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Saddle Fitting English and Alternative Saddles both Treed and Treeless

Saddle Functions.A) A saddle provides a stable base of support for the rider, distributing the rider's weight across the horse's back evenly.B) A saddle provides the horse with a comfortable structure to move freely under the rider's weight during chosen activities.C) A saddle provides a structure for Stirrups.

D) A saddle provides safety and security for the rider.Traditional Saddle Construction & Design.A) Parts of the Saddle.Gullet Plate & Points.Tree Bars /Rails.


Stirrup Bars.Alternative Saddle Choices.A) Alternative Saddle Choices.? Treeless Saddles.? Flexible Panel Saddles.? Half Tree Saddles.

? Reinforced Flexible Base Saddles.Getting To Know Your Horse's Topography.A) Measuring the Horse's Topography.An Equimeasure is a very handy reusable sheet of high tech plastic that is heated and then molds to the shape of your horse's back. The advantage here is that it is a three dimensional representation.

This means that you can take it to a saddle shop or saddler and actually put the saddle on the molded sheet to check the fit.Another way to measure the topography is to trace the topline and cut it out of cardboard. This will of course be mainly a two dimensional representation. This method measures fairly accurately the side to side dimensions of your horse.Observing Your Horse's Overall Shape.

Areas to Consider:.? How is the barrel sprung?.? Where is the natural girth groove?.? Is the shoulder straight, laid back, flat or bulgy?.

? Is the curvature of the topline normal, straight, roached or swayed?.? Assess the horse's condition. Palpate with a belly lift for soreness, atrophy of general muscle tone.? Age / condition, will they change soon?.? Current fitness level versus working level.

? The activity you will be doing together.? Does the horse have significant seasonal changes?.? Prior injuries.Finally, observe your horse at liberty in all gaits in order to determine how the back changes during movement. Realize that adding a rider will alter this.

How much the back is effected depends on the rider's skill level, weight and height compatibility with the horse.Understanding Rider Needs & Fit.The Checklist:.? What model of saddle do I need for my planned activities?.

? Seat depth needs to be chosen for individual comfort, skill level, terrain and safety.- Does my size match my horse's size?.- Am I a novice or a skilled rider?.- Is my balance in all transitions good or do I need help from the saddle?.

- Is my upper body tall and longer in proportion to my leg length?.- Where will I be riding and what type of activities will I be doing?.- What kind of gaits does my horse have?.- Is my horse quiet and experienced or green and more rambunctious?.

? The seat size is determined by both the size of your rear end and the length of the thigh from hip to knee (also see flap placement).? Seat width is decided by the distance between your seat bones.? Seat density - do you prefer a soft, cushy seat or a firmer, more supportive one?.

? The seat contour is determined by the placement and shape of your seat bones. Flat set bones need a seat that is flat across the top otherwise one or both seat bones will dangle off the side.? Twist width is an important area of rider comfort and saddle fit to consider. It is partially determined by the tree and gullet width that your horse needs.

If you need a narrow twist and have a wide horse, customized saddles can be made to build a 'pyramid' for the rider while allowing the horse to have the true shape and size needed.? The flap length is determined by your leg length in the stirrups. The correct length allows the horse to clearly feel your leg aids and does not catch your boot or chap top.? Flap placement needs to accommodate the front edge of your knee, taking into account the type of knee roll. The knees should fit comfortably in the knee roll when your stirrups are at ideal lengths.

? Stirrup bar placement is a very important saddle fitting factor that significantly effects rider balance, comfort and safety. Optimal placement creates a leg hang that forms a good shoulder, hip and heel alignment. Some people, due to personal conformation, prior injury or riding a wide horse, may need to ride with a slightly more forward alignment. Many saddles have adjustable stirrup bars as a special order option.

(Note: For safely's sake please ride with the stirrup bar safety catch open and with safety stirrups. To reduce bulk under the leg run the stirrup leather buckle down to the top of the stirrup and secure it with specially made keepers).? Cantle rise - the steeper the rise the more closed the seat will be, thus restricting freedom of movement for the rider's pelvis.? The pommel rise needs to be the proper height to suit your pubic bone and pelvic structure.? Skirt contour - If you have flat or hollow inner thighs, a more convex skirt will probably work best.

Foam can be cut and tucked under the skirt to fill in the area for a quick fix. For those with a more developed inner thigh, a more concave skirt may be more desirable.Choosing a Match for Horse & rider.

With what you learned in chapters 4 and 5, you should have a fairly clear picture of what is needed to choose a saddle that matches both you and your horse. The following is an outline that will help you make a good choice.1) What kind of saddle do I want, traditional or alternative?.2) What model is best for my purposes?.? Trail / Endurance.

? Dressage.? Hunter for low fences.? Jumper.

3) Size and shape gullet plate - make sure to ask the dealer/manufacturer if the points of the tree are angled in same way your horse's shoulder is angled and about the length of the points. Also ask if the tree bars / gullet widen under the stirrup bars where many horse widens. Then find out if the gullet plate just widens at the bottom or if the entire shape changes in wider tree sizes.

A wise thing to do here is to request that the measurements and shape be sent to you so you can see first hand. Also very important for proper saddle fit is to allow for padding thickness when selecting the tree size. Determine what numnahs or interface pads you will need when making this selection. Remember that a gullet needs to be 2 1/2 -3" fingers wide throughout for the saddle fitting to accomodate the horse's spine. Some horses need even more to prevent impinging on spinal processes during lateral or circular work. Also note that the gullet width needs to be approximately 1 finger wider at each side of your horse's spine throughout.

Special attention should be paid to where your horse's back widens.4) The curvature of the bars/rails of the tree also need to match the horse's topline curvature.5) The panel width and pitch needs to match your horses shape and back width.6) The length of the area on the horse's back available for a saddle needs to match the actual length of the saddle. If you are a small rider on a horse that needs a longer weight bearing surface, some alternative customized saddles can be made with longer panels and smaller seat size to match your saddle fit needs. Or for a short backed horse the opposite can be ordered.

7) Is an extra gusset in either the front or rear required to level the saddle?.8) Choose what flocking material you prefer.9) Does my horse's shape and size change enough that I may require in time a slightly larger tree or an interim alternative option or a saddle that can be adjusted to our unique saddle fitting needs?.

10) The flap length and placement need to accommodate the rider's leg and riding activity.11) The seat size and shape need to match the rider for comfort and safety.12) The stirrup bar placement should promote appropriate shoulder, hip and heel alignment for the rider.13) The twist/skirt/cantle and pommel rise should match the rider's pelvis needs.Assessing Your Horse's Saddle Fit.

1) Placement of the Saddle.On a bare back for clearer viewing, place the saddle approximately 2 fingers behind the rear edge of the horse's scapula. There will be a place on most horses that the saddle will settle into.

If you need to readjust the saddle, lift it off the horse's back and take it forward rather than dragging it against the lay of the hair. Finding the 'sweet spot' for saddle placement is key in determining the balance of the saddle in later steps. Saddles with trees must have the point of the tree behind the scapula in this spot and not just the flap. If the flap angle confuses you just lift the flap, find the point of the tree and align it with this area. Some flexible panel and treeless saddles overlap the scapula and are made to allow the shoulder to slide under the front. This is not possible in most treed saddles unless the points are specially angled to allow them to slide; but even they are not over the scapula, but are just behind it.

Also check the gullet plate size and shape to make sure it conforms to your horse, making sure that you allow for pad width.The next steps are seen more clearly on a bare back. Pads will be added later and steps 2-10 are repeated with pads. When horses work, muscles engorge with blood and enlarge. It is wise therefore to leave expansion room of about 1/4" on each side in the gullet plate / shoulder area for the horse's comfort and freedom of movement. This is where using an appropriate interface pad or front shim is a plus.

Also young or atrophied horses are better served with a slightly wider treed that is padded to allow for growth, muscling and comfort.2) Panel Contact.Panel contact side to side needs to be a broad, flat area of contact with beveled edges on both the spine side and the outside. For good saddle fitting check to make sure that this contact matches the horse. Sometimes flocking can be adusted and beauty of flocking is that it can be adjusted somewhat to conform to the horse over time.

3) Verticle Whither Clearance for Saddles with Trees.Traditional thought is that verticle whither clearance from the pommel needs to be not less than 2 1/2 - 3 fingers (2 - 2 1/2 fingers with the rider in the saddle), with allowance for padding. It is the author's opinion that when many broken in treed saddles are level over all pads with the rider on, the clearance can be as little as 11/2 fingers. If there is doubt observe how well the horse likes it.

For jumping saddles a bit more room is desirable. A newly flocked saddle can drop 1/2 - 1 finger as it breaks in depending on flocking density and rider weight, so please allow for this. Some dressage saddles have such a steep rise to the pommel (high head plate that a 2 - 3 finger whither clearance alone is not a reliable indicator of balance.

For good saddle fit, basically the whithers need to be vertically free of pressure with the rider on. Treeless saddles sometimes only have 1- 1 1/2 fingers clearance depending on the brand.4) Tree Bar/Rails & Panel Curvature.Tree bar curvature and panel curvature front to back needs to conform to the moving horse's shape. With the horse's back lifted, feel under the panel for any gaps and note where they are.

Sometimes a small amount of bridging (gap) is advantageous if it coincides with the horse's back lift. A large gap from the stirrup bar area to the approximate rear of the flap may indicate either a tree with bars/rails that are too flat for your horse, panels that need to be filled in, or a horse with a swayed back that can possibly be filled in with a center shim until the back can be built up. The determination of the later is best made in conjunction with a veterinarian or equine body worker. Avoid trying to fill in a poorly fitting saddle, it rarely works to create good saddle fit.Next put one hand on the pommel and the other on the cantle to determine if the saddle rocks front to back. Sometimes just adding your riding pad will correct a rocking saddle if the front is a bit too wide.

But if this does not remedy the situation you need to see if the tree bars/rails and panels are too curved for your horse's shape or if the panel flocking has a pivot point. A saddler can often glue a small wedge onto the tree under the front or rear panels to give a flatter tree shape, or flatten the center of the panels if the rock is slight. Another reason a saddle may rock is that the tree is just too wide to remain stable, even with padding. Too much padding also makes for a laterally unstable saddle.For good saddle fitting and functioning it is also important to check under the rear edge of the panels with the rider seated to see if the panels dig in.

For going up and down hills, high level dressage and jumping, more back edge clearance is necessary. In this case you might need a saddler to bevel the panels up and away. However if all you do is happily go down the road and ask for minimal lift, then be honest with yourself and fit for this kind of activity. Either way it is very important to be aware of what you are asking your horse to do and fit accordingly.5) Gullet Width.A gullet width of approximately 2 1/2 - 3 " fingers throughout is necessary for the horse's comfort.

The gullet needs to widen where your horse widens which is usually in the twist / stirrup bar area. The inside edge of the gullet needs to be approximately 1 finger width away on each side of the spine front to back.6) Panel Pitch.Panel pitch determines the lateral stability of the saddle.

Panel pitch should approximate the pitch of the horse's back.7) Vertical Gullet Clearance (also see (2) in this section).Vertical gullet clearance should be 2-2 1/2 fingers throughout the saddle, unless you have a treeless saddle then less is needed for good saddle fit. Observe your horse carefully for ruffled hairs and breakage in the spine area after riding in your treeless saddle. Interface pads are a saddle fitting tool that can be used to create a gullet depending of the thickness of the pad.8) Saddle Balance.

To balance the saddle the deepest part of the seat needs to be in the center of the saddle. You can check this by placing a large round barreled marker on the saddle seat. It will settle at the lowest point. Sometimes a small shim on the front or back or a spot flocking is all that is needed to level the seat.

Also make sure to take the rider's weight in account. A heavier rider may need a more densely flocked saddle or added padding to stay level. If a saddle is very unlevel and you are sure that the tree size is correct, you may need to ask for a saddle with extra gussets on the front and rear if your horse is croup / whither high. For young growing horses ask your saddler which will be the easiest adjustable solution.

Sometimes one of the new air pads or Equalizer pads with shims work well and improve the saddle fit in this situation.9) Girth Placement, Size & Shape.The girth optimally lies at the narrowest point on the belly. Use the billet straps that will allow for this placement.

Also select a shape and width of girth that will give the broadest area for the disbursement of pressure over the sternum, while still allowing for elbow clearance (see equipment section). This is why 3 or more billets are a plus.10) Possible Saddle Asymmetries.Finally check the saddle for any manufacturing asymmetries, flocking unevenness, etc, both top and bottom.11) Saddle Fitting with Pads & Rider.

Now repeat steps 2-9 with all the pads on, the rider in the seat and a with helper on the ground. Special attention also needs to be paid when doing step 2, with the helper running a hand down the front of the gullet plate to make sure that there is a comfortable amount of room for muscle expansion on both sides while the horse is standing or at a walk.12) Break In Period.Allow for a gradual break in during the first few test rides.

Thirty minutes or less seems to work well, gradually increasing the ride by fifteen minutes every fourth ride until you get to your normal ride duration. Your horse will thank you for this.13) Pads & Interface Pads.

All pads need to be 1 - 1 1/2" longer on both ends of the saddle. All edges, seams and bindings also need to be clear of the saddle edges. Contour pads are a saddle fit plus as they avoid spine pressure. If you are using an interface pad make sure the gullet on your saddle and the gullet in the pad match and the panels do not not just 'sit' on the edge of either.14) Using Mounting Blocks.Mounting from a mounting block whenever possible will save both your saddle and your horse's spine from misalignments.

Also get in the habit of mounting alternatively from either side even when using a block.For more saddle fitting information go to http://www.kaarenjordan.



By: Crit Taylor


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