I bought my Australian saddle (very similar to English) fitted for my mare. My gelding has the same angle to his withers (measured in degrees), but his shoulders are narrower. Therefor the front falls down, leaving at best a finger of clearance. It is made worse because his withers extend further into his back, so the saddle definitely rubs.
It is hard to describe, but look at this picture of a western saddle:
When people talk saddle width, they are normally talking ANGLE, as in the picture. However, gullets can also vary in how many inches there are between the bars (the horizontal part of the blue line). I know English saddles look different, but the principle is the same. A gullet that is 7.25 inches between the bars will ride lower on a horse whose shoulders only provide 6.75" of separation in that area.
When I tried a Wintec pad, it raised the whole saddle up too far into the air. So I cut it in half, and used just the front. That worked fairly well. It essentially added a half inch plus to the gelding's shoulder where the gullet lays. With some practice, I ended up using this:
I place it on the hollow at his shoulder, and put the load bearing part of the saddle right on top. It changes the angle of the saddle (front to rear, not sideways) enough to clear the rear of his withers, and makes his shoulders wider so the saddle fits him well. It made a very obvious difference in how he moves and his willingness to extend.
Here is what you can try without spending any money:
Take a bath towel and fold it in half. Then fold it again, but not equally. You will end up with a folded towel that is 4 layers thick for about 9-10 inches, then 2 layers thick, then ends. Use it with your saddle and see if it gives you enough clearance. Ride, and see how your horse moves. Wither relief pads come in different thicknesses, so you could even try adding a hand towel in the 4 layer section to make it a bit thicker.
If it doesn't help, then a wither pad probably won't. If it does, then you can sew the edges of the towel, or spring $8 for a wither pad.
It is important that the angle of the saddle match the angle of your horse's shoulder, as seen from the front. My English saddles have interchangeable gullets, but all the gullets change is the angle. They are all the same width, in terms of the horizontal distance between the sides.
If the angle is wrong, it can lower the front of the saddle and nothing will make it right except a different saddle (or gullet, if yours can be changed). If your horse's shoulders are narrower than the horse the saddle was meant for, then adding bulk to the shoulder area seems to work well.
For me, the full length wither pads place me too far from the horse's back, and I don't like them.
Is that 1 finger of clearance when you are just fitting it, or when you mount?? If it is before you mount then the saddle really needs to go back, because when you mount that is going to be touching.
If it is when you have mounted then you may get away with it with padding, but it is far from ideal. If your horse is currently either underweight or under muscled, then they MAY fill out to fit the saddle, if not it would be a far cheaper alternative to take it back than to have to deal with a horse whose back has been hurt by a poorly fitting saddle, or worse trying to put you back together again because your horse either freaked out or fell due to the pain and you end up hurt.
...If it is when you have mounted then you may get away with it with padding, but it is far from ideal...
Why? My gelding seems very happy being ridden with a pad.
If the ANGLE is wrong, you cannot use the saddle without eventually having pressure points, although in reality many folks don't ride enough for it to become an issue. But when the angle is wrong, you aren't using the entire frame of the saddle to distribute weight.
But if the horse just isn't wide enough (horizontal distance) to match the saddle, then a pad merely makes the horse 'wider'. It allows the tree to make even contact and be fully used. It also has the advantage of lifting the frame away from the horse a little, kind of like having some extra flare to the front of the saddle.
Why?? Because English saddles are designed to be used without padding, to actually fit, just using a cloth to keep the saddle clean.
If someone is buying a new saddle, and it fits as Ray describes the I would strongly advise taking it back, no point investing money in a saddle that doesn't fit.
I have to say as well,if you google Vala saddle reviews,it seems that they aren't that great quality.
All I can say is if it were me I would take it back and try something else, in all saddles, both western and english there is a reason cheap new saddles are cheap, and fitting issues are often reported.
Why?? Because English saddles are designed to be used without padding, to actually fit, just using a cloth to keep the saddle clean...
Not really. English saddles and western saddles both have trees. With an English saddle, the padding is a semi-permanent and internal part of the saddle. With western, it is mostly external and interchangeable. The horse doesn't know if the padding is internal to the saddle or external, provided the tree matches the angle of the back.
An 1100 lb stock horse that is 15 hands will probably be wider than my 14.3, 825 lb "Appy/Arab but mostly Arab" gelding. Meanwhile, saddle manufacturers make saddles for the most common horses used - which apparently means 1100 lb stock horses are more common than 825 lb Appy/Arabs. My mare is similar - a 15.3 Arabian who weighs in at <900 lbs.
In typical Arab fashion, the ANGLE of their shoulders is wide, but the distance between their shoulders is small. And while you can buy interchangeable gullets that will vary the angle, the width in distance remains constant - and too wide for my slender horses.
If I use a wide gullet in my Bates, or buy a western saddle that is 'wide', then the angle matches my horses, but the tree has the sides too far apart and it will thus settle down in the front. A narrower (angle) gullet will raise the front of the saddle, but cause uneven pressure and dig into their shoulders.
I've gone thru 7 saddles trying to find one that fit my horses, and haven't come close. The Bates with a wide gullet comes closest, but both horses move better and with less irritation if I add the western wither pad to my English saddle - which is also true of the Australian saddle. With my western Circle Y Arabian, I still get better performance from my horses with a folded towel than without.
I'm tossing it out for consideration. If someone gets a good fit without doing it, great! Wish that would happen with my horses, too! But if you have a hard to fit horse, or if you have several horses that share use of a single saddle, then it is something to consider. And I've seen very few discussions of saddle fitting that discuss both angle and distance when talking about width...
Trying to use pads to make a saddle fit is like trying to use extra socks to make your boots fit, may work, but you'll probably end up with blisters.
Again the English saddle is designed to conform as near as possible to the contours of your horses back, any time you pad to make it fit you are lessening the close contact an English saddle should give you.
Now having said all that I currently ride Bert with a half pad, because not one of my English saddles fit her properly, so I'm making the best of what I have available for now. She will gain weight and muscle over the next few months, so I'm not about to buy her a saddle of her own until she gets close to her final shape.
In the OP's case he has a chance to change out that saddle and get something better. Unless you have a saddler come out with a van load of saddles you are lucky to find one that fits first go.
IMHO a saddle that is one finger off of the withers with no one sat on it needs to be changed.
Yeah, I was worried about that. I am not allowed to ride in it if I want to return it.
It has one finger clearence when the saddle is just sitting there :( I think I will have to return it...
Usually you can at least climb into it and walk around a bit. Don't wear chaps or tall boot or anything that would scuff the flap, just soft leggings, no rivets. Get up in the saddle and then see if you can get a finger in.
If you use a wither rise pad, it must be padded under the tree, but not padded where it goes over the wither bone, or you will simplyn have the exact same cleareance. You must raise it off the shoulder, and opena gap above the wither bone.