A well-fitting and balanced saddle is comfortable for you and your horse. Your saddle fitter is an integral part of the team of professionals that are there to ensure the best for the both of you. Here at Horses Inside Out we would always recommend that if you’re in any doubt about the fit of your saddle you need to enlist the help of a qualified saddle fitter.
In this blog, Gillian Higgins offers her advice looking at saddle fit related to the anatomy of the horse and three markers to look out for that tell you it’s time to get your saddle checked.
If you're a qualified or trainee saddle fitter who's keen to delve a little deeper into the anatomy and biomechanics of the horse and how it relates to saddle fit - come and join our Applied Anatomy and Biomechanics for Saddlery Professionals course.
1. Check his Back
Run your fingers along the midline of your horse’s back applying an even, firm pressure all the way along. There should be no reaction. A common place for bruising is in the thoracic area (where the back of your saddle sits). Signs of discomfort in this area could indicate the saddle is slipping to one side or the gullet of the saddle could be too narrow. It’s also important to mention that a saddle slipping to the side isn’t necessarily caused by the saddle itself – it could be the rider or the horse moving asymmetrically.
2. Video your Horse
Not sure if it's you or your horse causing the saddle to slip? You can check by asking a friend to video your horse as you ride him in a straight line in walk and trot. Filming as you go away from the camera is best. Repeat this in-hand and compare the two videos.
If your saddle only slips when you’re in the saddle, it’s likely you’re the cause. Discuss the issue with your trainer to see if they can help you get to the bottom of the problem.
If the saddle slips without a rider it’s more than likely your horse or the saddle is the problem and it’s time to call in your saddle fitter and therapist to do some checks.
2. Feel behind the shoulder blade
Where the point of tree would be - any pain or discomfort in this area indicates that something isn’t quite right - the head plate could be too narrow, or too wide.
Subtle changes to your horse’s shape can quickly and easily alter the fit of your horse’s saddle. Most of us only consider the seasonal changes such as gaining a bit of weight in the summer and losing it in the winter. However, in reality these changes happen more often than that.
Myth Busting - Hollows behind the shoulder blade
A common misconception is that hollows are caused by atrophy of the thoracic part of the trapezius muscle, but this part of the trapezius muscle comes from the upper third of the scapula spine and then runs back diagonally across the top of the scapula and attaches into the super spinous ligament at the withers and the front part of the thoracic region. That muscle doesn’t cover the whole area of where the hollow is, also the trapezius muscle is quite a thin muscle.
The hollow you see is actually caused by a postural alteration - usually when the position of the thorax between the front legs goes forward and down. It’s in this position that you get bigger hollowing behind the scapula. This indicates a weakness of the thoracic sling muscles. If you want to learn more about this subject watch the recorded webinar Understanding & Assessing Your Horse’s Posture.
Also, for exercises to strengthen that area watch the Pilates for Horses webinar.
If you’re trying to alter your horse’s posture and fill in the hollows, as your horse changes shape you'll need to have your saddle fitter out more regularly to check and alter your saddle accordingly.
3. Your position in the saddle
The saddle needs to fit your horse, but the rider’s balance is just as important. If the rider is out of balance in the saddle that’s going to put more pressure on your horse’s back and make it more difficult for him to carry the rider.
A quick check is to see if you are sitting in the ear, shoulder, hip, heel line. It should be easy for you to maintain this line.
If it’s not easy – is it the saddle that’s hindering you? There are two simple tests to do that will tell you whether your saddle is enabling you to sit in the best possible position.
When you’re sitting in the saddle, with your feet in the stirrups look down and check that your stirrup leathers are hanging vertical - are you in the right position?
Or in order to get the shoulder, hip, heel line do you need to bring your leg backwards or forwards so the stirrup leather is no longer vertical?
Stand up in your stirrups – if your in a good position, this is easy.
If you’re sitting in more of an arm chair position – where your heel is much further forward. In order to stand up you either have to tip forward with your shoulders, pull yourself up using the reins, or hollow your back .
Consider your horse
As soon as you add the weight of the rider on to the horse’s back we’re compromising his posture, his ability to move, and his balance so it’s important that we do everything we possibly can to reduce this burden on his back and one of these is to ensure we are in the best possible balance. We've discussed the influence of the saddle but you also need to consider your own fitness and posture as these can have an influence on your horse too.
If you'd like to learn more about this subject there are a number of informative videos that you can purchase through the Horses Inside Out Academy: