Fitting A Saddle


Fitting a saddle is one of the rider's most basic concerns, and there are many important criteria to meet regarding the horse's comfort, the rider's position, and the optimal transmission of aiding between the rider and the horse.


Fitting a saddle: The relevance of the tree

All horses have the same basic width of spinal column and angle of spine in relation to the horizontal. The height and shape of the wither, and the proportions of the ribcage vary quite dramatically between breeds of horse, but they still tend to fall into three basic types.

Ideally the tree of your saddle will mirror this basic spinal pattern so that the saddle sits in balance. This means that the entire panel surface is in contact with the horses back, distributing the weight evenly, and avoiding pressure points, rocking or bridging:


  • Rocking is when the tree shape is incorrect i.e the angle curves too much, like a banana, and the whole saddle rocks back and forth with the horse's movement.
  • Bridging is also when the tree shape is incorrect, but this time the angle doesn't curve enough and the saddle only contacts the horse's back at the back and the front of the panels. These places are then taking all the weight, and are likely to cause discomfort and pain due to the pressure points.

Interestingly, the vast majority of saddles are built on the same mass-produced tree. This tree is not shaped to the horse's spinal column, due to short-cuts taken in the manufacturing process, and a basic lack of understanding of the shape of the horse's back by saddlers (who are usually not riders themselves). It is held together with metal struts and features recessed stirrup bars. Stirrup bars are designed like this for the comfort of the rider, but for the horse they invariably become pressure points, and often horses have hardened lumps and even white hairs on the corresponding place on their back.

When fitting a saddle, we feel that it is important for the it to have a tree that provides a consistent weight-bearing structure, so the weight of the rider is distributed evenly. We know that for the horse's spine, the tree structure is crucial, it can't be improved with different panel types or padding. Like the tale of the princess and the pea, an incorrect tree shape will always impinge on the horse sooner or later.


Strada saddle


We have had the good fortune to discover a little-known design of saddle that addresses beautifully the above issues of fitting a saddle. Strada saddles (above) have a tree made with carbon fibre and wood and they are designed to fit the universal spinal shape of the horse.

They are made in different widths i.e the panel angle alters to accommodate the different types of horse, and they fit all horses with reasonably healthy musculature like a glove.

These saddles also have panels made of thermo-reactive memory foam so that although they mould themselves to the individual horse's back, they return to their original shape after use, unlike wool-filled panels which invariably take on the unevenness of the horse's back over time.


Positioning the Saddle

Once you've understood what your looking for when fitting a saddle, you also need to consider where you are actually placing it on the horse's back.

When you place your saddle on the horses back and slide it back, to find the right place, the main thing to be aware of is the position of the scapula in relation to the saddle. When a horse moves his leg forward, the scapula rolls back, and if there is a saddle in the way, eventually the cartilage of the shoulder joint will be damaged. To feel this, cup your hand over the top edge of the scapula and get someone to lift the horse's leg out - you will feel how it comes back.

saddle too far forwards For this reason the saddle must be placed so that the scapula is visible and you can watch it moving back and forth unrestricted. Horses with the saddle on their shoulder like in this photograph, will start to shorten their stride in front to try and avoid the friction. We find that in general saddles very often come forward against the shoulder during work, even if they are placed correctly to begin with. Go to Using a crupper to keep the saddle in place for more on this.


Putting the saddle on

Keeping your horse happy with his saddle can be quite a challenge. If he has had a damaging saddle previously in his life he will anticipate that he is going to be hurt again, and even if you have subsequently taken care correctly fitting a saddle, it can be difficult to convince him otherwise.

Always put it on as gently as you can and do the girth up very gradually. If you are putting it on a young horse get him used to the saddle-cloth first, and don't do everything in one day. It's better to assume that he need's more time than go by a lack of reaction. Watch his eye and see if he is accepting the process or tuning out. Young horses tune out easily and it can be difficult to see it happening. The saddle-cloth one day, then the saddle-cloth and saddle without girth the next, then the saddle-cloth, saddle and the girth the next again is a good speed of progression.

You, or someone else is going to be putting the saddle on thousands of times throughout the horse's life. There is very little advantage in rushing the process and ending up with a difficult horse later on. Look at How to prevent bridle problems for a guide to resolving problems with horses who are already difficult.



Relevant pages on Happy Horse Training that may interest you:

Bridle fit
How to prevent bridle problems


Return from Fitting A Saddle to Happy Horse Training home

New! Comments

Anything to say about this page? Leave your comment in the box below.






New from HHT!

audioride logo

AudioRide is a series of exercises designed to listen to while you ride.

Audio descriptions guide you through each step of developing a balanced, dynamic connection with the horse through your position.

This truly innovative learning tool gives you a whole new way of being guided in your riding, in a calm, clear, step-by-step way.

Free Download! Introductory Exercise: Riding in the Now

Click here for full details



The Gymnastic Rider eBook

How to ride a horse in balance: The Gymnastic Rider eBook

Now available exclusively from HHT! A unique, comprehensive guide to practical rider biomechanics. This professionally produced eBook takes the rider through the process of developing their body in the specific way that brings the horse's movement into harmony and balance - without force and constraint. Click here for full details, and to download the 15-page introduction for free.



Join the Happy Horse Training group on Facebook!

See and share topical info, news and photo's, and take part in lively discussions.

Click here to go to the HHT group and then click on the 'join group' button.




Join the Whole Horse Newsletter

HHT's free monthly newsletter giving you wide-ranging and intelligent insights into holistic horsemanship.
Just enter your details below to join.

Enter your E-mail Address
Enter your First Name (optional)
Then

Don't worry — your e-mail address is totally secure.
I promise to use it only to send you the whole horse newsletter.


Free bonus on the riding position with all new subscriptions: Ten Top Tips To Instantly Improve Your Connection With Your Horse.

Click here to see back issues of The Whole Horse newsletter



Train Your Horse
The Holistic Way

How To Train A Horse Without Force

How To Train A Horse Without Force is a unique guide to training horses through energetic connection and gymnastic training. Part 1 covers everything on the ground, from handling to the lungeing technique that develops strength, straightness and engagement. Comes with a free eBook supplement on Horse Trauma.
Click here for more details.

What people say about the eBook:

"OMG! I'm BLOWN AWAY by this text [...] It's one of the best horse training texts I've ever read." - Wendy Kendall

"I realized that I haven't yet written you about the impact that your training e-book has had on me, and I want to let you know how inspiring and helpful I found it. As a student of Zen Buddhism for nearly three decades, I've often wondered when someone was going to write the book on Zen and the art of horsemanship, and I think that your emphasis on mindfulness and energy connection gets right at the heart of the matter. It has certainly deepened the way that I relate to and communicate with my horses. I am reasonably sensitive to horses' body language and mood, but new to me was the idea of feeling their energy in a more subtle way - including their connection with me even when I am not directly working with the them. I have made myself more aware of this communication, and it's pretty amazing. I have started grooming differently, too, treating a grooming session as a time to mindfully listen to my horse instead of a way to dust out an old rug (OK, I wasn't quite that bad, but you get the idea). Additionally, I have made myself more open to how I actually feel about the horses themselves - very enlightening. Overall, I think that you are saying something that no one else is saying but that everyone ought to hear." - Tess Lloyd



Do You Have
A Horse Story
To Share On HHT?


So many people have been through wonderful experiences with horses, whether in training or otherwise. If you've made a change in a horse's life - or one has made a change in yours - tell us about it here.





Learn How To Trim
Your Own Horse's Feet

Natural Barefoot Trim eBook

The Simple Seven-Step Natural Trim is a comprehensive step-by-step guide to a cutting-edge barefoot trim. Click here to find out more.



What people say about HHT:



"The riding instruction is outstanding, if instructors in the UK taught this way there would be a lot of happy riders and horses."

"The riding tuition exceeded my hopes and expectations by a long way; giving me an exciting new facet to horsemanship which is lighter. more subtle, more elegant and more meaningful. It is as if a new door has opened bringing more sunlight and air."

"My goodness - what a change has taken place in my riding. I think that I'm starting to sit 'into' the horse rather than on top of him. I felt my horse's movements in a way that has almost never happened before"



Click on Testimonials for more