Frequently Asked Questions
Saddle fit and balance (further down this page)
THERE are many 'SMS' Qualified fitters who are no good at their job, (There
are a few good ones.) There are those who Fit by 'eye' "looks right".
Measuring point of rotation is the only correct measure needed. Can you
see two inches in size of tree, with all combinations of flat to deep
seat, So much emphasis is placed on the ever changing cushion by
measuring a profile that is not the same as the riders weight on
this shape of horses back profile! Dip or Dippier or raised as in forward movement to carry weight. Do they watch you ride for 15 minutes for when the horse
relaxes his profile? Or are they also not ethically responsible (as is
condition of the fitting Qualification) Will they tell you the previous
saddle has been fitted incorrectly or does not now fit because he has
changed shape! without measuring and explaining WHY?
If they do It is because the saddle was incorrect in the first place and they can sell you a nice new expensive one for £1,000. or re flock it to temporarily lift it for a few more months. If its a New saddle what they should be doing is referring you back to the previous fitter, to put things right or put right their own wrong fit and own up!
Fitting is not 100% and so referring back to the previous fitter should be your first course of action. Fitting by a very good fitter is only 80% by 'eye' because of variations in the panel. Measuring rotation point is 99.5% accurate combined with recognition of damaged topline.
Now why cannot the Society of Master Saddlers get their act together and set a standard for saddle sizes? For all the years they have been at making saddles? Based on width of tree. WHAT is Medium wide? What is Medium ? where do they measure, on the saddle or on the horse. Do they use universal measurement Centimeters or inches? do they measure soft atrophied tissue that will change shape as soon as it carries weight. Instead of believing that the flocking is the key. And messing about with saddle fitting before it is weight bearing!. IT is a totally different trade from fine leather goods . What I am seeing in the last 10 years is an outstanding amount of horses with obvious atrophy of shoulder muscles caused by a wide fitted saddle that tips the rider forward, as flocking settles. The tree points Jab into the back of the horses shoulder, and put far too much weight on the forehand. So now wait for the longer term spinal bruising hollowing cause of KISSING SPINES, tendon, navicular and ring bone damage. Never mind that the poor horse has to struggle to try and move and carry a rider out of balance! What about damage to your back -your pelvic muscles, because you are always being told to sit upright?
It therefore follows that you should only call a saddle fitter that is recommended to you, That you are confident with by someone who is happy with their saddle fit or has found improvement in having the correct saddle.
buy a saddle without riding on it New or used.
Saddle fit and balance. Recognizing ill fitting saddles
Treed saddles or
treeless! Saddles made with a ‘tree’ have been around for centuries. The
idea being that the frame ensured level distribution of the riders
weight, Making it easier for the horse to carry weight by even
distribution (downward spread of load) of the riders weight. It also
ensures no weight presses on the spinal topline to cause injury and
infection, that could reach the spinal cord.
In order for saddle tree to do sit level it has to match and has to follow slope of horses shoulder i.e. width through "rotation" point. matched to width of tree. The tree is slightly flexible to allow arching and dipping of the back. All the rest of it is unflexing so and is vital it needs to be needs to be correctly fitted.
Those who claim to fit that it looks right! For instance Do they recognize a good normal undamaged topline? Do you know that a narrow saddle has tree points of only 10" at front and a wide one 12" 1" out could mean difference between a bruised spine or not. We are looking at 2" here between 3 very different sizes of tree fit for the horse!
Saddle sitting "Level" only applies when the riders weight is on and the horse is following through with movement at the walk.
This is the MOST IMPORTANT ASPECT OF SADDLE FIT!
Pommel and cantle aligned Horizontally. Saddle trees are designed to distribute weight evenly on shape of horse skeletal, the horses back profile dips to different degrees with different weights of rider, but a correct saddle will balance pommel to cantle. (Some exceptions as raised cantle –but the horse will help tell you this)
Evenly distributing weight with the flocking as standard "cushion" which moves and settles to accommodate this shape. All saddles need riding in to a horse for 8-20 hours with no or thin numnah to fit perfectly, when he has a topline. Does not apply to memory foam panels as these mold with heat and pressure and self recover.
The correct size tree would then sit pressing down evenly over the horses spread of back. This applies ONLY when riders weight is on, as the saddle itself is very light in comparison to weight of the rider. A saddle sits in place when correct and is cushioned by a leather designed, wool flocked or memory foam panel, to protect the horse from the frame.
The horse must have a good original topline (not spoiled by being raced or ill fitted) for an engineered level tree of the right width to perform as it was designed. This cushion on an unspoiled horse, no muscle wastage, will keep the horses natural temperature, absorb sweat and then move to fat or muscular needs of the horses back shape “as he wants it” thus distributing weight evenly.
It becomes very soft pliable and comfortable (when ridden without a numnah, as it warms), provided saddle soap for pliability. However sheepskins / numnahs are advised for “memory foam” close contact panels.(no sweat or salt absorbed). The panel allows soft movement to rise and fall of muscle movement, balance makes him very aware of where your weight is and is then able to control his movement in relation to changing points of gravity at different paces.
By good topline I mean not raced, with atrophy
caused to front of topline muscles, “dips behind shoulders”, or swinging
even if 1” too wide causing swinging and bruising of the spine, heat
and swelling 6” behind wither for 4-8”, or from weight on the
forehand by a fit too wide, that the saddle has been tipping forward,
placing the riders weight to the fore of these muscles. Saddles when
fitted too wide, makes them less stable at the back, they produce
excessive movement to the point of crossing over the lumbar spine,
causing problems with lumbar region and the horse then restricts their
hindquarter action just because they don't want the pain that goes with
This can be corrected, the muscles do not / will not recover from turning away or getting fat. Once spoilt the atrophy remains until someone sees the need for re balancing the saddle, It will be there until it is remedied.
I have witnessed a very clever horse, prominently winning, displaying a hop, pre cantering instead of a smooth transition, solely to throw the saddle back and get the points of tree off his shoulder. (‘saddle too wide.= points of tree dropping low into shoulder movement.) How different and much better position the rider can sit when they can feel balance in a correct saddle, how much higher he will tuck up his legs with no fear of pain, such as a jab in the shoulders from long tree points too low and off balance. This horse, as many like him, will struggle to perform as you would like with incorrect saddle.
Today’s tendency has been to fit too wide to avoid “pinching” which occurs as a wide saddle drops and rams up against scapula. A well fitting saddle sits evenly on top- the amount of fat protruding around the edges will have much more to do with your weight or his stage of fitness and how his muscles lift saddle and your weight than anything to do with pinching!
fitting WIDER COMPOUNDS THE DAMAGE AND DROPS TREE POINTS BELOW ROTATION OF SHOULDER/ MAKE USE STEPHENS GEL PADS.
PEOPLE WITH HORSES COSTING MILLION OF POUNDS DO!
In changing the balance from forehand to
then carrying to level can also be stressful to the horse, so some
horses coming into work after a layoff will find it easier than a hard
fit horse. A fit horse’s working muscles have shortened to carry you in a
particular struggling way, we are talking about his whole body and how
he tracks up. "Deadening" squashing weight too much on the forehand, has
pushed blood and life out of the front end of his long back muscles and
even affects neck muscles, as well as those in his back legs allowing
him to track up correctly. Your saddle may even be the correct width but
may drop into these atrophied ‘hollows’ continuing to put pressure, on
the front and push life blood out of the muscle, deadening it
An important aspect >this may need to be gradual re-balance rather than level up all at once, suddenly putting more weight on the back of the saddle where the muscles are not fit or weight carrying, He may not be used to it! He may show dislike at first. This in itself can cause a sore muscle area at rear of saddle if you proceed too fast. A start in a sensitive horse is to use a ‘Stephens geleze’ wither pad,for front atrophy and to level up front.(patented) This with its design and holes keep massaging the atrophied muscles, it allows blood to stay in the area and pumps blood around in the muscles with gentle action.
It’s a start even on an incorrect fitted saddle as it will bring saddle up slightly in front and shift the balance slightly.
The aim is to eventually to have a level (pommel to cantle ridden saddle) in which the horse can work whilst using his natural muscle as a whole, and having a rider in balance with his gaits. To use a ‘dropped’ panel or ‘wither gussets’ in a "specially made" saddle is no longer the way forward. This because full on pressure on the whole surface squashes all the blood out! of the muscles and is not conducive to recovery of the muscles, ‘pushes all blood out.’
You must correct your horses physical shape, by striving towards a level fit.
When the ‘Geleze Pad’ can be removed and you are riding level without it (6-12months for full recovery) then his topline will have recovered and the gel no longer needed. Has even been known to tip saddle back after 1 years use, perhaps then the answer is a full pad then? to keep the muscles happy and fit?
I recommend to use these on older horses who do not keep condition easily!
Also on sensitive thin skinned fit horses in combination with the riser wither pad during re balancing! Now I have been told the thinner version with smaller holes has been designed as shoe accessories! for us! I must cut one up!
ON RE BALANCING giving you and your horse the optimum chance, a longer useful life for your horse and effortless riding for yourself? The decision should be yours - do you want to restore this topline and give your horse a chance to prove he can be better and for you to enjoy being carried by the horse in a more effortless manner, Or are you happy to have the horse as he is?
Re-balancing and co-ordination will not happen overnight and his topline will restore very gradually dependent on weight and time ridden, you may have to ‘pad –up’ well or use geleze full pad, to keep his back, where it was not before full weight bearing, at the back of the saddle from becoming bruised
or sore. Thin skinned horses can be hardened with surgical spirit but not on broken skin, at the back of the saddle. You have to treat the horse as getting fit to carry you from scratch. He will be a better mover, not drop a leg and have fences down and lift his feet confidently higher, and will move forward freely.
You may not recognize ‘hollows’ sometimes this atrophy is not noticed until ½ hour or more into a ride, your saddle may drop and even slip back.
You may not recognize a good topline from a poor one, Look and learn.
Experience will tell. Watch young flatter backed unbroken horses or show horses stripped down in ring? These move well because they have muscle to do this as nature intended. So how vital is it to have a level correct saddle on a young un ridden horse in order to maintain his topline? I will leave common sense to you!
When I explain "Horses Do Not change shape" as in Size of saddle for Horse.
One saddle on I horse for life.
Older riders know this!
The 'point of rotation' where the shoulder movement pivots and ligaments feed into back of bone, appear as a small 2" bump just below top of 'shoulder blade. It has to be a strong connection, as it holds up the front weight and head of the hose, they have no collar bone. This ligament twists, supports weight, allows swinging Movement.
Apart from where it feeds its 'roots' into the bone at this point of attachment it has no allowance to be weak or growing from birth (6 months) to death. The only caliper distance through this point may vary only by 1/2" by thickening of the shoulder blade bone at the anchorage point in the lifetime of the horse.
If your horse has a good topline -normal as nature intended topline, and not a spoilt atrophied topline then a saddle tree of this 'caliper ' width will fit exactly and sit level. Others will have to lift saddle out of hollows of atrophy (temporarily) with a massaging / vascularising (Stephens) 'holey' geleze pad. Then also extra padding to maintain LEVEL, pommel to cantle whilst being ridden to allow natural movement and forward going using 4 legs and balance to move as the horse does without a rider!.
Top line restores in 6 /10 months. Varies on wt rider/ type work / regularity of work and always making sure saddle is level. It will only be any pictures you have taken of horse as a whole that you will have as reference to his transformation in outline with recovery of muscle.
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