A saddle that fits your 3 year old horse may not fit the horse correctly as he matures, and increases his muscular development as you begin to train. Any of the external influences shown in the “Circle of Influence” diagram can impact the fit of the saddle at any given age, but extreme developments occur at age 3, 5, and 8.
At 3 the withers begin to develop and the horse will show more muscle definition – most obviously at the shoulder and trapezius. At age 5 the shoulders continue to develop and the horse broadens (seen in the cross-section diagram). As the shoulders get wider, the saddle needs to accommodate this with a wider tree and a gullet plate that is adjustable. Not only will the shoulders get wider, but often develop asymmetrically, so ideally the gullet plate should be adjusted to accommodate the bigger shoulder or the saddle may begin to twist to one side during movement.
At age 8 the horse`s shoulders will be quite wide, and the withers will have achieved a ‘bell’ like shape when viewed in cross-section. If the gullet plate has not been adjusted, it will pinch the withers and behind the shoulder. You need 2-3 fingers room all around the withers area, not just at the top. If the saddle has not been fitted to ensure both wither and shoulder clearance, the horse may `behave poorly` because the tree points will impact reflex points and Cranial nerve 11. Tree points should be parallel to the shoulder to allow a ‘sliding door’ type of movement. If the saddle is too tight through the shoulder or back, the horse protects himself by tightening and hollowing his back, causing the vertebrae to rub together which can lead to kissing spine and permanent damage.
Even a ‘custom made’ saddle will not fit your horse through all stages of development, unless it is fully adjustable in both tree width and tree angle.
Jochen Schleese, Certified Master Saddler and Saddle Ergonomist developed the Saddlefit 4 Life 80 point diagnostic evaluation to help you and your horse achieve optimal saddle fit! Book a Saddlefit 4 Life Educational event for your group!