Is my horse in discomfort? Is his saddle fitting properly? Part 1

These are questions, we as saddle fitters are often asked. My name is Sarah Parry. I have been working with saddlery, trained with SMS, fitting saddles for 10 years or more and am employed by Saddles Direct to do so. In these difficult times many off us have been able to take advantage of a little more horse time, maybe you are still riding.

Usually when people contact us with fitting issues they know already and have an inkling that something isn’t quite right, and that is OK, we all want our horses to be happy, comfortable and confident in their work. No one would ride their horse knowing they were hurting be it saddle or lameness or for any other reason. Asking is always OK and costs nothing, we are here to help in our office for all things saddles, giving advice over the phone and email.

So how can you tell if your horse isn’t happy? Some horses, the troopers, carry on regardless, we have seen them. The ones that, ‘Oh he always goes like that’ or, ‘this saddle fit’s everything!’ or ‘He never complains’ But they do, and in this little write up I will explain signs of discomfort that could be saddle related. Before saddle is even on, and this is important to do every now and then, stand the horse up, nice and square, head straight and no haynet, if you need a helper that’s fine. Standing on the near side hold the withers with left hand, stroke her a bit first make a fuss, a scratch. Then with your right hand make a fist and run your knuckles along the spine, a couple of inches out from spine where the panel sits. From withers to T18 area. (T18 is the last vertebrae that has movement, after this the section is fused, hence why using a saddle that goes past this point will cause trouble as they cannot move out of the discomfort, they can’t wiggle into a comfy spot and it puts pressure on internal organs. To find the T18 feel for the last rib and follow it up. That is your fit barrier, no saddles past here.)

Press quite firmly along the back, watch firstly for movement in the head, do they flinch, try to move away, shake the tail, paw the ground, stick their nose up and out? watch the back, do any areas spasm? not little twitches but contractions in the muscles, they might even hollow out. These are signs that there is some discomfort in the back. The saddle could have uneven pressure points, they might be hollowing to avoid pain and pressure. Horses do wiggle into a comfy spot and if saddle is fitted correctly it will be balanced and secure, if not the muscle build up will be uneven and soreness will occur. It could also be due to a way of going which has led the horse to tense on one side, lameness for example, in either case a physio can help. Do both sides and make a note of the reactions.

Then we check the shoulders. Feel up and along the shoulder blade and round the scapular, press deep into that rounded area near the top. When the horse is moving, this is the part that moves around 3 fingers back, hence why our saddle tree points should be 3 fingers back from there. Look for similar reactions. Pain here could mean the saddle is coming forward and blocking that motion. It could be too narrow; it could be too wide and dropping down with no pommel clearance. They might have a stuttery stride, they might struggle with canter leads, all ridden indicators. Is your horse able to use their core muscles? When standing scratch their tummy, feel for the ridge along the middle and gently push with middle finger knuckle along. Watch for the back coming up, also watch for kicks with hind legs, not all are a fan of this test!

Next to the rear, stand to the side, same again give them a scratch and push a knuckle into the line running from her bum to top of the thigh area. Do they tense in their flank and behind the ribs? Do both sides. This shows they use their core, like us doing sit ups, this ability means they can round nicely into their saddle and are quite athletic. Know your horse and recognise their responses, I never question when an owner says, ‘no, he really isn’t happy’ No one knows their horse better than their owner or rider. Unless the horse is new to you, so what then? We don’t know the horse, unsure about trusting them even. Then we need to sharpen up on recognising behaviours and their way of communicating with us, because they do talk to us.

After checking for soreness, we can tack up, pad first then saddle, girth on offside first, 1 or 2 holes a time each side so the saddle doesn’t cross the spine. How are they when mounting? does he stand up nicely? It’s one of the most important things to get your horse to do. Farrier, vet, physio, dentist, saddle fitter! when showing even! In this time of social distancing chaos, teach your horse to stand nicely. I will be doing some videos to help, thanks to the marvel of technology but apologise in advance for my fumbling’s. So, do they shoot off when you get on? Do they snap at the bit and reins, has someone been treating them to stand still? have they? maybe not you but previous owners, it’s not good to treat them. Maybe they sink as you get on? Can you use a mounting block? Try not to get on from ground if possible, it does no good for the horse, saddle or your pants. I am victim to pants splitting. Not good for onlookers either! Do they start pawing the ground, will they let you adjust the girth without fuss? Do they do a runny poo? Does their tail swish, sour their face and poke nose out? If there are reactions like these, it could be due to discomfort with the saddle. These behaviours could also be a reaction of wanting to go and excitement. But for this write up we are looking to see if you think the saddle is uncomfortable, then these behaviours could confirm it.

With horses, pain, especially when at a younger age is not easily forgotten. Sending young horses away for education for example, they might use a breaking saddle that is used across the yard of youngsters. If you have one ready to be started it might be worth considering having them looked at and fitted before being sent otherwise, and not in all cases they can sour to a saddle that isn’t right for them and remember the pain. Pain memory can plague us in all aspects of horse care and why it is so important to plan and prepare for your horse to be in comfort so he will be happy in his training and one less thing to analyse when it comes to things not being right. So, when they walk off, how is their breathing? are there big sighs, do they seem to be rushing their breaths at only the walk? this could indicate anxiety, ears flicking, tail swishing all indicators that ‘I need to do this quick as possible and get the saddle off’. How is their stride? is it short and stuttery? This is the time to let them stretch if you can. Buckle end reins, legs snug, it doesn’t really matter where they go if they move forward and have a really good stretch. Riding from the field or from the stable is like us lifting weights while moving. It is essential to get your horse to stretch into their panel, fill the lateral muscles along the back with blood, nice and elastic so they can build topline and round into the saddle. Just simply keep them moving and let their nose stretch to the ground, snuffle for truffles, kicking their chin sometimes but that is the reach which is nice to see. During this time, they will relax, you can mentally prepare what you want to do, and they will come to bring their head up by themselves.

So, we can warm up now, how are they tracking up when warm? Get someone to watch from behind in a straight line, does one bum side dip more than the other, do they reach more with one hind leg than the other? This is another indicator something isn’t right. A physio will be able to help with that, but it could be that the saddle swings too much at the back, it could be too wide hence the front pointing downwards and not making contact across all the back. It also indicates the tree is the wrong shape, movement in the back can mean the tree is too curvy, and they need a flatter tree. A saddle too wide can do this, shoulder pain will also confirm as previously mentioned. Does the saddle kick out on one side? this could be stride related, one hind leg working harder than the other will push the saddle over in a kick out motion.

How does the saddle look in the trot? Do they poke their nose up? Again, ears flicking, tail swishing signs of anxiety and pain. Do they have their tongue out, grinding teeth, eyes rolling, face generally looking knarly…? all signs of discomfort. How are they going, do they have stuttery forelegs? remember they should be nice and warmed up now, straight paces. Maybe they throw in an extra foot fall, like a skip, trying to avoid that sore pressure on corners. Canter, again, do they hollow out, are the back legs disunited? Do they have a little buck to organise their legs into that strike off? We see it a lot, getting those legs in order, on a corner is a hard job when they are sore, carrying a rider when not comfy with and lack of confidence in their saddle.

When finished, let them cool down, again buckle end, allow for the stretches and deep sighs. Snorts of relief maybe?

To be continued ….

NOT FOUND WHAT YOU ARE LOOKING FOR?

Give us a call on 01282 471911

DID YOU KNOW YOU CAN TRIAL
UP TO 2 X SADDLES?
Please note

Please note that the selected times are provisional and a member of our team will be in touch to confirm your saddle fitting times.

Opening Times
Monday – Saturday
10am – 5pm
Sunday CLOSED
Commission
Highest Financial Return!

You receive payment once your saddle has been sold.

The Process
  • Online clients box up your saddle and book a collection (£30.00)
  • Local clients simply drop into the shop
  • We inspect, photograph and market your saddle taking all the hassle out of it for you
  • Once sold our account team will be in touch to finalise payment
Outright Purchase
Quick and hassle free!

We buy direct, no need to wait for us to sell your saddle.

Next Steps
  • Online clients box up your saddle and book a collection (£25.00)
  • Local clients simply drop into the shop
  • Once sold our account team will be in touch to finalise payment
Part Exchange
Great option...

If you can’t buy a saddle before selling your current one

Next Steps
  • Pay for saddle pickup
  • Funds are added to your account
  • Choose saddles from our website to try
  • Purchase Saddle through our checkout
Classified Adverts
Manage the sale yourself!

With the benefit of our huge audience

What Happens Next
  • Send photos of your saddle to us for a valuation
  • Pay for the advert and we upload your saddle to be viewed by up to 40,000 PCM
  • You manage all the calls and enquiries and get the payment direct from the buyer
Buy It Now
Purchase the perfect product for your horse
How It Works
  • Pick your items
  • Checkout
  • Dispatch
  • Delivery within 3 working days
  • 7 days to return

PLEASE NOTE: New saddles can take between 6-8 weeks for delivery

Used Saddle Trials
Make sure the saddle is perfect for you!
Price Breakdown
  • £15 Trial Fee for up to Two Saddles
  • £45 Shipping Costs Including Delivery and Return Collection
Used Saddle Trials
Make sure the saddle is perfect for you!

Did you know you can trial two saddles
for the price of one?
The Process
  • Pick two saddles you want to trial
  • Checkout
  • We'll call you
  • Dispatch
  • Start Your Trial
  • Return Your Saddle
Download our Free Saddle Fitting Guide

Please enter your email address below to download our complimentary saddle fitting guide.

Classified Adverts
Manage the sale yourself!

With the benefit of our huge audience

The Process
  • Send photos of your saddle to us for a valuation
  • Pay for the advert and we upload your saddle to be viewed by up to 40,000 PCM
  • You manage all the calls and enquiries and get the payment direct from the buyer
Part Exchange
Great option...

If you can’t buy a saddle before selling your current one

The Process
  • Send photos of your saddle to us for a valuation
  • Choose saddles from our website to try
  • Keep the one you like, pop your part exchange saddle in the box and pay the difference
Outright Purchase
Quick and hassle free!

We buy direct, no need to wait for us to sell your saddle.

The Process
  • Send photos of your saddle to us for a valuation
  • Online clients box up your saddle and book a collection (£30.00)
  • Local clients simply drop into the shop
  • Once assessed by our saddler our accounts team will be in touch to finalise payment
Commission
Highest Financial Return!

You receive payment once your saddle has been sold.

The Process
  • Send photos of your saddle to us for a valuation
  • Online clients box up your saddle and book a collection (£30.00)
  • Local clients simply drop into the shop
  • We inspect, photograph and market your saddle taking all the hassle out of it for you
  • Once sold our account team will be in touch to finalise payment