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Does My Saddle Fit My Horse? Signs Of A Poor Saddle Fit

Does My Saddle Fit My Horse



Your saddle may be a great and comfortable fit for you, but more importantly it must fit your horse properly. What are the signs of a poor saddle fit? A saddle needs to fit both the horse and the rider.  Saddles that do not fit either the horse or the rider correctly have the potential for a negative outcome for both horse and rider. The saddle should first be checked for fit by placing it directly on the horse with no saddle pad. A well fitted saddle should distribute weight evenly through the bars over the horse’s thoracic and lumbar spine, with complete clearance of the wither by the gullet. The saddle must also fit the rider to enable the rider to sit in balance. Does My Saddle Fit My Horse.

Does My Saddle Fit My Horse

Thoracic and/or lumbar pain –

You may notice your horse drop his back, swish his tail, turn to bite, pinnng of the ears when you run your hands down his back.  How about when you are brushing his back or when you are getting ready to throw the saddle on? These signs of pain can be related to a poorly fitted saddle. If not from the saddle, he is definitely telling you that his back is sore! Have your veterinarian, chiropractor, massage therapist or body worker come out ASAP to determine the cause of pain. Of course, check the fit of your saddle!  Just because your saddle fit the horse when your horse was a 3 year old does not mean it still fits the horse several years later.

Wither swelling (edema) after each ride –

Can be caused by a saddle tree/gullet that is too wide and sits too low over the wither, causing pressure on the withers.  Swelling can also occur if the tree/gullet is too narrow. The tree will pinch and put pressure on the wither and along the sides of the spine.

White spots on horses wither or spine –

Pressure points can be painful and lead to sores.  The telltale sign of the horse having been subjected to a poor fitting saddle is the patches of white hair.  Do NOT continue riding with this saddle!

Dry spots under the saddle –

Dry spots under the saddle surrounded by sweat, after the horse has been exercised can be caused by BOTH too much pressure on the area or no pressure on the area.  Either way, the saddle is not fitting the horse properly.

Abnormal hair wear –

Bald patches or broken hair under the saddle is usually caused by your saddle rubbing against your horse’s skin, causing the hair to break.  This is caused by an ill fitted saddle that moves too much when your horse is working.  They are commonly found in the area under your seat and at the back of the saddle area.

Hard nodules –

Hard Nodules on the sides of the wither and/or on the horse’s back in the area of where you sit can be caused by an improper saddle fit. If the saddle sits crooked on the horse, you may see the nodules on only one side of the horse’s back.  Nodules develop when the tissue dies and there is scarring in the deep layers of tissue.  Commonly caused by pressure and friction.

Saddle slides to the side –

Your saddle consistently slides to one side or the other on your horses back.  No matter how much you pull on and tighten the cinch, the saddle does not stay in place.  The cinch should only be tight enough for a rider to safely mount and dismount.  If the saddle is not staying centered on a horses back, the angle of the bars is not a match for your horse’s back and it is not a correct fit for your horse.

Your horse won’t go forward once you mount – 

He pins his ears, swishes his tail, kicks out with a back leg.  You may push him harder and you may get a rear or buck out of him.  This type behavior is common when there is pain being cause by the saddle.  Identify the cause of discomfort now to avoid further behavioral problems down the road.  If you are not familiar with how to properly check a saddle for fit, find a local saddle fitter/maker to do the job for you. Now would be a good time to have your horse’s back checked for pain and seek treatment if needed.

If the saddle does not fit the rider, it may be difficult for the rider  to ride in balance with the horse which can cause thoracic and/or lumbar pain and subluxations.

Behavioral And Physical Signs To Watch For That May Indicate A Poorly Fitted Saddle:

If your horse suddenly starts to exhibit physical or behavioral changes there are things you need to rule out. Before you immediately think it is a training problem you must rule out pain or an improperly fitted saddle.  Also have the teeth checked, hoof condition/pain, have you changed the feed, rule out back pain, etc…


  •         Hollow back
  •         Whites of eyes showing     
  •         Bulging eyes
  •         Sudden chomping of bit
  •         Pinning of the ears
  •         Stumbling or tripping
  •         Bucking or rearing
  •         Refusing jumps
  •         Poor work attitude “bad behavior”


Listen To Your Horse

If you are using a saddle that puts pressure on your horse’s spine because of a

  • gullet and bars that are too narrow (or too wide)
  • because it twists during movement

The horse will naturally lower his back to escape the pain and the rider will be out of balance. This is not going to be a pleasurable ride for both horse and rider.

A saddle that repeatedly puts pressure on the horse’s spine will eventually be damaging to the horse, both physically and mentally. Eventually the horse’s natural instinct will kick in. Due to pain, he will not move forward when cued.  If the rider insists using crops, spurs and other aids a battle is sure to follow.  That is not fair to the horse who has most likely been trying to tell you for months that there is a problem occurring, you just haven’t been listening.

A horse will tell you everything you need to know, you just have to listen.  Have the saddle fitted by an experienced saddle fitter/maker and you may be surprised at what you find out.  If the saddle is the problem, but it’s your “lucky saddle” then clean it up and put it on a saddle tree in your house where you can look at it every day, just don’t put it back on top of your horse!  Always set your horse up to succeed!

Kathy Hartwig

Equine Challenge Supplements

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