Cutback saddles have an opening cut into the pommel to give more room in the wither area. For a horse with very high, narrow withers, this type of saddle can prevent the chafing and discomfort that can result from a non-cutback saddle (known as either a "straight-head" or "sloped-head" saddle, depending on the shape and angle of the pommel).
For many years, cutback saddles were used only on horses with unusually high withers. But in the early 1970s, saddlemakers introduced a close-contact saddle with a mild 1 1/2-inch cutback-and horsemen have since realized that a cutback of any degree is more forgiving to basic equine anatomy. Cutback saddles are especially useful for people who ride more than one horse and want a saddle to fit a variety of conformation types. So, today, most close-contact, all-purpose and dressage saddles have a cutback of at least an inch and a half.
Some saddles have even more dramatic cutbacks to accommodate especially high-withered horses. And saddles used for gaited horses are cut back as much as 4 inches: Because these saddles have much less padding and are usually used without a saddle pad, they sit lower on the back than most other English saddles. The deep cutback is therefore necessary to make room for the withers.
A cutback saddle brings the sloped side of the pommel closer to the rider, which may mean you'll need a different-size saddle to fit you. For example, if you normally ride in a 16 1/2-inch saddle, with a cutback model you may feel more comfortable in a 17- or 17 1/2-inch saddle. Some people prefer cutbacks because the design makes their seats feel more snug; they say it seems to hold them a little more securely in the saddle.
Although you may want a different size in a cutback saddle, the design shouldn't affect fit for your horse. Whether he has high withers or not, there's no harm in riding him in a cutback saddle that fits him otherwise.
In her job as saddlery buyer for Miller Harness, LLC, Lois Gilbert works closely with saddlemakers in the U.S., England and Argentina.
This article originally appeared in the January, 2001 issue of Practical Horseman magazine.
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