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Saddle Fitting

Guidelines To Saddle Fitting

The saddle is the most important piece of equipment you are likely to purchase for your horse and therefore we would always advise you to contact a saddle fitter for advice and guidance. As a responsible owner you can’t under estimate the importance of getting the right saddle fit for your horse. You (or your saddle fitter) will need to assess your horse and consider many factors before starting the process of ‘picking’ a suitable saddle. Talk to your saddle fitter about the type of saddle you are looking for and its intended use; for example if you enjoy hacking and Jumping then you may wish to purchase a General Purpose or Jumping saddle.  For schooling and Dressage try a Dressage saddle, these tend to have a much straighter flap than a GP or Jumping saddle. Assessing your horse Start by making sure the horse is standing on a level surface. Ensure the horse is distributing its weight on all four legs (standing square).  Take a moment to run your hand over the horse’s back and locate the Scapula (shoulder) and last rib (T18), these reference points will be needed when you are ready to take a template. Once your horse is standing square, look at his/her structure; does he/she have a high wither? Is the length of the back a little short? Are there hollows either side of the wither? These are just some of the points needed to be considered and noted. Horses are not symmetrical hence the importance of assessing the horse from both sides, front, back and if possible above. Try standing on a mounting block a safe distance behind the horse and look along the back, this will help you to see if there is any muscle imbalances/weaknesses. If you are using the services of a saddle fitter they will also assess your horse in hand at walk and trot, this will further allow them to study the movement which may affect the fit of the saddle. Lifestyle also needs to be taking into consideration. Does the horse live in or out, how many times a week is the horse ridden? Has it suffered from any recent injuries?  These and other factors will help your saddle fitter make an assessment of your horse and help when it comes to choosing the right tree type and panel  -see our section on ‘panels and trees’ for more information.

Taking a Template of Your Horse

In order to establish the correct tree width and panel required you or your SF will need to take a template.  It’s worth noting that horses change shape throughout the year; this can be due to a change of diet, season, work load or general health - all of which may affect any pre-existing template measurements. Templating is strongly recommended and ideally should be performed by a saddle fitter.  For this you will need a large piece of paper (A3 is ideal) pencil, a flexi-curve (see diagram below) and someone to assist you. 1. Bend the flexi-curve into a large ‘V’ shape. 2. Stand at the scapula (shoulder), place the flexi-curve over the withers. With your free hand locate the back of the shoulder (see point A on the horse diagram), place 3 fingers behind the shoulder and slide the flexi-curve to rest next to the last finger, the end of flexi-curve should point straight down towards the floor on both sides. See measurement ‘B’ on the horse diagram. 3. Ask your assistant to hold the flexi-curve in position and move around to check the off side .  4. The flexi-curve should now be in contact with the horse approximately 2” (3 finger width) behind the shoulder on each side. 5. Carefully lift the flexi-curve from the wither away from the horse, place flat onto your piece of paper and trace around the inside. Make a note of left and right side.  The above will provide the required tree width e.g Narrow, Medium, Wide etc. 6. Next run your hands along the horse’s rib cage and locate the last (18th) rib. Follow the line of the last rib up towards the spine (note that the ribs curve up – see point ‘D’ on the horse diagram). 7. Open up the flexi-curve and place this over the spine and the area of the last rib. Again make sure the end of the flexi-curve points towards the floor in a straight line, Ask your assistant to hold the flexi-curve in place and check the position on the off side. The flexi-curve should be in contact with the horse on both sides. Carefully remove the flexi-curve from the horse (hold centrally) and place on your record sheet. 8. Trace the inside of the curve with a pencil. You are now going to establish the shape of the spine. 9. Straighten out the flexi-curve, find the highest point of the wither and lay the flexi-curve along the spine beyond T18. Make a note of T18 on your flexi-curve if possible. See point ‘C’ on the horse diagram. 10. Lift away from the horse and trace on to your piece of paper. Your completed sheet should look like the diagram below.    Example of a completed Template   Checking the fit: The saddle should be ‘in balance’. This allows the rider to sit correctly in the centre of the saddle. To check this place a ball on the seat of the saddle, this should rest in the centre of the seat. There should be good clearance when viewing through the channel/gullet from front to back (daylight should be visible). To enable the horse to move freely the saddle must not be too tight behind the shoulders. To check this, place your flat hand between the shoulder and saddle and slide downwards towards the floor. If the saddle is sitting too low (close to the withers) the saddle may be too wide. Your hand should move from the top of the head down, the feel should be very firm but not restricted. The panel must touch the horses back along its length and the bearing surface for the panel should be as large as possible, with even weight distribution. The panel of the saddle must not sit beyond the last rib (T18) as this will cause discomfort and possible muscle damage. Try the saddle After securing the saddle with a girth, check all of the above points again. When girthed the saddle should sit in a balanced level position when viewed from the side.  Once again check for clearance at the withers and down the channel/gullet. If possible mount the horse in an enclosed area and gently walk, trot and canter. The saddle should not move forwards, backwards or side to side. We recommend you have a qualified saddle fitter to check the fit of your saddle every 6 months or as advised.
At Harry Dabbs Saddle Makers we have a team of dedicated skilled craftsman here to help you create your dream saddle. All we need is an idea of the type of saddle you require, a recent template, photos and a little information about you and your horse. If this is an option that appeals to you then please contact us to discuss further.
Harry Dabbs Unit 2, 75 Midland Road Walsall, WS1 3QQ Tel: 01922 612238 Fax: 01922 647691 info@harrydabbs.co.uk