that fit him better (but was really pretty yucky for her! Too big! & the stirrups were too far forward) & she was shocked that his overall demeanor was a 180! He didn’t try to bite anyone or anything! 😀 Yeay!! They now have ordered a custom tree & are having a saddle made for them!
  2. Mare who has never offered to buck or kick but just seemed a bit ‘mareish’ when Mom rode. She was a complete angel when daughter rode…in a different saddle. Honestly from the conversation I had with the owner, an incredibly good horsewoman & amazing friend to me by the way, it really sounded like Miss Mare didn’t want to work! We agreed that she just loved her little girl, maybe she was just a little girl’s horse now? She would swish her tail & was slow to respond to cues, even kick out now & then. We had checked her saddle fit in the spring, and didn’t love it but agreed that it was better than the previous saddle. A ‘new’ used saddle came up for sale in the right price range & Mom jumped on the chance to buy it (smart woman that she is!) and whoohoo she has a brand new horse!
  3. The least dramatic story is a tall gelding with high withers who wasn’t stepping out under saddle like he was saddle-free. When you add a saddle, a rider, and change what is being asked of the horse it’s not uncommon to see some differences in the way the horse is moving. By changing only one thing at a time I was able to prove to the owner that the issue was saddle-fit disbursing the weight of the rider. The owner had been told that the saddle fit correctly & didn’t believe me when I said otherwise. When we got the saddle lifted in the front & the rider’s weight distributed more evenly the horse walked out with noticeably longer strides & a softer look in his eye, and the rider had a more balanced seat with seat bones in the correct position in the seat.

Saddle Fit Q&A:

How often should saddle-fit be checked?

I have heard that professional riders on the east coast re-flock their English saddles twice a year! Western saddles can not be flocked let alone re-flocked, but you can change your padding in a way to support the bars of the saddle, to better disperse the weight of the rider. Basically, every season you should be checking your saddle-fit, if/when you’re unsure contact a professional.

Saddle-fit should be your #1 thing to check if/when your horse is demonstrating behaviors that are not ‘normal’. It often comes on gradually, which makes it harder to notice because in many cases there is not an abrupt change.  Other times it will be in the spring when you haven’t ridden in awhile & there are plenty of other ‘issues’ your horse could be trying to communicate to you….so why not rule-out saddle fit first? Then you can call in the trainers, the bodyworkers, etc. etc.

I can’t afford a new saddle, what can I do to make this one work in the mean-time?

Find a professional saddle fitter (see the next question).

You can’t make a too-small saddle fit, if your saddle is wide enough there are padding options that you can make-do with. Often there is a trade-off either you make the saddle good-enough for the horse or you can make it good-enough for the rider. In my situation I ride a bunch of different horses, I have a saddle built on a rawhide covered wood tree (Timberline & Bowden trees are made here in the US & many saddle shops use them, they are good trees!) I pad it differently to ride different horses in the same saddle that fits me best. Every once in a blue-moon I ride a horse that is too wide for my saddle, then I need to give up my comfort to make sure my mount isn’t restricted in movement.

Here is my blog post from 2011 about different pad combos I used, and still use!: http://www.buckaroobalance.com/saddle-fit-by-the-season/ Many are very inexpensive! & Horseloverz.com is having a free shipping sale on Diamond Wool pads right now too!  (Seriously they should pay me for this right!??!)
linerThese wool liners are in-expensive & thin enough to cut with garden sheers for shims, asymmetric horses or other specialty-fit needs.  They aren’t contoured but at 1/4” thick it doesn’t take too many rides to get them fitting better! I use this as a liner under my 5-star pad, which they don’t recommend, but hey I’ve gotten that pad to last me more than 5 years now! & at $300 a pop I’d sure like for it to last! 😀 Buying a $30 liner each year keeps me & my horses happy 🙂

& this is my all-time favorite pad, The Contoured Cowboy Pad from Diamond Wool I have the ½ inch (I find the contoured cowboy padthicker Diamond Wool pads puff up & get bulky after they’ve been soaked with sweat & washed a time or two.) I layer this pad as my bottom layer so my horses have wool against their backs then use my fancy cut-out fleece from an old english pad I bought at the barn sale to fill in when there is a gap behind the shoulder (which often exhibits as a pinch under the front concho), then I can top it all with a pretty blanket if I need more thickness &/or to look good at a clinic or show. There are plenty of more expensive options on the market to get this same effect, but since it is a temporary fix I see no need to spend $300 on a ‘specialty’ pad.

How do I find a professional saddle fitter?

Unfortunately at this point in time….good luck! The only saddle-fit certifications available are for English saddles only (& based out of England!) OR are associated with a specific company or brand of saddles. So instead of an unbiased opinion you get the ‘best’ saddle fit they have to offer in their line (PLEASE ask where their trees are made & what they are made of!!! Many of these company reps…I will NOT call them saddle fitters, have no idea about the trees inside of their saddles. They spout off the catch-phrases about how it flexes…ask how much with how much pressure…or has a warranty & then sell you a $300 specialty pad that will ‘make’ their saddle fit your horse. I’m not saying it’s not the best they have to offer, but it’s not a long-term solution.)

Ask questions! If the answers don’t sit right in your gut…move on! Many consignment shops will let you barrow used saddles for a day or a weekend so you can take the time to mess with different pads, get a ride on them & see what your horse thinks & what your butt thinks! Heck you’re not alone, ask your friends & members of your local horse group have a saddle-day where you compare different saddles that will give you a chance to try out what your friends are riding. Maybe you can even line me up to come, I have a 2 hour saddle-fit talk that I often do the night before a clinic or offer to groups as a fundraiser for the group!

Christina checks the shape of Tiki's back
Christina checks the shape of Tiki’s back

In the mean-time I’m working on getting a better way for you to find good non-associated saddle fitters! I’ll keep you posted as things develop!

If anyone out there is a CPA or attorney familiar with starting a 501(c)3, willing to trade for saddle-fit &/or riding lessons… please contact me! 😀

If I missed your question please submit it in the comments or via e-mail Christina@BuckarooBalance.com & I’ll address it as best I can!  🙂

999 thoughts on “How important IS saddle fit?

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