Saddles and saddle fitting can be a bit of a minefield, especially for the new horse owner or rider. There’s so many things to consider; from the type of riding you do, to your budget, to the build of your horse and of course, your own body type.
I chatted with Cordia Pearson, Society of Master Saddlers Qualified Saddle Fitter and owner of saddlefitter.com to get a grip on finding a saddle which suits both rider and horse.
Here are her top tips!
What Type Of Saddle To Buy?
One of the first things to consider if you’re buying your first saddle is what type of saddle to buy. It’s obvious that a dressage rider who never wants to even consider leaving the ground would opt for a dressage saddle, and someone who only jumps and plans to go up the heights would only consider a jumping saddle.
Realistically, a huge amount of riders fall in between these two extremes and want to do a bit of everything from schooling to poles and jumping to trail rides. Cordia says ‘sadly, the number of true all-around saddles have diminished over the past twenty years, in large part due to their reputation of an all-purpose being no purpose. If the rider is going to pop over a few low jumps or do cavaletti work, a dressage saddle with Velcro blocks and a more forward flap would allow for hacking out, then angling the blocks to jump.’
Those who want to jump slightly bigger but still ride on the flat would be better suited to a jump saddle than dressage saddle. As the jumps get bigger it becomes hard to jump them in a dressage saddle, and while getting that long leg is harder in a jumping saddle, you can still school effectively on the flat in one.
Once you’ve decided on your saddle type, it’s time to start saddle shopping! The first thing that most riders and saddle fitters will look at is the shape and conformation of the horse. Finding a shape and size that complements their back, withers, and shoulders is paramount in making sure your horse is comfortable and able to work through the back without feeling restricted.
Choosing The Right Saddle For Your Horse
Poorly fitting saddles are one of the most common causes of difficult behaviour in horses, and Cordia mentions that there are quite a few signs to look out for. ‘If your horse is uncomfortable with his saddle, he could refuse to move out freely and with ease, become hollow in his work, start to need stronger and stronger aids from the rider, balk or stop at fences, or refuse to collect on light rein and seat aids.’
There are also hints that your horse might be giving you on the ground, says Cordia. Does the horse try to bite when he’s girthed, run away when you go to fetch them, or swing their head around to give you ‘the look’ as you put on his saddle? All of these could point towards a badly fitting saddle.’
The last thing to be aware of is the more physical signs of a badly fitting saddle. Cordia mentions that aside from the well-known white spots (or saddle sores, as they are often called) another thing to watch for is ruffled hair under the saddle, the horse sweating much more at the front than the rear of the saddle or vice versa, and swelling around the saddle points. These aren’t always present, and a saddle can fit badly even without any obvious outward signs.
If your horse is happy and content in his work and shows no signs of the saddle pinching or causing problems, you should get your saddle checked once a year as part of his general maintenance routine.
Choosing The Right Saddle For The Rider
If you’re confident that your saddle fits your horse, how can you tell if it fits you? Of course, having an experienced saddle fitter and an instructor or knowledgeable friend on the ground is invaluable. They can see what the saddle does to your position, and can help to determine whether the saddle is working with you or against you. It’s not uncommon for a rider to find a saddle comfortable without realizing that it’s hindering them, either through lack of feel or just by adapting to or compensating for the poor fit.
That said, Cordia says that there are quite a few ways to tell whether your saddle is a good fit for you as a rider too. Here are some of the bad signs she’s noted when it comes to saddle fit for the rider:
- Back ache – this could mean that the seat is too short and too deep
- Knees going over the flap – you need a more forward cut or longer flap
- Feeling like you’re tipping forward – the saddle could be too wide (assuming that it is in balance on your horse!)
- Feeling like you’re getting left behind the motion of the horse – the saddle could be too narrow
- The top of your boots catching on the flap – your saddle flap is too short (or your boots are too long!)
- You are struggling to find the three points of your seat – the seat could be too deep or too short
- You feel like your inner thighs are stretching too far – twist is too wide
- Your knees don’t ‘settle’ into the saddle naturally – the wrong blocks or block shapes
With these tips from an expert saddle fitter, you should have a good idea of whether a given saddle works for you and your horse. Remember to get regular saddle checks as part of your horse’s maintenance routine to keep both of you performing at your best for years to come!
Now that you’ve got Cordia’s top tips, what saddle are you looking to buy?