The Importance of Saddle Fit

Posted by Lynnsy Johnson - Saddle Up on Sep 5th 2019

The theories behind saddle fit are based off of the “Old Cowboy Way”. The“Old Cowboy Way” consists of putting any pad or saddle on a horse and riding off.Back in the old west days this worked, however horses and saddles have evolved in so many ways that this old theory doesn’t work anymore. 

Today’s horses are built very different. People have bred horses and crossed horses to fit performance needs. They have different backs and are different sizes. For instance, a cutting horse is bred to be short and stocky and a race horse is bred to be tall and more slender. In all reality, it is just like people. Every person is a different shape or size. We all buy our clothes and shoes based off of what size fits us and makes us comfortable. Would you want to wear shoes that were way too small for you? No because it would be tight and pinch your foot. This works with saddles too. Here at Saddle Up we open up a whole new world and idea with the saddle fitting subject. We offer saddle fits onsite and offsite and we have seen some life changing experiences. The biggest thing we look for is comfort for the horse and also safety for the horse and rider.

A saddle can be too narrow as well as too wide. Also the gullet measurement isn’t the only measurement to consider anymore.If a saddle is too narrow for a certain horse, this causes painful pinching when the horse tries to move. There has to be room for the shoulder to move properly. When the saddle is too tight, it usually tends to sit up off the withers because it is not able to come down and hug the shoulders like it should. The consequences of having a tight saddle include the horse developing white hair, affecting their performance ability, the horse bucking, and even causing muscle deformity in extreme cases. Another common thing is when a saddle bridges or has an open gap along the back.

When fitting a saddle, you want to make sure there is enough flare for the shoulders. It shouldn't be too tight. You also want there to be even contact along the back. If there is not even contact it creates agap and that then distributes all the pressure to the middle of the horses back. If a saddle is too wide it tends to sit down on the withers or slide back when you are riding. This causes discomfort to you and the horse because it will throw you out of the proper position and irritate the horse. You want wither clearance so if the saddle is sitting down on the withers that can be painful. Also if you are competing and your saddle slides back it can pinch the horse or push your back cinch into the flank potentially causing a bad accident.Horses are very forgiving animals and sometimes they may tolerate an ill fitting saddle, but sometimes they may not. It is very common to see customers come in that had no idea their saddle didn’t fit because the horse didn’t show any signs. They are then amazed to see the improvement in their movement when they ride in a proper fitting saddle. Our horses give us their all every single day. I feel it is our job to make sure they are comfortable because they are not able to tell us. In other cases we see the unfortunate events when a horse won’t tolerate a bad fitting saddle and it causes harm to the horse, the rider, or both. From personal experience, I had no idea about saddle fit when I started working at Saddle Up.

Once I started listening and understanding what everyone was saying, I knew none of my saddles fit properly. I had them checked and sure enough, they didn’t fit. I then invested money and made sure all my horses hadgood fitting saddles. This not only saved me money in chiropractic visits, but it also improved my horse’s performance when I was running barrels. The difference in their attitude and movement was mind blowing. I had no idea they could move that good! I also have very differently built horses and therefore the same saddle would not fit both horses. My one gelding is very short and stocky while the other one is built more like a thoroughbred with high withers and dips behind the shoulders. Padding is a huge subject as well. With my high withered horse, I use a Classic Equine Bio-Fit pad that has the gel buildups. This fills in those dips and helps my saddle fit how it should. With that in mind, padding to fit a saddle is not the answer either. Why put a band-aid on something when you can fix the issue for good? It was also an old theory to increase padding to make a saddle fit. I then go back to the shoe scenario and ask if your shoe is too tight does it help to put on more layers of socks? No, it doesn’t. It is best to work until you find the right fitting saddle for you and your horse.Another thing to consider is if you have a young horse under the age of 7,their backs change frequently because they are still growing. I also had this as a personal experience.

I had a very high-quality saddle fit to my palomino gelding who was 4 at the time. This saddle fit him perfectly. I barrel raced with it on him for a year and then I started noticing a difference. He went from being very consistent on the pattern, to dive bombing the barrels and knocking them over. It was like he was trying to get away from something so he was turning way to soon as if to just get it over with. I knew something was wrong so I had his saddle checked and at now 5 years old, the same saddle was pinching his shoulders bad.His back had changed because he is developing from the baby stage to adult stage. I got a saddle that now fits him perfectly and guess what? The problem was fixed and he did not knock the barrels that next time. Horses want to compete for you and win for you, but they can only do as much as they are allowed to. If a saddle is pinching them, they can’t move or stretch out to their fullest ability.

Horses are our lives. We live, breathe, and sleep horses. We are a team together and athletes together. So we need to take care of them and make them as comfortable as we can. After all it’s the least we can do to repay them for being our wings.

(picture credit: