Friday, December 19, 2008

Fitting a Saddle to a Horse

Short-Backed Half-Arab A year ago I had a problem with using the same western saddle on 2 of my horses. My mare, Joon, has a very short back while my gelding, Will, is longer-backed with high withers. The saddle I had been using on the gelding was too long for the mare. And I found that using that same saddle on Will over a period of time caused him to be sore on the withers and across the loin area

I was trying all sorts of different saddle pads on Will and I had gotten so that whenever I’d ride Joon I’d use my dressage saddle because that one fit her so well. But when I trail ride, I prefer using a western saddle so I can tie on any equipment I might like to take with me for the day – a lunch, an extra jacket or raincoat, and saddle bags.

Arabian with Long Back & High WithersWhy worry about saddle fitting? For years I just used whichever saddle I had at the time and didn’t worry about whether or not it was properly fitted to the horse – to tell the truth, I didn’t have any idea that it was something that I should be concerned about. An ill-fitting saddle won’t necessarily cause an immediate injury or sore back, but repetition or length of time using it can eventually cause a painful problem with the back, making the horse ouchy and/or causing sores.

An analogy was given to me that brings this point home: it’s like wearing a new pair of shoes. You can wear anything for a short period of time, but wear shoes that don’t fit correctly all day and if you put them on the again the next day, you’ll quickly feel all those spots that rubbed you raw the previous day!

Western Saddle That's Too Long for a Short-Backed Arab It’s the same for a horse with a saddle that doesn’t fit correctly; ride him for an hour or so and there probably won’t be any problem. But use that same saddle for a whole day on the trail and your horse won’t be happy when saddled the next day!

A saddle representative was scheduled to be at a local tack store in Brainerd so I decided to take both Joon and Will and my saddle to see what could be done. I was afraid that he would suggest that I needed 2 new saddles – one to fit Joon’s short back, and a different one that would better fit Will.

Well-Fitted Tucker Saddle on Short-Backed Horse I was pleasantly surprised to learn that all I really needed was one new saddle and a new saddle pad. I purchased a short-bar Tucker trail saddle for Joon which solved her problem. Although I bought the Tucker saddle specifically for Joon, this saddle can also be used on any of my horses.

When I then asked about Will’s saddle, the saddle rep pointed out that it wasn’t the saddle that was the problem, but Will’s high withers and swayed back. What he needed was a saddle pad with extra padding across the back to “fill in” the space. The reason he was getting sore on the withers and loin area was that those were the only contact spots where the saddle was hitting, making all my weight concentrated on those areas.

Diamond Wool Saddle Pad on Sway-Backed Horse The pad he recommended was a Diamond Wool that has pockets to add extra padding where it is needed. Or, he said, if I didn’t want to purchase another pad I could just fold a bath towel and lay it over my current pad to create that extra padding. Another hint that he gave me was to use an inexpensive cotton blanket underneath my regular pads – the blanket is easily washed and keeps a stiff, dirty pad from causing more sores on the horse's back. Saddle Pad with Towel on Sway-Backed Arabian

Now both of my horses are happy with their new equipment – the saddles are comfortable for me and the clean blankets and correctly fitting saddles are comfortable for them.

Another option for those riders who have multiple horses - but don't want multiple saddles - is a treeless saddle.

Friesan with Treeless Saddle

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