Last Updated on March 8, 2022 by Allison Price
The saddle of your horse is an essential piece of equipment. The saddle distributes your weight evenly across the horse’s back, and helps you sit in a balanced position. Problems can arise if a saddle is not fitting correctly.
Poor saddle fit may cause sudden changes in riding behavior. Remember that horses will change in shape throughout the year as a result of changes in diet, routine, and maintenance. They can also change their shape as they gain or lose muscle, or as they grow.
Here are some signs your saddle isn’t fitting properly. These signs may not be obvious to horses, but it is a good idea for you to check your saddle fit if they are.
Behaviour is one of the first signs that a saddle is not fitting properly. These signs are often attributed to horses being “naughty”, but it is not a productive diagnosis. Before attempting behavioural modification, it is a good idea not to blame saddle fit.
- A saddle that is not fitting properly can be indicated by avoiding tacking up, such as trying to walk away. Another sign of discomfort/annoyance that could indicate a problem with the saddle fit is irritation. Ears pinned back, tension around your mouth, excessive tail swishing, when there aren’t insects around, head shaking and pawing at the ground are all signs of a saddle fit issue.
- Poor saddle fit can also be indicated by girthy behavior. Poor positioning relative to the saddle can cause pinching. Or, the saddle pressure may cause pain.
- A horse may be reluctant to move forwards when being ridden. This could be because the saddle is pinching at its withers. Bad saddle fitting can cause horses to plant, refuse to trot, stop at fences, and so forth.
- A poorly fitting saddle can cause bucking. Bucking can be caused by a saddle that is too long. However, any saddle that is uncomfortable can cause the horse to buck even if it’s not fitting properly.
- Poor saddle fit can also cause hollowing. A saddle that is too tight can make the horse shrink and cause pain. Horses who are constantly ridden hollow may develop other problems, such as lameness and kissing their spines.
Horses may also show behavioural signs and external symptoms such as poor saddle fit.
- Poor saddle fit can be reflected in swelling along the back, saddle sores and girth galls.
- Uneven sweat patterns underneath the saddle pad may indicate a problem with the saddle’s fit after riding. These are caused by saddle contact that is not perfect with the horse’s back.
- Poor saddle fit can cause long-lasting conformational changes over a longer time. A saddle that is too long may cause lumbosacral dips or bumps behind the saddle.
- A saddle that is too tight can lead to a poor saddle fit over a long time. This is due to the restriction of the shoulder and its knock-on effects.
You may notice these signs while riding:
- The saddle slips constantly to one side. This can cause the horse to have difficulty picking up canter lead and limit their ability to move in straight or in a straight line. This can lead to changes in the horse’s conformation over time due to uneven strain on his muscles and limbs.
- The saddle rises at the back. This may be obvious in the rising trot. However, it is most noticeable to someone standing on the ground, especially if they are watching you school over fences.
- If the saddle is too tight, it will be a sign of a problem. A properly fitted saddle should have even contact all over.
Although it can be expensive to replace or adjust a saddle, the benefits are well worth it! If you wait too long, your horse may still feel discomfort after the saddle is properly fitted. Most horses will notice a significant improvement in their behaviour once the saddle is no longer hindering them. This series of videos on saddle fit will help you to determine if your saddle needs to be adjusted. Consult a professional saddle fitter if you are unsure.
I’m Allison, born and raised in San Diego California, the earliest memory I have with horses was at my grandfather’s farm. I used to sit at the stable as a kid and hang out with my Papa while he was training the horses. When I was invited to watch a horse riding competition, I got so fascinated with riding!