Dressage Horse


We get a lot of queries about saddles at Saddlewise-Southwest and we’ve tried to answer them as best we can below. For more information, get in touch with us directly. We’re based in Plymouth.


Does a horse change shape in relation to saddle size for the horse?


No! “One saddle one horse for life.” Simply because a correct width saddle, correct fit tree will fit his skeletal frame and stay still! The tree width will follow through the parallel of his shoulder. It must also fit the rider and not cramp style.  Feel the top of shoulder bone just below surface!                                          

The shoulder rotation point is 2-3 inches below shoulder level and is fixed! The wither springs up between the shoulders.  A correct width, level saddle does not move about, if it is lower at the front with tree frame dropping this impedes shoulder movement pushing saddle from side to side at every forward stride swinging across his spine causing spinal bruising. Then raising level of saddle with gel pads and numnahs taking into account riders’ weight will lift it above rotation points and shoulders will not be restricted.  The ligaments cannot afford to be weak at point of rotation They do not grow and stretch! So, the correct saddle only gets higher with fat or muscle and padding or lower as muscle is lost impeding both shoulder forwards and back swinging movement.  With the rider in saddle with very few exceptions the saddle should remain level when observed passing, when ridden on level ground. This should be the second most important aspect after acquiring a horse! “Is my saddle level?


What change's the saddle's shape?

Rolls of fat where movement allows movement of saddle, putting on or losing condition. The Saddle moves up or down most are now spung tree allows for the fact the horse does need to arch this back on turns and with moving in different gaits.

But if correct and correctly flocked up firmly and if your horse has no atrophy of muscle from previous incorrect saddles, the saddle will always be stable and most importantly level! Even on a flat backed horse. Some fat horses need a thin panel (cushion) some need a deep one. If there is a need for wither gussets –your horse has wasted muscle and this should be attended to first or he will never be able to move at his best whilst carrying weight. Wither gussets and dropped panels in saddles prevent recovery of topline muscle by blocking space, and applying pressure Was old fashioned answer to address atrophy and raise saddle. Gel-eze pads are modern answer and repair wasted muscle by allowing blood flow.


What determines the size of saddle to ride on?

This is based on your height and your riding style and the shape engineered for the seat. It has nothing to do with being too long or short. If your style is cramped, you will sit out of balance on the back of the saddle, very common in growing children. This causes loin bruising and creeps a saddle forward – painful for the uncomplaining horse. If you have one too big then by definition the weight is spread well and the horse can carry you easier than with a small saddle by definition of weight in relation to area covered.

The most important factor of saddle fit?


“Level” and carrying well balanced weight spread evenly over area of back and so equally on four legs not just front two which causes atrophy of the long muscle and extra weight on front legs. Breakdowns, pedalostitis, navicular, splints etc. also importantly recognising atrophy and levelling up to put it right! Of course, ex racehorses look as they do have atrophy, but modern-day racehorses are saddled on the wither, point gravity at gallop freeing up shoulder completely. It’s not natural for them to have dips behind shoulder, but at the gallop all balance is on the front! Get rid of any weak wasted muscle here and the dips and you have a different horse! That moves as nature intended and gets looks of a show horse! Racehorses now have saddles sat on wither position, and what a delightful difference it’s making to horses’ beautiful shape.


What about Flocking?


Saddles can be wool flocked or “Impact” foam panelled (just as it says on the can). A German innovation to protect horses backs from shock of heavy ill adjusted riders. Impact memory foam adjusts to protect horse from the tree and rider! By dispersing weight and shock, softer for the horse. Wool flocked has more natural temperature to the horse gives a good weight adjusting feel and totally moulds and protects the horses back and for those of you who believe ‘changing shape’ when ridden without a numnah as they are designed to be will change with damp and heat to the ever-changing shape for that perfect fit like shoes! You should use a numnah when required to lift and absorb sweat when extremely sweaty. But they should be cleaned every day!


What about space about wither?

Tree makers know what they are about.  The saddle tree frame is designed for avoiding any touching of the spine but only if a correct fit on a correct horse!  The seat can be deep or shallow to sit in. If pommel and cantle are 6” higher at each end, then there will be 6” to account for before fitting to the horse! The pommel must be clear on standing in stirrups with the heaviest weight up. It will sink lower very obviously under 17 stone than a 5 stone rider.  A wound on the spine has consequences of infection into spinal cord (fistulous withers) A brand new unsettled flocked saddle will drop levelly (if levelly fitted) over first 6 months of use by up to 1 ½”. If it looks right to your untrained eye, as new as, it will most likely prove to be the incorrect saddle after 6 months because it settles and may even need flocking added. (Do horses change shape? No, it's man-made!)  You must ride on and try new saddles. Your tree should be checked as riding level. With points not below point of shoulder rotation.

What about recognising a good topline how it should be? 


For this you need to experience to look and learn, 9/10 horses have damaged toplines! Where to see the best? Watch those stripped down at county shows top of the line. Why are they top of the line? Because they look and move best! Why are they like this? Because they have never had an incorrect saddle on, they have no atrophy of the topline. The long muscle runs from front saddle area down back leg _the horses move as nature intends –gracefully Their whole physic is in well-being. Now those placed further down line, go and look?  Could you put that horse up the line with the right care and saddle I bet you could!

Similarly check out horses in other disciplines _ the best showjumpers will carry their legs higher and tuck them up, with no fear of tree pain, they will have a good strong topline to be athletic from. If some of the best ones have no topline, how much better might they be or how much longer would they last in completive sport.




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