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Q14)  How will I know if my saddle doesn't fit correctly?

Does your horse fling his head when you mount or go downhill? Does he keep throwing his head during the ride whether or not you've got a lot of contact with the bit? Does he get strung out behind and hollow his back so his gaits are uncomfortable? Do you find that he's short striding especially in front? You may be dealing with poor saddle fit.

Horses that bite, paw or squirm or avoid the saddle while you're tacking up may be telling you something. First make sure you're not causing the problem by flopping the saddle up there. If you consistently place the saddle quietly, then it's time to look for other causes. Does your saddle sit levelly and fit evenly along the horses back both before and after cinching? If not, check to make sure it's not too wide in the shoulders allowing the cinch to pull it down. Also check to see if the rocker (the amount of curve along the bottom of the tree from front to back) matches the curve of the horse's back. Make sure your saddle pad extends at least one inch in front of and behind the saddle. Saddle pad seams that are located under the saddle can cause a lot of discomfort for the horse.

After a fairly hard ride pull your saddle.

1. Are there dry spots (over the shoulders especially)? Dry spots indicate pressure points where the circulation to the sweat glands is compromised. If left uncorrected, these pressure points can lead to skin damage showing up as white hair when the coat changes in spring and /or fall in moderate cases. In severe cases, you may see swelling with fluid under the skin (like a blister) or leaking to cause scabbing or even sloughing of the skin. Adding blankets to an already tight saddle will just increase the problem. Think of wearing tight shoes and adding extra socks - it definitely won't help.

2. Are there areas where the hair is rubbed? This usually indicates too much motion in the area but can also indicate something on the saddle pad or saddle lining that sticks out or rubs. Check where your pad hits behind the saddle. Horses with a lot of motion can get rubs from the seam rubbing across the spine. Split blankets or those with a very soft material on the underside may help this. Too much motion of the saddle can also indicate poor saddle fit.

3. Any bumps or swellings? These usually indicate a local area of rubbing or pinching. Check carefully over shoulders, where the cinch attaches and where your leads are placed if you're using a heart monitor.

4. Is your saddle still where it was when you put it on? Saddles without enough flare in front to allow the shoulders to move often get moved back during riding. Saddles that slip sideways when mounting or riding often indicate that the saddle tree shape doesn't match that of the horse's back. Saddles that slip forward often are too wide in the gullet or are spread too wide for your horse. These often sink down on the horse so you can't put three fingers between the gullet and the withers by the end of the ride.

Get in the habit of running your hands gently but firmly on either side of the horse's back along the muscles after every ride to check for heat or pain. Do the same for the girth on either side. If you can catch a problem when it's still in the "ouch" stage, you may be able to do something before it becomes an open or deep sore causing a long layup while healing. Don't forget to check areas where a breast plate, crupper or your bridle sit on the horse - these can rub, too.

Thanks to Stable Environments Inc. ( and Maureen Fehrs, DVM, for providing these saddle fit tips. Stable Environments Inc. provides equine facility design and stable management consulting services for horse owners.

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