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05Oct2023
A properly fitting western saddle is crucial for the health and comfort of your horse.

A properly fitting western saddle is crucial for the health and comfort of your horse.

By: By: Dominique Van Buuren and Astrid KlompComments: 0

A well-fitting saddle is important for the well-being of your horse and affects its performance. When a saddle fits well, your horse can move comfortably and respond better to your aids. As a rider, you also want to be comfortable in the saddle and have the ability to give the correct aids with your body. Therefore, take the time to choose a saddle that fits well. The specialized saddle fitting service of EURO-HORSE can help you make the right choice.

Horses are not natural pack animals and therefore need support to carry you. If you try to imagine how an ill-fitting western saddle feels, think of carrying a full backpack. An improperly or unevenly loaded backpack with tight or loose straps or heavily loaded without a frame is quite uncomfortable. Not only will your back start to hurt, but your body will try to compensate, for example, by limping and becoming stiff throughout the body. That is why a proper fitting saddle is crucial for the health and comfort of your horse. However, this does not mean that a fitting saddle is a solution for the rider's lack of riding skills and the horse's physical problems. We often see riders hoping that a fitting saddle will solve all problems. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

''A well-fitting western saddle will maximize the comfort and performance of your horse, but this will always depend on the overall care, health, and training of the horse''

Snapshot

When purchasing a saddle, many questions are asked. One question we often hear is: "If I buy a new saddle now, how long can I use it?" And that is a understandable but difficult question. Fitting a saddle is always a snapshot. Depending on the age of your horse and the training you do, we can estimate whether a certain tree that currently fits will continue to fit for a long time. If your horse undergoes changes in condition, such as muscle growth, muscle loss, or hormonal changes, it is possible that your horse has changed in such a way that the saddle no longer fits well. Also, changes in training, for example, when you adjust the intensity and move to a different stable (different feeding policy), can change the shape/condition of your horse. That's why we always consult with you to determine the future goals. Especially with young horses, it is almost certain that you will need to change saddles a few times. However, that is not a reason not to purchase another saddle. When you ride a horse, the saddle should fit properly, whether your horse is 4 years old or 18 years old. Never ride with a saddle that doesn't fit! Learned behaviour due to an ill-fitting saddle, such as biting or bucking, is very difficult to unlearn, and of course, you don't want to hurt your horse.

Checking your own saddle

If you already have a saddle and are unsure about the fit, we can come by to check your saddle. Problems for which you should always have your saddle fitter come by are wounds, swelling, or chafing under the saddle after riding. It is best if your horse has an even sweat pattern under the saddle after riding. But no horse is completely straight. Just like us humans, horses have a preferred side, and it will take a lot of skilled training to achieve as much balance as possible. If there is an uneven distribution of the sweat pattern, it is likely that more training needs to be done rather than needing a different saddle. Another important cause can be a dirty pad. This can cause the cushioning and moisture-wicking properties of the pad to be lost, and injuries can even occur due to dirt. Also, make sure to have the saddle checked if your horse suddenly shows unpleasant or grumpy behaviour during saddling or girth tightening. Also, have the saddle checked if your horse regularly shakes its head while riding with a saddle but not while riding without a saddle. Does the head shaking mainly occur when the horse has to bend its body? This may indicate that your horse is experiencing discomfort due to a pressure point from the saddle. Head shaking is a complex problem with many possible causes, and it's always good to be able to rule out the saddle as a cause.

"Some horses are more subtle in indicating signs that the saddle doesn't fit well."

If, despite correct training and a good feeding policy, you still see reduced muscle development on the back, it may be due to an ill-fitting saddle. An ill-fitting saddle exerts pressure in such a way that the muscles cannot develop. Some horses are more subtle in indicating signs that the saddle doesn't fit well. Do you have the impression that your horse is not truly relaxed while riding, or maybe you feel that your horse resists during specific exercises? These can also be signs that the saddle doesn't fit well.

Slipping saddle

There are hardly any high-quality saddles that are crooked. If you're unsure if your saddle is straight, place it on a straight object like a table and hold a ruler against it. If it appears crooked on your horse, it is very likely that your horse is crooked. Saddles slide off to the side because a horse has a preferred side in terms of body bend. As long as your horse is not correct in vertical balance, you will continue to have this problem, and it will also persist if you, as a rider, are not developed enough to train it properly. Uneven weight distribution caused by sitting crookedly and being out of balance also creates a slipping saddle. Also, consider the hooves. An uneven hoof position also creates an uneven posture in the body. Therefore, it is important to have your horse regularly treated by a good farrier.

The influence of your horse's condition

A horse is no different from a human athlete; horses also experience muscle soreness when they're out of shape. If you suddenly start going on long trail rides or participate in Barrel Races and other competitions once a month while your horse is not in the proper condition, it can lead to a sore back. If your horse's back feels painful after a period of intensive riding, let its back rest and heal. Don't immediately conclude that the saddle doesn't fit if you notice your horse experiencing back pain, which is actually caused by poor condition. A horse's back becomes weaker when it's not in a healthy condition or if it's overweight. This results in uneven distribution of pressure from the rider and saddle. Strong abdominal muscles are essential for supporting the entire body and carrying the rider effectively. Daily training, which doesn't have to be limited to riding, keeps your horse's back strong.

The rider's balance

Pay attention to how you sit in the saddle. To ensure proper functioning of the tree, you should be balanced in the middle of the saddle. If you sit in the saddle like in a recliner with your legs forward, you exert twice as much pressure on the back of the bars and dig them into your horse's loins. If you lean forward or to the side, your horse will also experience uneven pressure. For heavier riders, the tree needs to distribute more weight per square centimeter on the horse. Therefore, a proper saddle fit and riding skills are even more important for heavier riders.

Appropriate pad and cinch

Lastly, the most important tip: use a good pad and cinch. A good cinch does not need to be tightly cinched with a well-fitting saddle. The tighter you tighten the cinch, the more pressure you create before sitting in the saddle. Ideally, there should be 20 cm on both sides between the cinch and the saddle rings. Don't be "kind" by thinking that you'll just put a thick pad underneath. That's like wearing thick woollen socks in your well-fitting dress shoes. Your saddle will feel very tight for your horse. Additionally, your saddle will sit higher/further from your horse, making it difficult to feel the horse's movements. With a well-fitting saddle, you almost always need a 3/4 inch thick pad. Of course, it should be clean for proper functionality!

Comfortable riding

In addition to all the requirements your horse has for the saddle, you, as a rider, also want a comfortable saddle. The rider's preference for the size of the seat varies. Some choose a larger seat, while others prefer a smaller one. In addition to preference, the discipline also plays a role in the size of the seat. In general, there should be three fingers between your thigh and the front (swell) and a flat hand between the back (cantle) and your seat. There are different types of saddles with corresponding seat sizes, as well as different types of ground seats per saddle type.

By the way, the saddle size of the western saddle refers to the seat length of the rider in inches and says nothing about the size for the horse. The most common saddle size is 16 inches. If you're transitioning from regular riding to a western saddle, you'll need a different size than you're used to because a different measurement is taken. If you have very long legs, you may need a larger seat so that your knees don't touch the front of the saddle. Don't dismiss a particular seat or model too quickly. If you noticed in the past that you had trouble keeping your legs still or maintaining a good posture in a certain saddle, it was often caused by the saddle not fitting well on that horse.

Every horse is unique

EURO-HORSE works with various brands of new and used saddles. Our specialties are Reining, all-around disciplines, and recreational riding. But we also provide saddles for Barrel Racing and Roping. Each horse is unique, so finding the right fitting western saddle can be a challenge. EURO-HORSE has years of experience in finding the most suitable saddle and is happy to take on this challenge. Whether you're looking for a new or used saddle, it's important for us to see the horse in person, which is why we prefer to come to your stable. This also saves a lot of hassle: taking time off, transportation, travel time, and other stress. We will fit in Holland, Vlaanderen, German border area, Sweden (once a year) and Italy (twice a year)

It's important to know in advance whether the horse is fit enough to be ridden. If in doubt, it's wise to have a certified veterinarian, chiropractor, or physiotherapist come first. This way, you won't incur unnecessary costs for a consultation that cannot take place. To make an appointment, we would like to receive the stable address, your phone number, and two clear photos of your horse standing on a straight, flat surface. We need a photo from the  side, as well as a photo from behind showing the withers and shoulders. These photos only give us an idea of which saddles we need to bring. We actually travel with different vans and distribute the saddles among them. 

 

The saddle fitting consultation

A saddle fitting consultation takes an average of two hours. First, we ask for more information about the horse, such as behavior, training, housing, and history. Then we ask about your future goals: for example, if your horse still needs a lot of development, if you're where you want to be, if you'll be changing your training soon, etc. etc. Next, we conduct a brief physical check to identify any sensitivities, asymmetry, or other abnormalities. We document the results in a document for your horse, which allows us to compare any changes at a later time.

Depending on your preferences and budget, we search for a used or new western saddle. For finding a suitable used saddle, we make a template. With this template, we can select saddles that may fit your horse. Then, one by one, we try the selected saddles without a pad on your horse's back, and we evaluate them based on various criteria to determine if these saddles are truly good for the horse's back. The remaining saddles can be tested by the rider while riding, with us present. We observe whether the rider sits properly in the centre and if the saddle doesn't produce excessive movement during the gaits. When trying the saddles we have with us, we always adjust the stirrup length to your preference so that you can assess the feeling of the seat and the balance of the saddle. So, don't quickly say that the length is okay during the test ride, but find the ideal length. After that, the choice can be made.

A new saddle

For fitting a new saddle, we use the bare trees. We have the bare trees (24 of them) of all new saddles as a standard in each van, and we use them for fitting. We then conduct test rides with the best trees using our fitting system (a kind of construction kit that forms a saddle). This way, you can feel how your horse moves, just like with a used saddle, and we can assess it. Once it's decided which tree fits best, we discuss the saddle model, color, amount of silver, tooling, etc.. We also have many new saddles with known trees. Once we know which tree your horse needs, these new saddles can be tested and potentially purchased right away.

Saddle trade-in

It is possible to trade in your own western saddle with a tree when purchasing a used or new saddle from us. Furthermore, within one year of purchasing a saddle, we will come back for a free check if you wish. If we don't find a suitable saddle within your budget, we can keep the template for some time and see if we receive any suitable trades. We only provide the tree size of the tree that we have actually fitted on your horse and deemed fitting. It is a misconception that, for example, a Full Quarter will always fit a horse. It may be the case for brand X but completely different with brand Y. Moreover, the Full Quarter from brand X in a Reining saddle may have a different shape than in the Trail saddle from the same brand X. This is because the saddle industry does not have standardized sizes for different bar widths, sizes, bends, and angles of the tree. The sizes differ between tree manufacturers, saddle makers, and saddle styles. The difference lies in the curvature of the bars (more or less rock) and the angle of the bars in relation to the swell. So, besides needing a suitable width behind the shoulders, you also need the correct line of the back to find a fitting tree.

The Young Horse Plan or Rehabilitation Plan

For a horse in development, it can be interesting to purchase our Young Horse Plan or Rehabilitation Plan. If you own a young horse or if you're rebuilding your horse after an injury or pregnancy, a well-fitting saddle is important, but a definitive purchase may not be immediately desirable.

Both plans work as follows:

During the first appointment, we gather information about your preferences and assess the horse. Just like with the regular consultation, we ask about the history and future vision. We also make a template of your horse's back. Based on the template, we search for a suitable used saddle. If it's possible to ride the horse, we do so. If the horse is not yet saddle-broken, it is necessary for the horse to be accustomed to the tightening of, for example, a lunging girth. During this first consultation, you purchase a used saddle within your budget. Additionally, you purchase our Young Horse Plan or Rehabilitation Plan. This package ensures that we come three times by appointment for a more affordable check of your horse and the saddle. This way, you always have a fitting saddle for your horse despite changes in height, width, weight, and muscle development. We visit approximately every three months for a check, which can be coordinated with a trainer and/or veterinarian, for example. If it's necessary to change the used saddle, we will trade in the purchased saddle (possibly with an additional payment) for a saddle that fits well at that time.

The depreciation of the purchased saddle is €1 per day with normal use. In case of extreme damage, the depreciation increases. Once your horse has achieved the desired muscle development and build, we have a clear picture of the tree size, and you can trade in a definitive saddle (new or used) for the last used saddle.

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