Using the Right Saddle on Your Horse
A saddle that doesn't fit can make a horse uncomfortable and can even hurt him. It can cause stubbornness, bucking, rearing, biting when saddled, or difficulty mounting. It can give your horse back pain and stiffness and it can eventually lead to lower leg lameness. Here are a few tips you can use to check the saddle you use on your own horse to make sure it isn't causing any harm. First, take a moment just to look at how the saddle fits your horse overall. Look at it from the side and from the back and try to determine if it conforms to the shape of the horse's back.
Since some horses are fat and wide and some are skinny and narrow, and since some have straight backs and some have sway backs you absolutely must be sure to use a saddle that drapes over and wraps around the horse without pressing down too much in any one spot. In saddles, one size does not fit all. Next, look at the front of the saddle. It should be completely behind the shoulder blades. If it is too far forward it will hamper your horse's shoulder movement and this will probably cause head tossing and stumbling, and if not corrected could cause cinch sores or even scar tissue to form behind the shoulder blades.
Then take a look at the pommel. There should be a big enough space under it so that you can put two or three fingers between it and the horse's withers. Then check the seat to be sure that it is setting level from side to side. And then look a the cantle. It should be level with, or just a bit higher than the pommel. Then check the panels under the saddle. They should touch the horse all the way from front to back as much as possible. Sometimes when you get into the saddle your weight will help the panels to snug up to the horse. Then look at the saddle skirt. It must not dig into the horse's hip bones.
In general you should try to determine if your saddle is too narrow or too wide. Most problems come from using a saddle that is too narrow, but a too wide one will also cause harm. One good thing to remember is that if a saddle is too narrow it will keep trying to tilt back. If it is too wide it will tilt forward. The shape of a horse's back will change over time as it ages and gains or loses weight. A good saddle maker can often modify your saddle to respond to these gradual changes so that it keeps fitting right but sometimes you just might need to get a new saddle. Copyright 2006, Terry Cunning.