How to find the perfect saddle

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  • Finding a saddle that fits you and your horse can help you to perform well in your chosen disciplines. Get it wrong, and you could end up struggling to maintain your position, while your horse may develop a sore back or lameness.

    There are hundreds of makes of saddle on the market, with a huge variety of different options available. Firstly you need to decide what type of saddle you require. Is a dressage, GP or jumping saddle best suited to your needs?

    Your saddler will need accurate measurements for both you and your horse. The key measurement for the horse is the height of the wither and the width of its back. For you, it is your height, weight and the length of leg from hip to knee.

    Once the saddle is on your horse’s back, you need to ask yourself:

    1. Is it comfortable? Is the seat wide or narrow? How much padding is used?

    2. With a rider on board, does the saddle clear the wither and along the length of the horse’s back? If the saddle comes down low on the horse’s back at any point, it will cause problems.

    3. Is the saddle too narrow? Check the length and angle of the points of the tree (these determine the saddle’s width and can usually be felt towards the front of the saddle). They should lie parallel with the horse’s wither. If they are pushing into the wither, like a tight clothes peg, they will cause pinching. Run your hand down between the front of the saddle and the horse to see how tight it is.

    4. Is it the saddle the right length? If it is too long, it will encourage the rider to slide their hip backwards. Too short, and the rider will be pushed too far forward. The distance from the back (cantle) of the saddle and your hips should be the same as the width of your hand.

    5. Is it balanced, with a level seat? Where is the lowest point in the saddle, as this is where you will sit? If it is too far forward, you will slide towards the pommel. Too far back and you will slip behind, causing the horse to hollow its back.

    6. Does it block the horse’s shoulder? The designs favoured by some of the continental close-contact saddles can sit on the horse’s shoulder. Close-contact saddles tend to tip back on a high-withered horse.

    7. Does it move on the horse’s back? Does the back of the saddle rock, move from side to side or bounce when you are in trot? Have someone else there to ride in it so you can see how it works from the ground.

    8. How forward-cut is the saddle? The more forward-cut a saddle is, the better it will accommodate the longer-legged rider.

    Top tips

    • Have your instructor present at the fitting. He/she knows you and your horse, and understands any problems you may have.
    • While some saddlers are happy to walk away without a sale if they have nothing suitable, others will try to give you the hard-sell
    • Make sure the saddler is recommended, preferably by word of mouth.
    • Ask if they are a Qualified Master Saddler with the Society of Master Saddlers.
    • You can increase your options by transporting the horse to a saddlery that stocks a large range of brands.
    • If you place an order for a saddle, make sure you understand your position. Will you able to return it if it arrives and does not fit?
    • Check the conditions. If the saddle does not fit you or your horse after a month’s riding, will the saddler take it back or replace it?
    • Don’t be swayed by celebrity endorsement. A saddle designed to fit a top rider’s specification will not necessarily suit you and your horse.
    • Despite the maxim that you get what you pay for, try not to be influenced by price alone.
    • New is not necessarily better.
    • Consider a custom-made saddle if you have an odd-shaped horse.

    Read the full article in the May month’s issue of HORSE magazine, on sale now

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