I've been reading a great book, called "The Horse's Pain-Free Back and Saddle-Fit Book" by Joyce Harman, and have since been really looking into the way my saddle fits. From what I gather, it really isn't a bad fit. The cantle sits lower than the pommel, but that seems to be the only problem. Even if it's not, I just had a vet out to do some chiro on Ricci, and she has a spot in her neck and a few stiff vertebrae in her lower back, in a spot that the saddle doesn't ever touch. Therefore further impressing upon me that my saddle fits pretty well. However, I am no expert, and could very well have missed something, so I would like to know what everyone else thinks. SO, without further ado, my saddle pad, after a few rides.
It's telling me that there is extra pressure on the back on the saddle, which coincides with the cantle being lower than the pommel. It also looks like the gullet may be touching her back as well, seeing as there isn't a gap between the panels as you get further back. But that could also be the pad, yes? There is also a gap that is hardly dirty in the middle towards the front, making me think it isn't touching her back, and possibly bridging. Yes?
Well, I don't let the front of my pad touch the horse, I pull it up into the gullet of the saddle so it doesn't apply an pressure while riding. So mine wouldn't have any sweat there either. I can't speak to the rest of the observations.
It's like reading tea leaves. I'd say from on top of the horse, the saddle has slightly more contact with his left side than right. I don't see a clear channel along the middle which suggests that contact is occuring along the spine where there should be clearance. Gullet may be a little too narrow. Other than the front to back difference, the side to side contact looks fairly even.
I see uneven pressure front thru the back of the saddle. The gullet appears to be narrow, the tree flatter than the natural curve of the horse's spine (opposite to a 'banana' fitting tree).
Rider's left leg seems to be more active than the right, the right appearing steadier in contact or perhaps stronger. Could be the horse moving more easily thru the left shoulder or pushing off more from the right hind. Sore back can do that, too.
Oh, this is all so fascinating! I knew there were things I weren't seeing! Haha. So with all of that, would you say it's a decent fit? Especially since her back isn't sore or ache-y, and that I've been riding in this saddle for two and a half years and it has had no affect on her back?
So sorry but no, I am not sure that your saddle, as is, is the best fit. Many reason for this from never fit in the first place to horse has changed shape to rider compensates consistantly ( like myself : ).
This is not to say that you must run right out and invest in a new saddle just yet. It is possible, tho on a strong suggestion, that if you were to find a suitable saddle fitter, they can advise how to reflock your panels, provided the deficit is within normal limits. Second to a reflocking and more likely after having it done, appropriate saddle pad(s)* can help. Talk to your local tack shop, vet, chiro, or a reputable show stable to connect with one if you choose to go this way.
* I caution here on the plural. Too many pads are like too many socks on a bunion in an already tight shoe. NOT good. More padding without being pretty close to ideal to start with can create more problems, not solve them. From where you say your mare's back is sore, I agree with HoneySuga: very possible it is your saddle.
On a side note, be sure to "rotate" several saddle pads if you can, "specially where the fit of your saddle might be sketchy. The pressure points of your saddle can create breakdown of the stuffing in the pad and this in turn adds to a saddle's fit issue. Depending on the thickness and type of stuffing, of course.
I'm sorry if I didn't specify enough, but the lower vertebrae is well beyond where the saddle is, only an inch or so in front of the top of her butt/hip area, and there is approximately 7 inches from the sore vertebrae to the back of the saddle. She has a really long back, but even when my saddle slides back, it's still a few inches away. I just don't see how it can be sore from the cantle pressure...
And in other news, I do know about pads, and I only use the thin yellow cotton pad shown. The only other pad I think might help would be a half-pad, but those are so darn expensive.
And about reflocking, the material inside my panels is foam, so if the saddle is done, it's done, I'd have to spend a ridiculous amount of money to get it to a saddler who could appropriately add or fix the foam, and at that point it would be more cost effective just to get a new saddle.