The better the saddle conforms to the back of the horse, the better. Look at the front from the front. Does the angle where the tree is match the angle of the horse's body? Is the gullet width right - too thin, and the saddle will tilt up in the front, too wide, and the saddle will settle in the front. Does the saddle stay off the spine and clear the withers? Does the curve of the tree, both along the horse's back and perpendicular to it, match the horse? Does the saddle extend too far back?
Is the Channel width wide enough? Or not narrow enough? The way the panels are shaped, are they gusseted or are they not? Are the panels angled properly? The Flaps, are they too forward? Are they too strait? Where's the tree point? Does the saddle rest on the ribs, or is it resting on the spine? Is your horse A Symetrical? If so, how are you going to accomodate that? Does the saddle fit you correctly? Etc, etc, etc, etc...
Yes, I agree that there should be more educated people on these matters when looking at saddles, instead of just thinking that because it is a "wide" and their horse is a "Wide" then all is good. I do wish that people were more educated on the panels and the channel width and the tree point position and the curve of the tree and the length of the saddle and etc, etc, etc, etc, etc - but sadly, the ratio of that education is low in compareson to those who do know these factors.
There is far more to proper saddle fit, than the "Average Joe" understands. There are those like us, who know "enough" but it still isn't what someone who does this as a career does.
And I'm not saying pick "Any" Saddler...make sure you choose one with a good rep and who is highly spoken on. Because there are poor one's as well.
I had a good friend assess my current saddle on Nelson's back, she didn't like the fit, she told me to find another saddle. I hired a Professional who came out, and assessed it and showed me closely as to why it is a good fit - Nelson is "A Symetrical", I cannot go with a saddle that accomodates his withers, because it no longer accomodates his broad back. So I have to go with the Medium/Wide *Even though he is a Narrow/Medium* and I have to use special wedge pads to fill in the pockets. With the Professional there placing the wedge pads in place to ensure that the saddle remains balanced.
If I had to of listened to my friend, I'd of invested in a saddle that would of accomodated his withers, without knowing that it would no longer accomodate his broad back. So I would of ended up causing more problems down the road.
I would never of known this fact, if I did not hire a Professional. There is a lot that I have learnt, by having Professional's help me.
I think hiring a Professional, $75 - $100 is pretty cheap in compareson to all the money you'd be spending on specialty pads to make the saddle fit, chiropractors to fix back pain and more $ put out on saddles that may fit, and end up having to turn around and sell them because you discovered they didn't once you recieved them.
A good Saddler will come out with a truck full of saddles, plus their equipment to help you decide what works best for the both of you *horse and rider*.
I have seen far too many horses with back issues, because the owner assumed the saddle was a good fit, without realizing there was something wrong, somewhere.
Second, the horse - listen. When you get on or off, does the horse tense up? When you sit the trot, is the horse relaxed or bothered? Some horses are more pain tolerant than others, but if you have a happy horse, even sweat marks, no dry spots and the curves of the saddle match the curve of your horses back, then for most riders, that is good enough.
I wish many riders did this, I know many who chalk it up to behavioural issues, thinking the horse needs to be disciplined.
I do think that many of us need to learn how to read the sweat marks on the saddle pad. The sweat marks on the saddle pad will tell all, but even I have a hard time deciphering sweat marks on a saddle pad, and I still would rather have a Professional assess it instead of saying "I'm pretty sure". But that's me.
I still agree with JDI -
Unless you're trained in saddle fitting, you have an educated guess at best. I highly suggest you have a fitter out to make sure its fitting well... Better safe than sorry!!
I have seen too many times, people buying a saddle because it fits them, and it is a "medium" because their horse is a "medium" - bring it home and find out it doesn't fit, or use it without understanding the importancies of ensuring proper fit.
I see people buying saddles unseen, off of ebay
and online without knowing for sure that the saddle is the right fit. Having to sell it and buy another one, and another one and another one - when they could of cut out all that inbetween nonsense, and had a Professional come out, help them and guide them in the direction of the correct saddle.