Professor Sue Dyson, Head of Clinical Orthopaedics at the Animal Health Trust Centre for Equine Studies (UK) has written the following checklist to help riders ensure that they secure a correctly fitting saddle for their horses.
Common Problems Seen In Saddle Fitting:
- Saddles are often fitted to the horse, but not to both the horse and rider.
- If saddles are not fitted to the rider this can make the rider unbalanced and therefore place abnormal forces on the horse’s back.
- Lameness and poor performance can be the result of an ill-fitting saddle, because the saddle may restrict the movement of the horse.
- Saddles are often not checked frequently enough to ensure correct fit. This is particularly true in horses that are changing in shape (e.g., young horses when they first come in to training, horses returning to work after a prolonged break, or horses that undergo seasonal weight changes).
- Cost of tack can discourage owners from buying the ‘correct fit’, and instead they will purchase the ‘best fit’ from what is available.
Ensuring Optimal Saddle-Fit
- Better training and education of saddlers now gives them access to the latest research and techniques to provide the best products for improved welfare and performance of the horse. Be sure to employ a qualified, [independent] saddler to regularly check your saddle.
- Saddlers are encouraged to consider the fit of tack to both the horse and the rider.
- saddle fit should be assessed with and without the rider both at rest and whilst being ridden.
- Owners are encouraged to have their tack checked whenever there is a change in workload or musculature of the back.
- Basic rider position (correct shoulder-hip-heel alignment) needs to be emphasised to all riders, trainers and saddle fitters from grass-roots level through to professionals, to aid better recognition of poor saddle fit and promote good rider-horse balance.
- Better owner education regarding the importance of correct sadlle fit and scheduling a regular professional saddle fit assessment.
- Cost can be a concern, but money invested in a correctly fitting saddle could save your horse’s back and prevent lost training days due to an ill-fitting saddle (i.e. behavioural issues, back pain, lameness etc)