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Fitting An English Saddle

By Jeffrey Rolo

The importance of selecting an English saddle that is properly fitted to you and your horse cannot be underestimated. An improper fit can cause your otherwise perfect show horse to exhibit poor extension, buck or resist your cues due to the discomfort and confiscation to his movement the saddle causes.

A Saddle Fit For Your Horse

When checking your saddle to ensure a suitable fit to your horse, it is recommended you do so without a saddle pad since the pad can help mask any potential problem areas. Place the saddle on your horse's back and tighten the girth as if you were taking him out for a ride. While you are placing the saddle on his back you should be starting at the withers and moving the saddle down his back until you find the "sweet spot."

Once this is done, make sure your horse is standing evenly on a flat surface and check for the following:

bulletIs the saddle resting flat on your horse's back? The panel (the underside of the saddle) and the seat should be level with the ground. In addition the pommel should never be higher than the cantle, whereas the cantle in most cases will be noticeably higher than the pommel. The cantle height will vary depending on the type of English saddle you are using. In addition the saddle length should not reach back onto the horse's loins.
bulletCheck how the saddle flaps are resting against your horse's shoulder. They should compliment your horse's form and movement rather than act as a binder or hindrance.
bulletSlide your hand along your horse's withers until they are underneath the pommel. You should be able to slide your hands underneath the saddle easily, and there should be equal clearance on both sides.
bulletThe general rule of thumb is there should be 3-4 fingers-width (3-4 fingers stacked on top of each other) of space between the pommel and your horse's withers. If you can fit more than four then your saddle is probably too narrow, whereas if you cannot stack more than 2 fingers the saddle is probably too wide. This rule of thumb can vary a finger or two depending on the specific type of English saddle as well as your horse's conformation.
bulletMove behind your horse and check to ensure there is clearance along the length of the gullet. You should be able to see some light from the other side.

If the saddle passes these tests go ahead and remove the saddle, add a saddle pad, place the saddle back on and take your horse on an extended ride or exercise session. Pay particular attention to your horse's gait and movement, as well as his ear positioning and general happiness. If your horse's behavior indicates there is a problem, chances are the problem rests with the saddle.

Once the ride is finished check the underside of the saddle pad and ensure the sweat patterns are consistent. For example, if the right side is drier than the left side, chances are the saddle is pinching.

A Saddle Fit For You

It is equally important that you find a saddle suitable for your needs as it is finding a perfect match for your horse. A properly fitted saddle will keep you comfortable and provide more grip and security, whereas one that is too small can inhibit your natural movement and one that is too large can cause your seat to shift around too much. When seated on the saddle you should have a few inches of clearance on both the front and rear of the saddle (approximately 3-4 inches each).

Unless you are familiar with your ideal saddle measurement I strongly suggest testing out a variety of saddles at a tack shop until you find one ideal for you. Once you do find a saddle comfortable to sit and maneuver upon, determine its size by measuring the distance between the side-screw of the pommel to the center edge of the cantle.  Read Anatomy Of An English Saddle to learn about the parts of an English Saddle.

Keep in mind that English measurements differ from Western (or other) saddles, so if you need a 14" Western saddle you may need a 16" English saddle.

Too many people have a "one size fits all" mentality when it comes to saddles, but using an inappropriate saddle can subject you or your horse to discomfort or jeopardy.

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