The importance of a properly fitting saddle for your horse cannot be overemphasized. Using just any saddle on a horse without examining the fit is equivalent to a human wearing just any pair of shoes regardless of the size of the shoe or the foot. How long could we walk in shoes that are two sizes too small, or too narrow without having severe pain, discomfort and blisters? Sadly, this is what is expected of some horses that are not given a saddle fitted to their size, weight and length of stride, and they cannot explain what they are feeling.
The only way a horse has to express the discomfort of a poorly fitting saddle is to display actions that may be misinterpreted as behavior problems. Unfortunately, horses are at risk to be misunderstood at best, and mistreated at worst, because of the owner’s lack of knowledge. The only way an owner or trainer will know if an ill-fitting saddle is causing problems with the horse is to be educated in the importance of saddle fit, and learn to recognize the signs of an improper fit.
Signs of an Improper Fitting Saddle:
> Scars, calluses or sores in the saddle area that are sensitive to touch.
> Trying to bite, kick or bolting when the saddle area is touched is an indicator that the horse is in pain.
> Bucking or moving sideways when someone attempts to put a saddle on the horse.
> Refusing to exercise, work, or be ridden.
> Swishing the tail and pinning the ears back.
> Stumbling or choppy, uneven stride which means the horse cannot extend his gait because the saddle is pressing on a muscle or nerve.
While some of those signs can be a behavior problem, such as pinning the ears or baring the teeth, an improperly fitting saddle must be ruled out first before permanent damage occurs to a horse’s muscles, ligaments and spine. Saddle fit is important to both the horse and the rider, as a bad saddle fit will cause muscle and joint pain for the rider as well.
Improvement in Modern Saddles
In the past, saddles were made as one size fits all, and both sides were even, without regard or knowledge of fitting the saddle to the horse. Most horses will have shoulder muscles larger on one side than the other, as well as different lengths from the withers to the top of the ribcage toward his back legs. Therefore, a saddle must be measured to fit so as to evenly distribute the weight across the back. A horse’s back is not really designed to carry the weight of a human without a saddle, except in one area where he can carry roughly 300 pounds. Thus it becomes really important to be sure the saddle is fitted to place the weight exactly at that spot, which is different for each individual horse.
Thankfully, there are now studies in progress that are gathering information which will result in better designs, and assist in the correct measurement and sizing of saddles. With the help of computers, saddles will more easily be able to be fitted to a particular horse and made just for him or her.
In the meantime, there are custom saddle manufacturers who make saddles that increase the surface area and decrease pressure on the horses’ backs. With a little research, these specialized saddle-makers can be found easily enough by anyone concerned about the health and comfort of their horse. There are also theraputic saddle pads and magnetic underpads available which some owners and trainers say are helping horses by preventing the rubbing and chafing of ill-fitting saddles, and easing the pain of sore backs.
There really is no excuse to allow a horse to suffer with an ill-fitting saddle, once you understand that saddle fit is important. Considering that a proper saddle is absolutely essential for the health, comfort and safety of both the horse and the rider, nothing less than a perfectly fitting saddle should ever be used.