Updated: Feb 19, 2020
Before reading this guide, please know that we always recommend using a knowledgeable Saddle Fitter to help determine a correct fit for both the horse and the rider. Here are some tips to help understand saddle fitting.
1. Evaluate - When you are evaluating your horse, make sure they are standing square and evenly. Look thoroughly at the horse's conformation and any irregularities that may exist.
2. Examine- Run your hands down the horse's back starting at the withers and around where the panels will sit to check for any tenderness or soreness. Look for any rub marks, lumps, scars, etc.
3. Position- The position of the saddle is very important. The tree points of the saddle must remain behind the shoulder blade, not over the shoulder. It also should not be placed behind the last rib. This is the horse's lumbar vertebrae which is weaker than the thoracic vertebrae and can cause major soreness. You can find the last rib by running your fingers over the rib cage until you feel the end and make a line up toward the spine. It also corresponds with where the hair direction changes. The saddle's panels should not rest beyond this point.
4. Tree- The tree shape should match your horse's top line. Many times, horses are fairly easy to fit with basic tree sizes and shapes. But, the better the match, the more comfortable your horse will feel and perform. Ex. If you horse has a very flat back, a tree with a curvy shape or arch will not provide a correct fit. If the shape is not right, it doesn't matter what you do with the width There is only so much of a correction that can be done.
5. Tree Points- Again, before checking the tree points, you should make sure the tree points are behind the horse's scapula. Once you are sure the saddle is in the correct position, check the angle of the tree points. The angle must be parallel to the back at the withers. If the tree is too narrow, the tree points can stab into the horse and cause a lot of pain and soreness. If the the saddle is too wide, the points will drop down around the shoulder and cause the saddle to fit very low. This can also causing improper balance and movement.
6. Gullet - The gullet clearance must be wide enough so the panels do not interfere with the horse's spine. Check for clearance by using your hand to measure the horse's spine, then see if that matches the saddle. It must have clearance from the pommel area all the way to the back of the saddle.
7. Tree Width- A knowledgeable saddle fitter will be able to do back topography and wither tracings to determine the correct width for your horse. Visually, there should be three fingers between the pommel and the horse's withers. A simple way to remember is if there are less than three fingers, the saddle is too wide. If there is more than three fingers, the saddle is too narrow.
8. Panel Contact- When the saddle is sitting on the horse's back correctly, press down on the saddle with one hand and run the other hand between the horse and the panel. There should be consistent contact throughout the entire panel. If the panel is too tight, it could indicate a tree that is too narrow or the wrong shape. If the saddle is rocking front to back, the balance is incorrect and can be too wide or also the wrong shape.
9. Bridging- A common problem you may encounter when checking the panel contact, is bridging. This is when there is gaping in the middle of the panel under the seat and there is little to no contact with the horse's back in that specific area. This can also be caused by incorrect width, wrong shape or can be simply a matter of adjusting your panel. If the saddle is bridging, the pressure of the rider's weight on the horse's back is limited to the front and back of the panels. This can cause major soreness issues.
10. Visual- With checking all of these factors, the saddle should also visually fit well and sit level. With a jump saddle, there should be a line from the top of the pommel to approximately one inch below the cantle. If it is a deeper seated saddle, it can be one to two inches below the cantle. If this visually does not look right, the saddle is not fitting the horse properly and will be much more difficult to keep proper balance or cause difficulty in keeping your leg in the correct position.