What causes unwanted behaviours such as tripping, biting or rearing? Horses don’t act out; they react out of fear, discomfort or pain. A horse continues to change over its entire life. When a horse has been correctly trained, the weight on his forehand is shifted to his hindquarters, his rib cage lifts, his stamina increases. Regardless of which discipline – dressage, show jumping or long distance, as the horse develops through training, the shoulders become wider, move further back, and the rib cage is lifted. This affects how wide the horse is through the rib cage and the shoulder muscle, which in turn impacts the fit of your saddle.
As the horse matures and gets wider through the shoulders what actually happens is the shoulder blades move upwards and back when the horse moves, which shortens the saddle support area (SSA). The center of balance for the rider also changes as the saddle support area on the horse’s back gets shorter. When you train the shoulder comes further back and the arm is more upright. The saddle must be behind the shoulder blade, but many saddles are too long, and sit on the horse’s back past the last floating rib. In this area of greatest movement (the hip) the saddle gets pushed forward in movement. The rider may move the billets forward, which causes the saddle to sit on the shoulder cartilage, causing damage to the shoulder. Many saddles are too long for the shortened SSA. While the horse’s shoulder gets wider and comes further back, a standard saddle tree (non –adjustable with forward facing tree points) may actually chop off the cartilage as the shoulder rotates; once the cartilage is gone it cannot be re-built and this long-term damage cannot be reversed.
It is important to have your saddle fit checked at regular intervals, especially when your horse is in training, or immediately after you start training again after time off. Significant change in muscle definition and strength can be achieved after only 4 weeks; however the horse returns to his former conformation even faster as muscles atrophy when training stops.
An ill-fitting saddle always inhibits your horse’s ability to achieve freedom of movement and will cause pain and long-term injury to both horse and rider.
Jochen Schleeseis author of ‘Suffering in Silence - The Saddle fit Link to Physical and Psychological Trauma in Horses’ (2013). Through the Saddlefit 4 Life global network of equine professionals Jochen Schleese provides industry education to help equestrians recognize and prevent saddle fit issues and long term damage to horse and rider. Find answers in a personal 80 point Saddle Fit Evaluation to horse and rider. www.SaddlesforWomen.comand Guys too! 1-800-225-2242 www.Saddlefit4life.com