How does "Saddle Fit" Work? - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 8 Old 08-11-2020, 07:47 PM Thread Starter
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How does "Saddle Fit" Work?

We test saddle fit when the horse is standing still with it's head neutral. But doesn't the horse's back change while the horse is in motion or having different head/neck heights? How do you factor in a live, moving body under a static, ridged tree? I have heard about people saying that their saddle fits well when the horse is still but then it pokes once the horse is in motion (lifting its back, trotting, going up/down a hill, etc). Obviously, the horse has the last say and chooses the saddle but some are very stoic. We do the best that we can, but I am paranoid....
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post #2 of 8 Old 08-11-2020, 07:49 PM
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When my saddle fitter came out, she evaluated the saddles she had brought on his back when he was just standing there. The two best fits, she had me saddle up and ride. Turned out neither of them fit him, once he got going. So she did evaluate at both a standstill and in motion.
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post #3 of 8 Old 08-11-2020, 09:37 PM
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If it doesn't fit still; it won't fit in motion. Find best fit and then you need to sit in it to see if it will work for you both. If there are issues with you sitting and not in motion then it won't fit in motion either. If it passes then ride in it and see what happens.
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post #4 of 8 Old 08-11-2020, 10:17 PM
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The horse's back under the saddle does NOT move significantly - not in terms of changing shape. The shoulders create some motion of muscle tissue coming back to the front of the saddle, which is why the front either needs a flare OR needs to be a couple of inches back. To the rear, the horse's back doesn't flex. It lifts, pivoting around the withers at a canter. But that lifting, pivoting motion doesn't change the SHAPE of the horse's back under the saddle. The inflexibility of the horse's back in the area under the saddle is part of why we can ride them easily.

While simplistic, this is a good way to think of how the horse's back works:

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post #5 of 8 Old 08-12-2020, 05:16 PM
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Most saddle fitting has to be educated guesswork.

There are 'fixed guidelines', that is generally acknowledged recommendations which should be followed regarding tree and panel width and shape, but even these can be subjective depending on the individual fitter's views.
An eminent vet (ex British team) once said at a lecture I attended, years ago, 'the best one can hope for (when fitting a saddle) is to minimise interference to the horse.' Meaning you can't improve its performance or way of going, only maximise its potential to achieve them.

As an add-on to BSMS's great post on back movement, the makers of WOW saddles designed a tree specifically to deal with the difference between a lot of shoulder movement and little across the loins. This flexes behind the (rigid) head, allowing the front of the saddle to move with the horse while the seat stays still. Combined with air flocking, this system is probably the closest match to a human backside/animal's back interface we'll see in my lifetime.

Dynamic balance is almost impossible to judge, even when the saddle is ridden on, simply because each horse is an individual and can feel different each day, same as us. So a saddle which appeared spot-on when fitted may, a couple of days later, not fit as well. There are pressure test systems ('Pliance' is the most commonly used) which can give an idea of how evenly the saddle panel is distributing weight but these, like any scientifically based test, need many repetitions to achieve a mean reading, which means they're not very practical for most saddle fitters' purposes.

So in most cases, despite following the guidelines, we have to fall back on experience (and sometimes a gut feeling) when considering if a saddle fits well. All saddles, even specialist competition saddles, are based on an average horse type for whatever breed or discipline. They have to be, from a manufacturer's viewpoint, because long gone are the days when the local saddler made each one individually to fit a particular horse. There'll always be horses where you think the saddle's a good fit but it's not, or the flock adjustment you did last week was too little, or too much, or the saddle which fitted fine a fortnight ago is now awful because the horse was so comfy in it he grew half a tree-width almost overnight. That's a saddle fitter's lot, and I'm sure such return-visit hassle (and unrecoverable cost) is what puts a lot of fitters off.

Fitting is usually more common sense than rocket science. And there's the rub - 'usually'. Sometimes you need second sight because I'm sure horses, being what they are, conspire against us!! :(
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post #6 of 8 Old 08-13-2020, 01:56 PM
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unclearthur What do you think of the Balance system, where the saddle is deliberately fit wide and pads are used to account for muscle movement? Do you think it's a good saddle?
Thanks, I always appreciate your input.
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post #7 of 8 Old 08-13-2020, 05:24 PM
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Originally Posted by equigrl View Post
unclearthur What do you think of the Balance system, where the saddle is deliberately fit wide and pads are used to account for muscle movement? Do you think it's a good saddle?
Thanks, I always appreciate your input.
I've not come across an actual Balance saddle, so I can only give an opinion based on personal views.

Using an over-wide saddle is simply a particular school of thought. One of the worst fitting saddles I've ever come across was a dressage saddle (a Sue Carson, from memory) 'fitted' in a similar way. It was a tree-width wider than the horse needed, the gap being taken up with a Prolite adjustable (3-section) pad and kept in place with a Prolite girth (which is a synthetic version of the Fairfax leather dressage girth - both companies belong to the same group). My overriding thought at the time was the customer had paid for an expensive saddle, plus been forced to buy a costly pad (and girth) but ended up with a combination which did horse and young rider no favours at all.

One problem with over-wide saddles and pads is there's a lot of potential for owner-error in positioning which can affect the balance and potentially allow more saddle movement. It's sometimes necessary to over-flock a saddle for a specific reason (a loss of condition judged to be temporary is pretty common, when it would hardly be economic to change the saddle) but the result is never as good as replacing it with one closer to the horse's actual shape.

I'm sure saddles fitted too wide must suffer movement to some degree. Horses occasionally don't like this - the higher degree of rider movement makes them feel insecure - though it's probably a fairly rare animal who suffers this. It's just that I had one! And I wouldn't have thought an over-wide saddle a particularly good choice for a horse which changes shape a lot unless the owner is experienced in dealing with this in terms of adding or removing pads to keep the saddle stable. When horses wore wool blankets under saddles which could be folded to help deal with shape-changes, it might have worked, but few owners can be bothered to learn the art, nowadays. And, let's face it, if you've a busy lifestyle, who needs the extra time-consuming hassle? Easier to just throw on the usual saddlepad.

So I'm not convinced fitting a saddle wider than the horse needs gives any greater benefit than fitting one correctly. All it does is protect the saddle 'fitter' from later claims that their work made the horse sore - what layman would expect a too-wide saddle to do that?
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post #8 of 8 Old 08-14-2020, 01:41 AM
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unclearthur Thanks for your thoughts. I didn't think it was a great idea, either.
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