Saddle fitting is difficult because there are no two horses that are alike. Horses were not made to carry a saddle, humans invented the saddle, every horse’s back is different and every fit is different.With a bare tree saddle fitting process you fit the bare tree to your horse for the best fit possible.
Your Horse Could Be The Problem Not Your Saddle Remember that saddle fit might not be the problem. Your horse just might be objecting to going riding or going up or down a hill and acting out in revolt of doing what you are asking. And after all, it is much easier to stand in the pasture and eat grass and for the most part they are lazy animals. So when he acts out when leaving the barn or going down a hill, it might be attitude and not saddle fit. Make sure it isn’t saddle fit and any horse tack first, before you address behavior.
Consider Other Problems Besides Saddle Fitting It might also be another problem like an old injury, a hip being out, a bad farrier, the wrong saddle pad or bit, physical condition or any number of other possibilities.
Poor Saddle Fit Can Cause Pain Eliminating saddle and tack as being the problem should be one of your first steps. Many times horses are blamed for bad behavior when it is tack or a poor saddle fit that is causing pain and makes the horse act badly. When you fit the bare tree to your horse, you will know for yourself that your saddle is a good fit and that your saddle is NOT the problem.
Proper Saddling Is As Important As Saddle Fit Once you know you have the right saddle fit you also need to make sure it is in the correct position. Your western saddle should sit two fingers behind the shoulder blade. This is where the tree should be placed; the leather and pad will sit over the shoulder blade. The leather and pad is pliable enough that it will not restrict the shoulder movement but the tree is not. See our article that talks more in detail about proper “position of your saddle and proper saddling”.
Proper Saddle Rigging For Saddle Fitting You also need to consider your rigging and how your saddle is cinched to your horse. Cinches that sit farther forward of the saddle need to also have a rear cinch in order to keep the back of the saddle from tipping forward. There are four positions for your rigging to be placed and when ordering your saddle you want to consider which position is best for your horse. The development of the “3-Way” rigging gives some options with cinch positions, usually allowing you to cinch in either the 7/8, 3/4 or center fire positions. It provides options so that the same saddle will possibly fit more horses. You can learn more about rigging in our article “Saddle Rigging Basics”
Saddle Pads Can Make A Difference In Saddle Fitting Saddle pads and the different types of materials they are made of, can also cause problems or can correct problems. Bottom line is to be open to trying different things, a slight change in material or shape can make huge difference in what works for your horse.
Seat and Balance Helps Your Horse’s Movements Another problem can be the rider’s seat and balance. A rider can throw the horse off and cause them to stumble and trip. Learn to move, relaxed and comfortable with your horse’s movements in every gait. Yes, even the canter, especially the canter. Teach yourself to ride relaxed, comfortable and balanced at the canter and it will improve your seat and confidence immensely.
Saddle Fitting Myths
1) A saddle should fit perfectly all by itself, no matter what rigging or pad. This would be true in a perfect world but there are so many variables when fitting a horse. What works for one will not work for another. The same horse will loose weight or gain weight, or sway back from age. So the saddle that once was a good fit can change. And cinch and pad have a tremendous amount to do with the comfort for your horse.
2) Sweat marks show you if the saddle is fitting right or not. This method is very inaccurate at best and is subject to many variables.
The Only Sure Saddle Fitting Method The only way you can get a truly correct fitting saddle is by fitting the bare tree to your horse first. It will take all the guess work out of the fitting and you will know for sure it’s not the horse tack causing the problem.