All horse riders know the importance of a comfy position in the saddle.
It usually takes some time to find the right saddle that works well for both rider and horse. However, there are common saddle fitting problems that need correcting first.
Many riders prioritize their horse’s health and wellbeing, whilst unintentionally neglecting their own. This article will help you to spot the signs of an ill-fitted saddle, and when you should go to a professional for help.
What happens if your saddle does not fit
Your horse will eventually suffer if you are not comfortable as well. Your horse may be reluctant to go forward, buck, or take shorter strides. Many riders believe their horse is misbehaving or struggling with training when it can be easily fixed with small changes to the saddle.
Factors that affect the saddle fit
Riders may sit more on one side, causing uneven stirrups. It is common for saddles to slip to one side which over time can cause wasted muscle. Keep an eye on your horse’s weight and shape, as dietary changes could result in more frequent refits.
Females have wider seat bones, so this might affect the appropriate size of your saddle. The goal is to move harmoniously with your horse. Keep your back tall and straight, but flexible. If your back is stiff, then you will be more prone to injury.
Checking your saddle fits
There is no one size fits all when it comes to comfort, but it is important to give yourself enough room and support. The right saddle will keep your pelvis in a neutral position to aid movement.
You should get a professional to assess your saddle fit, completely strip and reflect at least twice a year – more often if your horse competes. The flocking will settle after around 20 hours of riding.
The pommel and cantle of the saddle should sit level. If the pommel too high, your weight will be pushed too far back. This can lead to muscle atrophy under the panels. If they sit too low at the front, it will drop down over the withers and be uncomfortable in a highly sensitive spot.
To check the balance, put one hand on the pommel and one hand on the cantle and gentle put weight on either end. A balanced saddle should not move. The cantle should not lift.
The remaining balance also avoids a stirrup overstretching on one side. Otherwise, riders may experience back, shoulder, or neck pain.
Check that the saddle is the right width. The points of the tree should sit about three fingers’ width behind the horse’s scapula, not on top of it. When you are stood next to your horse, the angle of the point should follow the shape of your horse’s body. It should not stick inwards or outwards.
The saddle shouldn’t tip you forward or backward and the front arch needs to leave your horse’s withers free. Ensure there is sufficient clearance between the pommel and the withers, generally around four fingers. There should be space at the sides too.
Check this when the saddle is girthed up and the rider’s weight is on it too. The saddle should not drop down over the withers with a rider on.
Check for blockages by running your hand down the front of the panel. The saddle should make consistent contact. When it does not, there will be uneven pressure which causes extreme pain for your horse.
You should also check the panels for lumps, gaps, or uneven flocking.
The gullet channel
The gullet channel should not sit on or close either side of the spine. On your horse’s back, there must be space all the way down the gullet channel.
Other ways to help your saddle fit comfortably
Improve balance and flexibility
If a rider has better balance, this will impact the feeling and communication with a horse. Lack of stability can also lead to hip damage or slipping off your saddle.
Yoga exercises can strengthen your inner thigh muscles that help with stability. Poses like trees, camels are easy to execute and will improve your grip on your horse. Butterfly pose opens and strengthens the hips.
Never ride at a speed that feels too fast, whatever your ability. Start with a walk and develop into more advanced gaits like trot or lope in controlled and guided settings.
Invest in the right tack
Buying the right clothing, equipment and saddle will help keep you safe, give you confidence and therefore maximize your performance. Wear long trousers to avoid saddle-induced sores and chafing. Closed shoes with a slight heel are also better at gripping stirrups.
It can take time to get completely comfortable in the saddle, but once you do, your riding will improve, and your horse will be happier.