Dr. Scott Anderson from Virginia had some interesting thoughts about saddle fitting at last year’s AAEP convention. A properly fitting saddle is key to keep any ridden horse healthy and performing at its best. The examination for saddle fit should initially begin with the horse standing squarely without a saddle pad, and then place the saddle on the horse’s back so the front flaps do not interfere with the horse’s shoulder blade when the horse is moving. This placement is usually one to two inches behind the scapula. Then check to see if the saddle is level, as the deepest part of the seat should be horizontal to the ground. If the saddle has an uphill appearance, the tree is likely too narrow; if downhill, likely too wide for your horse.
Next check to see if the saddle rocks forward and back, as it should remain fairly stable. If the saddle rocks forward and back, the tree is too wide or the panels are too curved. Also, the pommel should not rest on top of the horse’s withers, and although the clearance may vary, there should be some clearance when the rider is in the saddle. However, the tree should contact the horse’s withers but it should be over a wide area with no focal points of pressure. You can slide your hand between the withers and the tree and if most of the contact is at the top, the saddle is too wide. There should also be consistent contact between the panel of the saddle and the horse’s back with no pressure points. And lastly, after being ridden in the saddle, there should be no back pain, swelling or rubbed areas of hair. The best option is to work with a professional saddle fitter or a veterinarian trained in saddle fitting, and remember that saddles change with time as can your horse’s back conformation, so regular exams to see if it still fits properly are important.