Let’s talk about saddles

Let’s talk about saddles

If there is one thing you should take away from this post, it would be that I implore you to ask questions. I think a healthy dose of skepticism can go a long way in this world. Often times we find ourselves not wanting to speak up or be the squeaky wheel. I think in the equestrian world, saddle fit is one of those things most riders feel out of place addressing. Due to no fault of our own, we are under the influence from an early age to believe that saddle fit is not that big of a deal. Our first real exposure to saddles/tack was probably an old lesson horse at the barn. Most likely that horse was ridden in a hand me down saddle that was never fitted to him and probably wasn’t periodically checked or reflocked. No one tells you that horses need to have saddles fitted, checked often and why.

Most riders know the basic anatomy of a horse but hardly any of them could tell you where the scapula is, where the trapezius muscle is located, or what the full range of motion of the shoulder should look like. Even trainers for that matter have limited knowledge on the subject. I’ve dealt with multiple trainers that are guilty of incorrect saddle placement, impeding shoulder movement of the horse. I would even go as far to say that most of the horses that I treat with reoccurring back pain, are triggered from an ill fitting saddle.

As horse owners we don’t want to hear that our saddle is the problem. It was an investment worth thousands of dollars that a ‘fitter’ aka saddle rep, informed us was a good match and would last for years! This is simply not true. While the saddle may be a good fit initially, your horse’s body is always changing. They lose weight, gain weight, they may have changes in their gait, they build muscle, their anatomy evolves over time. It’s madness to think that a saddle will fit your horse for the entirety of its career needing no modifications, even if it is custom. I urge you to include an independent saddle fitter, body worker, massage therapist, equine physio or someone in the field with extensive knowledge on equine musculature and anatomy when making a decision in purchasing a saddle AND to perform regular fitting checks on your existing saddle. An ill fitting saddle can cause irreparable damage to your horse both physically and mentally.

  • Damaged sweat glands due to misdirected pressure
  • Vertebral ligament damage
  • Rubbing of the spinous processes (kissing spines)
  • Subluxation of lumbar vertebrae
  • Chipping of the scapular cartilage
  • Damage to the dorsal ligament
  • Blisters or permanent scarring from rubbing
  • Muscular atrophy
  • Irregular muscle development
  • Nerve damage
  • Psychological damage
  • Behavioral issues

I’d like to point out that saddle reps don’t always have a great understanding of the horse’s anatomy. They may not even be a rider themselves! The first time I met with a saddle rep for an exclusive brand I felt immense pressure to buy from them. They have an agenda. That agenda is to sell you a saddle. The longevity of your horse’s health and musculature is not part of their checklist. Will they check basic saddle fit? yes of course. But the fact remains that not all brands fit horses the same. There are subtle differences. Just because a medium tree fits your horse in one brand does not mean another brand in the same size will fit just as well. A saddle rep for a specific company will NEVER tell you that another brand will fit your horse better than the brand they are employed by. It will simply never happen.

There are numerous negative effects that an ill fitting saddle can impose on your horse! Don’t just buy the fancy brand because your trainer is sponsored or all of your friends at the barn have one. Ask questions, educate yourself on what to look for and what will fit you and your horse best. If possible seek out an independent fitter who will have an unbiased opinion. You are saving yourself and your horse pain and potential lameness in doing so!