A horse’s conformation continues to change over the course of its entire life. We need to be aware that our training moves the horse’s centre of gravity farther back; we try to work against his natural asymmetry in order to allow him to carry a rider over long periods of time. When a horse has been correctly trained, the weight on his forehand is shifted to his hindquarters, his rib cage lifts and his stamina increases. An ill-fitting saddle will impact your ability to achieve this and may cause both horse and rider pain and long term injury.
It is important to have your saddle fit evaluated at regular intervals especially when your horse is in training, and also when you commence training again after time off. Muscle definition and strength will alter pretty quickly – even after 4 weeks of intensive training. (Muscle atrophy occurs when training stops and the horse returns to his natural conformation - this happens 4 x faster than muscle growth). A poorly fitting saddle can impact all efforts of proper classical training methods just as easily as poor riding.
Space at the withers area is crucial to the comfort of the horse under saddle – 2-3 fingers between the pommel and the withers, plus clearance at the sides of the withers (often ignored by saddle fitters potentially causing irreparable damage to the shoulder cartilage). The horse develops from a flat ‘A’ (3 yrs) to a pointy ‘A’ (5 yrs) into a bell-shape at the withers (8 yrs) as muscle definition increases from training. It is very important there is 2-3 fingers space available to move at the side of the withers muscle, to ensure the saddle does not hinder or harm the horse. If you observe the movement of your horse from behind, you will notice the contracting- expanding of the withers muscle. The gullet plate of the saddle must allow space for the expansion of withers muscle during movement, and its changing shape as the horse develops.
Adjusting Saddle Tree Angle and WidthA saddle that can be truly adjusted over the life of the horse is an investment into the health of your horse. An adjustable saddle (in tree angle and tree width) is more expensive to buy, but with relatively inexpensive annual adjustments as your horse changes and develops, you will not need to purchase a new saddle every one to two years. Ensuring optimal saddle fit is an investment into the health of your horse, potentially saving you money on vet bills and pharmaceuticals to address possible lameness and issues cause by ill-fitting tack.
Note: Illustrations for last month’s tip ‘Why does my saddle shift forward” are now on: http://www.equisearch.com/video/saddle-fitting-tip-why-does-my-saddle-shift-forward-28764
Author of ‘Suffering in Silence - The Saddle fit Link to Physical and Psychological Trauma in Horses’ (2013) Jochen Schleese teaches riders and professionals to recognize saddle fit issues in Saddlefit 4 Life lectures and seminars. We help you find answers in a personal 80 point Saddle Fit Diagnostic Evaluation.