To Fit or Not to Fit: When to Call in a Professional

It’s not uncommon for the average horse owner to be a little uncertain about saddle fitting.  After all, it’s not a subject formally taught here in the States.  Since the fit of your saddle is critical to your horse’s health and performance, it’s good to know what to look for, and when it’s necessary to call in a professional.

Shopping for Saddles
I would advise anyone looking at new or used saddles to have a qualified saddle fitter out to assess the fit to make sure that it’s right for the horse.  I’m of the very strong opinion that you’re wasting your money if you and your horse don’t absolutely love your saddle.  I also think it’s the saddle fitter’s responsibility to instruct you on what to look for when it comes to proper fit, and he/she should not sell you a saddle that isn’t as close to perfect as possible.  To do otherwise, in my humble opinion, is unethical.

Existing Saddles
There can be many signs when something is amiss with a saddle.  From behavior problems, to saddle movement, to lameness issues, we as horse owners need to learn to read these clues so that we can correct them.

Behavior Problems:

Since horses don’t speak English, their only way of communicating if there is a problem is through their behavior.  More often than not, “naughty” horses have a problem with either their saddle’s fit, their bitting situation, their teeth, etc.  Unfortunately, this often means that riders opt for harsher bits or bigger spurs in response to undesirable behavior.  If we just stopped to check the saddle for fit, we may be able to solve these problems.
The following are common misbehavior relating to saddle fit:

  • Being “Girthy”, attacking the cross ties or biting at the wall when being saddled
  • Rearing
  • Refusing to move forward
  • Refusing jumps
  • Head tossing
  • Tail swishing
  • Pinning of ears
  • Bucking
  • Chronic Spooking
  • Inability to move in a straight line
  • Teeth grinding
  • Objections to being groomed
  • Unable to stands still
  • General bad attitude

The unsettling thing about the behavior problems that arise from an ill-fitting saddle is that it can cause for an unsafe mount.  Horses that buck, rear, and refuse fences put the rider in a state of peril that can easily be prevented.

Saddle Movement:
If your saddle shifts around when you’re riding, it may not fit your horse properly, and could be causing discomfort that can lead to troubles down the road.

Lameness:
It’s not uncommon for horses with saddle fit issues to have chronic lameness problems.  Horses that are “on again, off again” should have their saddle checked, as well as horses that have chronic back issues.  An uncomfortable horse will often travel with a hollowed back that leads to extra concussion with every footfall.  This extra concussion reverberates up the leg and can lead to suspensory injuries, arthritis, etc.

Solutions
Making the call to a qualified saddle fitter should be the first step in making sure your horse is comfortable and able to perform at his best, and learning how to check for fit yourself is paramount to continuing to make sure your horse is happy.

 

Copyright 2011, Anderson Equine Saddle Fitting Services, LLC

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