There is a lot to saddle fitting. However, knowing the basics will help you to select the correct saddle for your horse, or to adjust the one you already have so that your horse feels more comfortable.
Step One: Balance
- Place the saddle right behind the shoulder blade. At the end of the mane.
- The saddle should be balanced in the center of his back.
Step Two: Wither Clearance
- Three fingers of clearance all the way around the gullet while the saddle is placed on the back and at least one finger of space while you are seated.
Step Three: Gullet Channel Width
- Four fingers wide down the center of the saddle between the panels.
- No contact on the horse’s spine which is about four fingers wide.
- There are some saddles that only allow for about two fingers of space in the gullet. Stay away from these saddles as they put pressure on the horse’s spine. Prolonged pressure on the spine can cause all sorts of problems such as kissing spine.
- Also make sure that you aren’t using a girth that is too big for your horse. A girth that is too big may cause your saddle to roll and put pressure on the horse’s spine.
Step Four: Full Panel Contact
- Put one hand under the saddle, where it makes contact with the horse’s back on either side of the spine, and one on the top and press down to feel for even panel contact with the horse’s back.
- You don’t want the saddle to put too much contact on any one part of his back.
- The saddle may also rock back and forth slightly. This can be corrected with shims at the front of the saddle. It may also rock if the horse has a sway back; this can be helped by a half pad.
Step Five: Billet Alignment
- The billets should hang straight down in the girth area right behind the front legs.
- If the billets hang down farther back on the horse the girth will slide forward toward the narrowest part of the horse. This will cause the saddle to slide forward and put pressure on the shoulders. (A shoulder relief girth may help this.)
Step Six: Saddle Length
- Find the horse’s last rib and follow it up to the spine. It will be right in front of the flank where the hair starts to grow toward the horse’s ears.
- The saddle should not sit past the last rib. If the weight bearing part of the saddle sits behind the last rib it can put pressure on the horse’s kidneys or the ovaries on a mare. Pressure here can cause bucking. It is ok if a small part of the back of the saddle sits past this point as long as it is just an inch or two.
Step Seven: Saddle Straightness
- Look at the saddle from behind. The spine should aline with the center of the saddle.
- Many horses are stronger on one side. Most of the time, horses are stronger on their left side, have larger muscles on that side, and will need a shim under the front of the saddle on the right side in order to balance the saddle and allow for even gullet clearance on both sides.
Step Eight: Saddle Tree Angle
- The angle of the tree should match the angle of the shoulder.
- The piping on the saddle should also match the angle of the shoulder. If your saddle tree is too wide the gullet of the saddle will be too close to the horse’s withers. If the tree is too narrow the horse’s shoulder blades won’t be able to pass underneath the saddle tree causing discomfort.
Step Nine: Saddle Tree Width
- You should be able to place two fists across the gullet of the saddle. Anything narrower than this will probably be too narrow for most horses.
It’s a good idea to get a saddle fitter regularly out to see your horse and make sure your saddle fits him correctly; as a horse’s conformation can change through the seasons and with your training schedule. Also, having your horse adjusted by an equine chiropractor will help keep the horse comfortable during work. The riding horse is an athlete and should be treated like one.