Ride better with an Aitken’s Saddlery fitted saddle.
A saddle is arguably the most important item any rider will purchase, and in most cases one of the most precious (second of course to their horse). This is why it’s recommended that you seek the advice of a Society of Master Saddlers qualified saddle fitter before you purchase a saddle. They will use their experience and knowledge to give the right advice and make the correct adjustments to ensure the best fit for both you and your horse.
It has also become common practice for many riders to have the fit of their saddle checked on a regular basis. A horse is a living animal and its back will continue to change and develop according to its age, feed, training, and health. These changes can affect the fit of your saddle and minor alterations are needed to maintain an optimal fit.
What to expect
Your fitting will involve the assessment of the following factors
- Balance Point – The lowest point of the seat, should lie in the middle of the saddle and when properly fitted and sit corresponding to the base of the withers. Allowing the rider to sit in the center of the horse’s movement. If this point sits too far back the rider will feel left behind and too far forward the rider will feel pitched forward.
- Level Seat – With the horse standing square the cantle should be higher then the pommel, how much is determined by the saddles design. In the case of deep seat dressage saddles the cantle could be several inches higher, but a shallow seat jump saddle could have a cantle as little as an inch higher then the pommel.
- Wither Clearance – The size and width of the tree must conform to the basic contours of the horses back. Clearance must be adequate between pommel and wither during all movements before and after riding.
- Channel Width – the panels of the saddle need to be spaced wide enough apart to ensure that the saddle doesn’t sit on or pinch the spine or connective tissue (dorsal spinous processes) of the horse.
- Panel Contact & Pressure – the panels must fit snugly and evenly on the horses back without pinching the withers; and have consistent contact along the back without bridging or rocking. The saddle when properly fitted sits on the long back muscle called the longissimus dorsi.
- Girth Point Angle – the girth points when done up with the girth in the girth groove should come from the saddle perpendicular ground. Angled points may pull the saddle forward or back.
- Saddle Length – when positioned properly behind the shoulder the saddle must not go past the 18th thoracic vertebra which is the vertebra corresponding to the last rib of the horse. If the saddle goes past this it will place pressure on the lumbar area, which is the weakest, non-weight bearing area of the back.
- Saddle Alignment / Stability – The tree and panels must be entirely symmetrical in design and construction. The saddle should remain stable and not shift excessively from side to side or from front to back. However in some cases the horse’s symmetry or even the rider can affect the stability and alignment of the saddle. The panels also should be equal in shape and size to avoid any twisting.
- Tree Point Angles – the tree points need to be angled in such a way that they do not impede the backward rotation of the horse’s scapula (shoulder blade).
Do I Need A Saddle Fit?
Common signs that your saddle no longer fits
The following is intended as a general guide of what to look for and not a definitive answer to every situation. If you find that your saddle appears to have any of the following problems we recommend that you seek the advise of a qualified saddle fitting professional.
Muscle pain and atrophy
An ill-fitting saddle can cause muscle pain, and if its not corrected may lead to muscle atrophy (muscle wastage). It is important to remember that there are a range of factors that can affect your horses back from lameness to muscle soreness for exercise. Signs of pain include: flinching, muscle twitching, ears back, stomping feet, moving away, lowering back, kicking, rearing, etc.
White hairs occur when excessive pressure is applied to the hair follicle causing it to produce white hair, if this pressure is removed and it hasn’t been too severe the hair may grow back as normal. It is important to note that white hairs can appear even after the pressure has been removed.
A sign of excessive movement from the saddle which will lead to a build up of heat and pressure in the area causing saddle sores muscle pain and atrophy.
The rider should sit balanced and comfortably in the center of the seat without effort through all movements. The relationship between the pommel and cantle should be correct according to the type/design of saddle.
Horses with a high wither, that are croup high, have big shoulders, and/or a wide back will cause a saddle to move beyond what it is designed for. With the correct adjustments some saddles can be altered to suit these horses but in most cases a specifically designed saddle will be the best fit.
In general evenly spaced dry spots found under the front of the saddle are not a cause for concern due to the movement of muscles under the saddle. However dry spots found either in the middle or toward the back of the saddle could indicate excess pressure caused by uneven panel contact, unbalanced seat, etc.
Before booking your next fitting you will need to consider
- The horse must be broken in
- The rider needs to be present and able to ride
- The horse must be sound
- The horse should be clean and groomed
What you will need
- A flat hard surface for the horse to be stood up on for the fitting
- Any pads, numnahs, and saddlecloths that you will be using
- Your mounts for the saddle including bridle and helmet so you can ride
- A suitable area to safely ride, including jumps if fitting a jump saddle