Updated: Feb 9, 2019
Putting a saddle on your horse is the first step towards any adventure the two of you may share, and yet it can be a troublesome activity sometimes. Horses come in all shapes and sizes, and there is no one saddle that fits them all perfectly, so to ride a variety of horses requires some knowledge of saddle fit.
In a nutshell, our job when putting on and fitting a saddle is to try and ensure maximum comfort for your horse. After all, would you want to do an athletic activity with something jabbing you in the back and your belt three notches too tight? A well fitted saddle that’s been put on properly can make a world of difference to how your horse behaves when ridden, and therefore your experience as the rider.
If you’re wondering how to check if your saddle fits your horse, there are a few easy ways to spot glaring issues without calling out the professional saddle fitter. First, put the saddle on the horse’s back, right behind the shoulders, and slide it a little until it hits the balanced point of stability. If you wiggle it, the saddle should not be able to move much side to side, or back and forth, and definitely shouldn’t move like a teeter-totter from front to back. It should feel nestled and secure.
After that, do a quick check on how the panels fit underneath the saddle. I like to start by lifting the flaps lightly, and running a flat palm along the back panels. What I’m trying to feel is that the weight of the saddle is evenly distributed, with no pressure points or gaps. If there are either of these, you’ll be sure to feel them, and take notice of where they are.
Next, do the same thing on the front panels, underneath where your thigh and knee will fall. This panel should follow the same rule, with even pressure distributed and no sharp pressure points. If you do encounter pressure points, consider that this saddle is not the best fit for your horse, and may be causing him or her discomfort, which can lead to behavioral issues as well as physical issues in the not-so-distant future.
Not every horse can have a fully custom saddle, however, every horse should have a saddle that fits well and doesn’t cause pain.
While putting the saddle on and girthing it up for a ride might seem like the simplest of tasks, I see a lot of minor issues with technique that can greatly enhance or diminish the comfort and happiness of the horse. While a lot of this might seem like I’m nit-picking, all of the small pieces contribute to a larger picture of success.
Start with a clean saddle pad, because using an overly dirty and sweaty saddle pad can cause skin irritation and discomfort. Always be sure to approach the head of the horse first, and give them a quick scratch before you throw something at their backs; even for experienced horses this is simply polite.
When you put the saddle on, make sure that you pull the saddle pad up in between the pommel, so that it doesn’t exert pressure on the withers during your ride. You also want to be sure that you don’t pull the saddle pad forwards on the back, because doing so can invert the hair and give the horse a prickly sensation. Always slide the saddle back into place, and don’t scrunch it forward.
Use your billet holders! They’re there for a reason! The reason is to hold your saddle pad in place, so you don’t have any wardrobe malfunctions mid-ride.
Last but definitely not least: don’t tighten your girth all at once!! Unless you like somebody doing a belt on you incredibly tight in one swift motion, consider altering your plans for your horse. I like to tighten it just enough so that the saddle is secure, put my bridle on, tighten it one more hole, walk to the mounting block, tighten it one to two more holes, and then sometimes tighten it one more time after walking my horse around for a few minutes. This is much more comfortable for your horse. ~Kate