Many saddles are too long for the horse’s back. This occurs when the panel of the saddle extends past the last rib onto the lumbar area, where there is most movement during walk, trot or canter. Ninety percent of saddles shifting forward is caused when the saddle is too long for the horse’s back, extending past the Saddle Support Area. The saddle will get pushed forward and driven onto the shoulder during movement, producing a build-up of scar tissue on the scapula. Over time the scapula can be chipped away by the metal tree points of the saddle – long term damage that cannot be reversed.
If there is any pressure on the lumbar area the horse may buck trying to get the weight off as this is extremely uncomfortable for the horse. This often results in bridging, as the saddle moves onto the shoulder. The horse will tighten his lower back muscles, hollow and drop his back to alleviate the pressure of the saddle. The horse will have difficulty moving forward into the canter, or be persistently “off” (for no apparent reason) or buck, when attempting to get the weight off the lumbar area. Another sign your saddle is too long is the extra bulge in the muscle indicating stress in the SI joint.
The term “short-backed” can apply to a horse whose back appears to be of normal length, but actually has a very short saddle-support area - common to Friesians, Baroque horses (Andalusians, Lusitanos, PREs, and Lippizaners), Arabians and “modern-type” Warmbloods.
To identify your horse’s saddle-support area (the area where the saddle must sit):
· with a piece of chalk, outline the edge of your horse’s shoulder blade (pictures #4 and #5)
· locate your horse’s last floating rib (picture #3). Find where the hairlines come together in the area of his flank and draw a line straight up to his spine.
1 - Skeletal diagram shows the saddle support area
2 - Jochen points to the last supporting rib on a horse with a saddle that fits properly within the saddle support area
3 - Red lines indicate directional pattern of hair on the horse's body relative to the last supportive vertebra (panel should not extend past this point).
4 - The first chalk line indicates front of the scapula; second chalk line shows last supportive vertebrae.
5 - Jochen's left hand points to behind the shoulder blade where the saddle should be placed, not extending past the last vertebrae
6 - Jochen draws "pain lines" from pinched nerves caused by an ill-fitting saddle
Preventing damage caused by the saddle shifting forward includes riding in saddle with shorter panels, shoulder relief panels, rear-facing tree points, and correcting billet alignment (so billets hang perpendicular to the ground). In order for your horse to develop to his full potential, work willingly, happily and without pain, make sure the saddle panels are within the Saddle Support Area.
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.