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Leather Care: 5 Secrets to a Well-Fitting Saddle

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Have you ever worn poor fitting shoes all day only to find that you ache from head to toe the following day? Poor fitting tack is similar to you wearing poor fitted shoes. Making sure your horse's tack fits properly is one of the most important things you can do for your horse.

How do you know if your horse has an ill fitting saddle?

You may have an ill fitting saddle if your horse has a poorly developed top line, dry spots in the sweat pattern, ruffled hairs after a ride, if he moves with a short choppy stride, experiences repetitive areas of soreness, has patches of unnatural white hairs where his back has contact with the saddle, or if he has atrophied “dips” behind the shoulders.

The Western Saddle

 parts of western saddle

Step One, finding the fit: The main goal in fitting a western saddle is to make as much saddle bar to horse back contact as possible.

The western tree is made up of the cantle, the bars and the swells. There are generally three standard bath widths in western saddle trees:

  • Quarter Horse bar—fits 80 percent of all western horses.
  • Semi-Quarter Horse bar—fits higher-withered horses.
  • Full Quarter Horse bar—fits flat or “mutton-withered” horses.

Although the above bar widths are the most common, there are also gaited horse bars, draft horse bars and specialized saddles for lighter horse breeds such as Arabians.

Step Two, try it out: With the horse standing on level ground, place the saddle on their back at the withers, and slide it back into place. Check to see that you are able to get two to three fingers between the withers and the top of the gullet.

Sometimes saddle fit problems are actually caused by a saddle positioned poorly rather than a poorly fitting saddle. Proper saddle position will have the saddle placed on the horse's back so that the cinch falls about four inches behind the elbow.

A saddle placed too far forward with cause soreness and constrict the horse's movement. A saddle placed too far back will place the rider's weight on the horse's loins causing discomfort and impairing movement.

Step three, add a light pad: Make sure the skirting, the rounded leather panels under the tree follows the contour of your horse's back and does not extend past his loins. You want the bars to make contact with your horse's back. If you see space under the back of the saddle, it is not fitting properly.

Step four, check sweat patterns: A great way to test how your saddle fits is to check sweat patterns after a workout. Take your horse for a quick ride in your new saddle and check the pattern of your horse's sweat marks after you take the saddle off. If you see dry spots, the saddle may be bridging or not fitting properly. You may want to also try a different pad to improve the saddle's fit...a good saddle pad can go a long way if a horse has an irregular shape to his back or has narrow withers.

Step five, check the fit of the seat: In addition to fitting your horse,  it is also important that your saddle fits you as a rider as well. You should be able to comfortably settle into the deepest part of the seat without feeling stuffed in. A good rule of thumb is to have a two-finger measurement between the swell of the saddle and your thigh.

The English Saddle

parts of english sadder

Step one, finding the fit: English saddles generally come in trees sizes 30, 31, 32 and so on or narrow, medium and wide.

  • Medium or 31 will generally fit the average Thoroughbred
  • Narrow or 30 will generally fit a Saddlebred
  • Wide or 32 wil generally fit a Warmblood

It is important to keep in mind that each individual horse is different, and the above sizes are simply a generalization to help give you an idea of what may fit your horse. 

Step two, try it out: First, be sure your horse is standing squarely. Place the saddle slightly forward on the horse's withers with out a saddle pad or girth. Next, slide it back into position to rest just behind your horse's shoulder muscle, not on the shoulder blade. Often horse owner's place saddle too forward on the withers. Doing so will interfere with your horse's soundness and movement. Next, you should check for proper contact.

To check for proper contact, place one hand in the center of the saddle and apply slight pressure. Push with your fingers along the panel to see if your fingers can slide underneath the panel at any point....if they can, the saddle is not making good contact with your horse's back.

Step Three, find the pommel clearance: If you can fit more than four fingers under a new saddle, it is too narrow. If you can fit less than two fingers it is too wide. If your horse has significant withers, place four stacked fingers under the pommel for proper clearance. Withers that require less clearance require two stacked fingers clearance.

Step Four, check the balance: Check to see if the flat area of the seat is parallel to the ground. The tip of the cantel should be slightly above the pommel, and the gullet should span the horse's spine, not rest on it.

Step five, take it for a test ride: Saddle up and take a test ride! Check your fit by placing your hand flat behind your seat. You should only have four fingers space from your seat to the cantle. Most tack shops offer trial saddle periods. It is always best to try on a saddle on your horse before purchasing it.

Protect Your Investment with Award-Winning Lexol Leather Care!

Since 1930, horse owners have trusted Lexol to preserve the beauty of their fine tack and leather.

Step 1: Lexol Leather Cleaner

  • pH-balanced to safely clean unlike traditional Saddle Soaps which can cause deterioration
  • Leaves no scum or residue
  • Available as a liquid and a wipe for convenient cleaning

Step 2: Lexol Leather Conditioner

  • Prolongs the life of your tack, protecting your investment
  • Softens leather and helps prevent cracking
  • Available as a liquid and a wipe for convenient cleaning

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Gabby Gufler

Gabby Gufler

Gabby Gufler graduated from Truman State University in 2013 with a BS in Animal Science & Nutrition and a minor in Equine Science. Gabby currently works on Manna Pro’s marketing team, and enjoys competing regularly with her six horses.

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