Saddle Fitting Guide
Dampness, dirt and extreme dryness are leather's worst enemies. Clean saddles actually ride better. After each use, wipe all surfaces clean with a slightly dampened sponge and glycerine soap. Then wipe completely dry and store in a dry place. Lightly oil light-colored saddles before use to darken to preferred color. Oil should be allowed to dry completely before another coat is added. Oil or condition leather as needed to prevent excessive dryness. Never saturate leather with oil or any leather care product. Products with ingredients similar to those occurring naturally in leather, such as fat and tallow, are generally preferred. Petroleum-based products are not recommended. To avoid abrasion, wipe inside of boots before mounting. To supple flaps and reduce break in time, roll them tightly inward and manipulate as you unroll it.
Position of the Saddle
Place the saddle slightly forward on the horse's withers. Next, press down on the pommel and slide the saddle rearward until it stops at the resting-place which is dictated by each horse's conformation. Repeat this procedure several times until you feel the saddle stop in the same spot repeatedly, well behind the shoulder blade (approx. 2.5‚-3‚). Resist the temptation to place the saddle too far forward on the withers. This is a very common fitting mistake and can interfere with your horse's soundness and movement.
Angle of the Points
To find the points, lift the flap of the saddle and look for a little leather pocket into which the wooden processes of the pommel are fitted. This is the point pocket and there is one on both sides of the pommel of the saddle just under the stirrup bars. These points should lie parallel to the withers and not on top of the musculature. If the angles are too narrow, the points will dig into the musculature, also causing the middle of the saddle to be in uneven contact with the horse's back. If they are too wide the saddle will sit down in front putting pressure on top of the withers or at the top of the point panels. To assess the point angles, stand looking from the front with the flap lifted; the points should be parallel with the musculature within 10 degrees of the heaviest side. Some points are concealed making it difficult to determine their angles. If this is the case, you will have to rely more on the panel pressure procedure to determine if the point angles are correct.
Panel Pressure & Contact
Note: The panels are the wool stuffed underside of the saddle, which rest on the horse's back.
Place one in the center of the saddle and press down to secure the saddle in place as you test for panel pressure. Run your other hand between the front of the panels and your horse's musculature and feel for any uneven pressure under the points. The front panel should not pinch the withers in any area. While maintaining pressure on the top of the saddle, run your hand, palm up, under the entire panel along the back feeling for even pressure. You may also raise the sweat flap to ensure that the panels fit snugly and evenly on both sides of the withers and along the back to check for bridging. Bridging is a space near the center of the where the panels do not make good contact with the horses back. Wool stuffed panels are almost universally considered superior to foam for the following reasons. Assuming correctly designed panels, wool conforms to the many shapes of the horses back and can be adjusted if necessary to correct for a multitude of fitting problems. You can not, however, correct for a poorly designed or incorrectly fitted tree.
Pommel to Cantle Relationship
Visualize a straight line parallel to the ground from the pommel to the cantle. In saddles with deep or moderately deep seats, the cantle should be between 2 to 3 inches higher than the pommel. In shallower seats, such as close contact jumping saddles, the cantle may only be approximately 1 to 2 inches higher than the pommel. In almost any saddle, if the cantle is level with or below the pommel, the saddle is not properly fitted.
Visualize the same straight line parallel to the ground and look this time at the deepest part of the seat. This area should be level in order to put the rider squarely on their seat bones and in balance.
There should be adequate clearance between the pommel and the top horse's withers, approximately two to three fingers. More than three fingers‚ clearance may mean the pommel is too high, i.e. the tree is too narrow. A saddle with less than 2-3 fingers may mean that the saddle is too wide. With wool stuffed panels, make allowance for the saddle to settle a half inch or so. There is an exception to this indicator; horses with flat, round withers may have more clearance than usual under the pommel. In these situations you may need to rely more on the balance of the seat and pommel to cantle relationship. On horses with high narrow withers maintaining proper clearance is something that has to be monitored and maintained.
Channel Clearance/Gullet Width
There should also be adequate clearance over the spine and connective tissue throughout the channel of the saddle. A channel that is too narrow will impede the horse's movement dramatically and may even cause the spine to be observably sore. Feel the width of the spine and connective tissue with your fingers and estimate its width. The channel of the saddle should completely clear this width, resting on the long back muscle of the back called the longissimus dorsi. Repeat Steps 6 & 7 with the rider in the saddle, checking for adequate clearance over the withers and spine.
The saddle should not shift excessively from side to side or up and down. Keep in mind that such shifting may be a function of your horses symmetry and not the saddle. A qualified saddle fitter should be able to make suggestions to minimize or eliminate the problem.
The saddle should never go behind the 18th thoracic vertebrae, which is the vertebrae corresponding with the last rib. Behind this vertebra are the lumbar vertebra, which is the weakest, non-weight bearing area of the back.
Throughout the whole saddle fitting process, monitor your horse's response. Watch his ears and body language. Does he try to step away from the saddle or flinch when it is placed on his back? Or is the opposite true; is he more accepting of the saddle? How does he move when he is ridden? Does he seem freer or more restricted? The horse is the most honest indicator we have when fitting a saddle so pay attention to it and note any changes.
*Girthing: Some horses object to the girth. The Logic girth is proven to dramatically relieve problems associated with girthing.
Most rider discomfort can be alleviated with proper saddle fit and design. The most common problems associated with saddle fit are: seats too small, saddles sitting too high in front and saddles in which the rise to the pommel extends too far back. The most common rider position problems that cause discomfort at sitting trot are breaking forward over the waist into the pommel, or a locked lower back with gripping knees which causes the rider to bounce. Both problems are exacerbated by the horse pulling on the reins or being on the forehand.
Wide vs. Narrow Twist
Although County makes both, most riders prefer a narrow twist and it is, therefore, standard unless otherwise requested. A narrow twist allows more leg on the horse for security and effectiveness. An excessively wide twist can shorten and adversely affect the position of the leg and the angle of the seat bones.
What Type of Withers Does Your Horse Have?
There are two very important considerations for fitting the saddle to the withers: width and shape. You need to choose the correct tree width to correspond to your horse's wither width and the correct panel length to correspond to your horse's wither shape.
Type A is the most common shape. The line from the withers to the shoulder is relatively straight.
Type B is the second most common shape and is characterized by a substantial depression on either side of the wither. Type C withers are similar to Type B, but the depression extends even further down the side of the withers. This type of withers is generally very prominent and extends further rearward than most withers and then turns sharply downward.Long panels such as those in the Competitor¨ dressage saddles are best suited for A type withers. Short panels such as those in the WB¨ dressage saddles are best suited for B type withers.
Type C withers may require custom 3/4 length panels. Short panels will fit A, B or C type withers. Jumping saddles, because of the position of the flap are all, in effect, short panels. The depression on either side of the withers characterizing B or C type withers is only significant if the depression is directly under the front of the panels where they lie on either side of the withers. If the depressions are in front of and not directly under the panels, it is not relevant to fit.