By Dr. Mike Guerini (www.dunmovinranch.com)
A few months back I was asked to help a client find the right western saddle for her horse. This client has ridden with dressage and western saddles for a good portion of her riding career but she decided a few months back to ride most of the time in a western saddle and needed one to call her own.
As we set out on this project, my client shared with me a story about her custom-made dressage saddle. She had her horse fitted for a custom saddle and spent a few thousand dollars on the saddle. In the end, the saddle never seemed to fit her or the horse very well and of course…there was lots of time and money lost. With some trepidation, this lady was now looking at finding a western saddle that fit her and her horse.
There are individuals certified/trained in saddle fitting. One organization is the Certified Saddle Fitters, and there are many other organizations, training courses, and certification programs. Even if you hire a professional, there are some things you need to look for and consider in this saddle fitting process.
1) Every good fitting saddle will leave (after the horse is worked), a uniform sweat pattern wherever the saddle touches the horse. There should be no sweat on the backbone of the horse. If the sweat pattern is uneven, a different saddle or pad needs to be used for that horse.
2) A good fitting saddle will not bounce up and down when the horse is lunged without a rider. There will be some movement (generally in rhythm with the movement of the horse) but if the saddle is bouncing up and down, it is not fit correctly to the horse. Sometimes you can change the rigging of the saddle to keep it from bouncing up and down on the horse.
3) A good fitting saddle sets over the withers and upper shoulders and does not pinch downward and forward. Any pinching at the withers can cause pain for your horse. You should be able to wedge a bit of your hand between the saddle and the horse…if not, you need to look into another saddle.
4) The saddle seat needs to be the right size for the rider. If the saddle pushes you forward or makes you feel pinched or squeezed, it is not the right fit. So many people purchase a smaller seat when they need a seat that is 1/2 to 11/2 inches larger. For Western Saddles we most often fit a Youth in a 12″-13″ seat, Adults range from 14″ to 16″, and extra large adults fit 17″ seats. You measure a western saddle seat from the base of the horn to the cantle. Numerous online calculators are available that take your height and weight into account and help you find the right size seat for you.
5) When you can, borrow saddles and try them on your horse. Find a type of saddle that fits your horse and you. For this client of mine, we tried on 8 different saddles and found one that fit the horse very well…but needed a larger seat for the rider. We took that saddle into the local saddle shop (100’s of saddles to choose from) and the owner of the shop was able to find the same shape and style of saddle that fit the horse…and with the right size seat for fitting the rider.
In summary — follow the above five guides and take your time when seeking a saddle. This is an investment that will impact your safety, comfort and most importantly, the comfort of your horse.
As always I look forward to your comments and additions. Saddle fitting is a very important part of your riding.
Dr. Mike Guerini is a clinician, author of multiple Horsemanship books, co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T and specializes in western performance based instruction and you can learn more about Dr. Mike and his 6 C’s of Horsemanship at www.dunmovinranch.com. Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (www.hydrot.com).