Problems Caused by Poor Saddle Fitting
1. An insufficiently large bearing surface can result in gait malfunction, muscle fatigue, a pulling rather that a pushing effect, a hollow back, rubbing, pinching etc. (A good analogy is that of the stiletto heel, too much weight/pressure situated over a small area).
2. When the shape of the tree doesnt conform to the shape of the horse, pinching is likely to occur. A four-point contact may result in severe pressure points. Banana shaped trees may result in movement at the back of the saddle. Chronic scar tissue may build up at the back of the shoulder blade.
3. Putting the saddle on too far forward can have very serious consequences. The top of the shoulder blade (scapula) can rotate as much as 3" backwards, if the movement of the scapula is restricted the stride will deteriorate, the horse will tire rapidly and forward movement will be severely impaired.
4. A gullet which is too narrow will cause the saddle to sit out on bends with resultant pressure points and malfunction. Pain in the trapezius muscle is frequently associated with a saddle which, because it is wide in the tree, digs in just below the withers.
5. The saddle moving up and down is likely to produce rapid adverse effects. Gait dysfunction is common, hair loss and bruising will occur (frequently one side only). The horses back end will not be able to work correctly and the head is likely to be carried in the air with all the correspondingly related problems.
6. Pressure Points can cause reduction of blood supply to the muscles (especially in the case of long distance or hunt horses involved in prolonged activity) resulting in muscle wastage, lethargy and loss of condition.
7. Pressure Points may result in soft swellings on the back usually detected immediately the saddle is removed.
All horses should have the fit of their saddle checked regularly. The regularity will vary, some young horses may develop rapidly and it is possible that their saddles will require adjusting every few weeks or horses returning to work, older horses etc.
My advice? Be aware of the need to act before a problem arises. It is far more realistic to employ the services of a qualified saddle fitter and thus eliminate potential saddle fitting problems than to wait until resulting malfunction/soreness is detected, possibly involving the horse being rested, vets bills, physiotherapists bills and general disappointment.
Saddle Fitting - Frequently Asked Questions
Q. Is it true some makes of saddles just won't fit some types of horses?
A. Absolutely. One of the worst things that happen is that a customer rings up and says 'I want this model in that colour'. We may have it in stock but we say 'please keep an open mind, let me bring trees and saddles & look to see ! Let me bring a range of saddles based on the description you've given and we'll find the one that's right for you and your horse.'
Q. Are there any particular saddle brands that are more suitable for certain types of horses?
A. Most certainly - what is really important is that you get the correct shaped tree for your horses back. Many saddle manufacturers use a standard Tree & this shape only fits a certain type of horse well, so that's where difficulties can creep in. This ends up with shim pads, blocking saddles up to try to stabilise them. Never a perfect solution as the saddle will still want to move according to its shape.