Checking your own saddle

Knowing how your saddle should fit, and when to call the fitter, can save your horse discomfort and ultimately save you money in extra physio or other therapy bills.It can be easy to nip problems in the bud when you know what you're looking for.

This is the first in a series of three articles I'll be writing on how to keep an eye on your saddle.It is NOT a substitute for having professional checks regularly.For horses with issues this can sometimes mean checks 4 times a year, for horses without problems then having your saddle checked every six months is advised.However horses don't change shape on schedule, equally if a tiny flocking adjustment was the difference between a good and a bad fit, you can see how tiny changes can affect the fit, your horse doesn't have to have had a change in workload or diet to change shape very slightly.

Part One

Checking the saddle fit on the horse

The first picture guides us to look at where the saddle is sitting.It should go without saying that the saddle should be sitting straight on the horse from the back—perhaps get your trainer to check every few lessons, they can watch you ride down the long side from the back in each pace on both reins.Having a friend checking from behind out hacking can be useful too.

So we need to be sure the saddle isn't slipping forwards or backwards.The saddle should be placed as shown, well behind the shoulder blade, the shoulder is marked in blue and can be felt on almost all horses, the back edge is where the hard bony part ends and you're onto muscle.

The red line is thetree points which can also be seen here, circled in red:

The front edge of the tree point, the stitched line that you can see at the front of the tree point, its location roughly indicated by the thick red line above, should be 2-3 finger's width,4-5cm, behind the back edge of the shoulder blade.

On natives and cobs, typically the saddle can end up moving forwards when the fit isn't 100%.It is rarer for the saddle to move backwards on wider and flatter shapes.If it is moving backwards as you ride are you sure you're not putting it on too far back to begin with, I've seen this more than once!As you can see from the lovely skewbald in the AH Sport GP the saddle should look more or less in the middle of the horse, further back than a lot of us think.

Do check at this point that you are using the correct girth straps.These may be those that were indicated on your last fitting sheet, or you may have had a conversation with me since. Choosing the correct straps is essential to getting the saddle in the right place on different shapes of horse and it's why nearly all saddles from AH Saddles have four girth straps.

Checking the saddle balance—this can be trickier and needs a certain amount of "getting your eye in".It can be very useful to take a photo after riding at your saddle fitting when you know the balance is correct with the saddle firmly girthed. Keeping this photo on your phone for quick reference means it's really easy to check the balance once a week or fortnight. 

So how do you know the balance is correct?You will read lots on the internet about pencils and marbles and rolling and the mid point...and all of it is difficult to utilise.I think you need more clarity which is why you need a starting point, ie how did it look when it was fitted?There are clues that you can pick up on though.

Monitor the clearance—when you dismount, before loosening the girth and with the pad pulled up (or including it between your fingers if it's not), how many of your fingers can you stack under the pommel?If this has changed as much as half a finger that is half a width fitting, quite a lot!

The seat—all AH branded saddles have a decent flat spot which makes it easier to see if it is level with the ground.If you cant see it try taking a photo but always include the feet otherwise you can't reference the ground! 

The red line approximately indicates the flat spot in the saddle, once you get to know the saddle you'll know how high the cantle should look in relation to the pommel.The blue line is important too, a GP that is high in front will look more like a jump saddle, if it's looking more like a VSD or even a working hunter then your GP may be too low in front.

Also, don't be too quick to write off little niggles you are having as a rider—slight lower back soreness, an inability to sit upright, or to sit in the right part of the saddle, or to keep your leg underneath you, all may indicate a saddle out of balance. In the extreme a saddle tipping back might even lead to the stirrups more easily sliding off the bars, and coming off when you're riding!

And of course last but never EVER least, the horse.Are you having ridden issues, is your horse reluctant to go downhill, is it choppy striding in front, is he or she starting to refuse at jumps, or not take the right canter strike off as easily as he or she used to?The issue is of course that ridden issues could come from all sorts of things, which is why we go back to looking at the saddle to see if something IS amiss.

I would also recommend everyone to ask their horse's physical therapist, whether a physio, a chiro or other practitioner to show them a basic palpation exercise to check your horse's back regularly. Again you will pick up on issues much quicker this way.

Next time—how to look for clues with the saddle off the horse.

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