Buying a Saddle and Saddle Fitting

"Buying a Saddle - One saddle simply cannot fit all horses."

Method of fitting saddles for horses and riders varies widely between designs.

A horse saddle, regardless of type, must fit both horse and rider. Saddle fitting is an art and in ideal circumstances is performed by a professional saddlemaker or saddle fitter. Custom-made saddles designed for an individual horse and rider will fit the best, but are also the most expensive. However, many manufactured saddles provide a decent fit if properly selected, and some minor adjustments can be made.

Fitting Saddle to the Horse

The width of the saddle is the primary means by which a saddle is measured and fitted to a horse, though length of tree and proper balance must also be considered. The gullet of a saddle must clear the withers of the horse, but yet must not be so narrow as to pinch the horse's back. The tree must be positioned so that the tree points (English) or bars (Western) do not interfere with the movement of the horse's shoulder. The seat of the saddle must be positioned so that the rider, when riding correctly, is placed over the horse's center of balance. The bars of the saddle must not be so long that they place pressure beyond the last rib of the horse. A too-short tree alone does not usually create a problem, as shorter trees are most often on saddles made for children, though a short tree with an unbalanced adult rider may create abnormal pressure points.

While a horse's back can be measured for size and shape, the saddle must be tried on the individual animal to assure proper fit. Saddle blankets or pads can provide assistance to correct minor fit problems, but no amount of padding can compensate for a poor-fitting saddle.

One saddle simply cannot fit all horses. A saddle won't fit even the same horse forever without adjustments. As a horse advances in conditioning, age, and training, the back muscles and even the underlying skeletal structures change to some degree. Thus, particularly with English saddles, a saddle fitter needs to make periodic adjustments. Western saddles are more difficult to adjust, though use of shims and padding can compensate for some changes, and the lesser pressure per square inch of surface area is a bit more forgiving. In some cases, a horse will physically develop to a degree that a different saddle may have to be purchased.

Fitting a Horse Saddle for the Rider

Method of fitting riders varies widely between designs. Length of the seat is the most common method by which saddles are fitted, though the length and placement of the flaps or fenders of the saddle also influence a person's leg position and the way an individual sits. While a too long or too short seat will cause considerable discomfort, and even interfere with the security of the rider on the horse, width is also a factor. Any well-fitting saddle should be wide enough to support the rider's seat bones, without being so wide as to cause discomfort. While saddles are not usually marketed by seat width, designs do vary, and the only way a rider can determine the proper fit of a saddle is to sit on one.

Balance is also a critical factor. A properly balanced saddle places the rider over the horse's center of balance for the equestrian discipline involved. A poor-fitting saddle often leaves a rider feeling they are sliding backwards and constantly attempting to move "uphill." Less often, a poor-fitting saddle shifts the rider too far forward and creates a sensation of being pushed onto the horse's neck.

Stirrup fit varies greatly between disciplines, from the very short stirrup of the horse racing jockey to the long stirrup of the dressage or reining competitor. However, in all cases, the stirrup leather must be properly placed so the rider remains in balance over the saddle and is not thrown ahead or behind the motion of the horse when putting weight in the stirrups.

This article uses material from the Wikipedia article "Saddle", which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.