Before you saddle up, be sure that you have tack and equipment that fit properly to ensure you have a great ride!
When preparing to ride it is important to not only make sure that you have the right tack to ride, but also that your tack fits both you and your horse appropriately. Ill-fitting equipment can mean the difference between having a great ride or potential injury to the horse or rider. In this article, Michigan State University Extension will focus mainly on selecting a well-fitting saddle. There are several factors to consider when determining saddle fit.
First, it is important to select the appropriate type of saddle for the discipline that you plan to ride. You’ll want to decide what type of riding you’ll be doing so that you can match that with the best saddle for the job. The discipline that you choose will likely affect the type of horse you’ll select as well.
Once you’ve chose your type of riding, you’ll want to pay close attention to the placement of the saddle. A saddle should ride centered from right to left and positioned so that the bars of the tree are just behind the horse’s scapula. This will allow the horse’s shoulders to move freely. A stock saddle should lie directly over the upper end of the shoulder blades. This allows maximum area of contact between horse and saddle, distributing the load and pressures to minimize sore backs. Length of the bars of a stock saddle should also be considered. A long-barred saddle on a very short-backed horse can cause too much pressure over the loin and kidney area of the horse's back resulting in injury and soreness. The square-cut skirts on some stock saddles may also irritate the flanks of short-backed horses.
Now, we’re ready to move on to fitting the saddle. As you can imagine, not every saddle fits every horse, just as one size or shape of boot does not fit every human. Some points of the horse's anatomy that must be checked when considering a saddle include the size and shape of the withers, length of back, slope of shoulder, spring of rib, and muscling, especially of the shoulder. To some extent, you may need to consider the overall size of the horse, especially on smaller horses and ponies. Most saddle fitting problems occur at the withers. There must be ample clearance at the withers to prevent injury. In a stock saddle with the rider mounted, there should be about 2 inches of clearance between the withers and the gullet of the saddle. Insufficient clearance means the fork of the saddle is too wide for the horse’s withers. Adding a heavy pad or a second or third blanket may help. However, saddle pads are not meant to fix an ill-fitting saddle. On the other hand, horses with flatter withers can often wear saddles that are too narrow. This causes them to sit much too high in front and can pinch and create a sore back. To fit your horse properly, measure the width of the withers. Width taken at a point 2 inches below the top of the withers should correspond to the fork width of the saddle. Since blankets and pads will compensate for some minor misfitting, there can be some variation. Therefore, getting exactly 2 inches is not critical.
Hopefully, you’re well on your way to choosing the correct saddle for you and your horse. If you still have concerns, contact your local MSU Extension office.