Calm, Forward, Straight

Calm, Forward, Straight

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

In the Arena # 101 - There's more to it than meets the eye...

I've made peace with the fact that my saddle isn't a good fit. The best course of action is to find another. Upping our work schedule substantially in December, (and sitting to the trot) made Val uncomfortable enough to let me know. Budget constraints limit me to a used saddle. I'm prepared to search until I find a very good fit. Hopefully I can sell my current saddle. If I break even, I'll be satisfied. In the meantime I will ride bareback. We had a lovely ride today. Forward, good steering, and most importantly, when I asked for the trot, he transitioned without any hesitation.

I'm officially in the throes of saddle fitting / saddle shopping. I have to admit I was overwhelmed at first, with assessing the fit, and then forming a plan of action for shopping from the hinterlands. I'm located at least five hours from the nearest decent saddle fitter. This, and ignorance about proper saddle fit kept me riding in a poorly fitting saddle for too long.

Last week, I contacted a fitter who was recommended by a fellow blogger. Oddly enough, a few years ago he came all the way out here to fit the trail riding business that is two minutes down the road from me. That was then, this is now. He said to email some pictures, which I did. Hoping to get some input from him soon.

The most relevant info pertaining to Val and I... my saddle rocks toward the withers, and is likely too narrow. A too narrow saddle will show more wither clearance. There is no helping a too narrow saddle. Pads will only make the fit tighter, and worse. Better to have a slightly wide fit, which can be improved with padding. I have ridden for two years in a sheepskin half pad with my likely too narrow saddle. Sorry Val - you tried to tell me. :)

I will bite this saddle when she takes it off...


Highlights from the online research:
  • Measure from the button, diagonally to the center of the cantle, for the seat size 

  • N, M, M/W, and W are fairly arbitrary size measurements, differing for each manufacturer. There are apparently centimeter measurements that correspond to N, M, M/W and W - but I haven't confirmed where you make that measurement. I've seen it referred to as "dot to dot"...
  • The fist method. A clenched fist (4") set into the the saddle under the pommel. 1/2" - 3/4" space on either side = M, 0" - 1/2" = N, >1" = W. Also seems arbitrary - all fists not being equal.

  • The angle method. 90° = M, 86° = N, 96° = W. Good if you see the saddle in person and carry a protractor around.
  • The stated size of any saddle may not be accurate when the saddle is used, due to wear and / or work done on the saddle.
  • Hoop trees vs standard trees? Picture an upside down U shape instead of a V shape. Val has plenty of whither, but is also wide, somewhat flat backed (side to side) with big shoulders. I'm thinking a hoop tree might be good for us, regarding how the saddle impacts (or not) his shoulders.
Checking your saddle fit...
  • Is it placed correctly on the horses back? One hands-width between front leg and girth, two fingers behind the shoulder blade. Seat should be parallel to the ground.

  • When girth is tightened there should be plenty (but not too much) clearance between withers and pommel. Slightly less with rider in saddle. 

  • Gullet should span the "spinous process" - three fingers wide from front to back of gullet. Many saddles' gullets narrow towards the back.

  • Bridging is uneven pressure along the spine - under the pommel and cantle but not even from pommel to cantle. Rocking is tipping motion when pressure is applied to pommel or cantle. The saddle should remain stable when pressure is applied.

Two very helpful resources - Sustainable Dressage and Lorien Stable


  1. This makes me want to go and check my saddle fit. Hey if you are in Canada check out greenhawk they sent a flier out today to has a Mondega Legato Pro Dressage saddle on sale for $789 (down from $1895) and a Mondega Dante Dressage saddle for $899 (from 1395) i know its still high but they are having some awesome sales.. And if you are looking for synthetic Thoroughwood has dressage saddles with interchangable gullets for decent.

  2. You are so amazingly accomplished at doing things yourself that you'll do a good job of finding a saddle that fits. I wonder if Val has been building his top line and the saddle might have fit a bit better originally? You guys have been doing such great work that it is sure to change his shape and balance.
    Great information. Good luck with your search.

  3. what is your saddle? It looks comfy.

  4. A thought on the hand-width between front leg and the girth... this distance really depends on your saddle and your horse. Each horse has a "sweet spot" on their belly where they are the narrowest. This is where you want the girth to lie (on my horse Saga it's like 10 inches behind his elbow; on my friend's horse Taran it's like 2 inches back). Problems occur when the way the girth hangs off the saddle doesn't line up with that sweet spot. I can see from the first picture in your post that your girth is pulling your saddle forward. If you were to loosen your girth and just let it hang, I think you'd see that it wants to hang about 3 or 4 inches back from where Val's sweet spot wants it to be.

    I hope that makes sense... if not let me know and I will try to explain better. This of course assumes that the saddle fits your horse's back, haha!

  5. I do not envy you in saddle fitting/shopping. I just had mine evaluated and it fits "for now". But then again I'm trying to fit a saddle to picnic table with withers.

  6. Dancing Horses-
    I'm on the SE coast, not in Canada. I could never get through real winters like they have up there. Thanks for the info. :0

  7. Carol-
    It's more a case of necessity being the mother of invention...

    I do think Val has changed, and we are finally starting to develop his topline, incrementally. I also think that I rushed into buying my saddle, and should have consulted a fitter at the time. Live and learn. I don't think I've done too much damage with the faulty fit as Val is a bit of a "princess and the pea" guy regarding his comfort :) How is Rogo?

  8. horsemom-
    It's a Beval Natura. Comfy for me, sadly not for Val though. It's good leather and well made. 17.5 M - are you in the market?! ;)

  9. jenj-

    The not fitting the back part is definitely the problem. The saddle rocks forward instead of staying put. Thanks for the suggestion. :)

  10. Jeni-
    This has been a real learning experience.

    Lol picnic tables with withers. I used to trail guide off a Percheron named Tonka - he felt like a sofa. Loved that horse. :)

  11. CFS, this is what I get for posting before caffeine - my comment made great sense in my head but I apparently didn't write it out very well.

    IF your saddle fits in the back, you ALSO want to make sure that the girth falls in the right place. It looks like you're dealing with both problems - saddle does not fit in the back AND the girth isn't where Val wants it to be, so it's exacerbating the too-narrow forward-rocking issues by pulling the saddle even more forward.

    I've had exactly the same problem that you've got, although my horse is shaped very differently. We ended up with a Reactor Panel saddle. Kinda funny-looking, but it was the only saddle both fit Saga and allowed the girth to lie in the right spot.

  12. Transformers!

    Now that I've got that out of the way I can read your post ;)

  13. jenj-
    I've had coffee but breakfast!

    I understood what you meant - hope my response didn't sound snippy. I'm watching an ebay auction on my potential next saddle and the nerves are all jangly. ;)

  14. Go get some breakfast while you watch your ebay auction. Fingers crossed for you!

  15. I know my saddle doesn't fit ole Gabe as well as it should...the bars dig into the sides of his withers and sometimes, we have dry spots. But unfortunately, I'm not at a point where I can buy a new saddle right now. :( Maybe if I get a decent tax return I can start looking, but we have to make due with what we have...for now.

    Good luck on your hunt!

  16. It's too bad that you are so far from a saddle fitter. As you so clearly explained, the process is complicated. I know a few basic things -- like clearance on the withers and spine, no pinching, saddle resting behind the shoulder, level... and that's where it stops. I'm sure, like Carol, that Val's topline has changed. I had to get Jackson a new saddle when he started changing shape so it doesn't surprise me that Val needs a new one. He has been doing awesome work and it shows.

  17. I dont envy you finding the correct saddle fit. Took me a long time before i purchased a Black Country custom one. By the way check them out online, believe it or not it was cheaper than some of my off the rack saddles. Good luck!

  18. I'm with Dancing Horses--this makes me want to re-check my saddle fit! I am at work now and can't devote my undivided attention to this awesomely informative post. So I will have to read it again later tonight. Can you do the same for a western saddle, please? Just kiddin" Thanks for being so teacherly!

  19. You never really know how good the saddle is until you use it for awhile. It's good that you found out that you're saddle doesn't. I think I'm gonna go see if my saddle fits Howard now. Lol.

  20. I always feel a bit intimidated when it comes to saddles. I think I have been lucky. Your post has been very educational. Loved your comment to Dancing Horses....btw, it was a balmy -8C today. ;-)

  21. Schleese has a good series on saddle fit on youtube. Here's the first of 9 -

  22. Jenn-
    I really can't afford to change saddles now either... hoping I can sell mine to offset the cost. Val was not comfortable and he let me know.

  23. Annette-
    I wish I had educated myself before I purchased my saddle - my trainer didn't really "believe" in saddle fitting. She also used County and Neidersuss saddles which are well made and they fit her horses so she didn't need fitting help. Live an learn I guess. :)

  24. baystatebrumby-
    Check out the link that Terry left in the comments. Great info much better than I presented it. :)

  25. Wolfie-
    I saddle shopped in a hurry because I was about to have a horse, but no saddle yet. Val isn't an easy fit either - his shoulders need a wider saddle than I got him. It was 70 here today - I'm spoiled. ;)

  26. Terry-
    Those saddle fitting videos are awesome! I'm going to put a link here on the blog. I had found most of that info scattered around... so nice to have it all in one spot, broken down into manageable pieces.

    Thanks you so much for passing along that link!!

  27. If you haven't already, contact the folks at Trumbull Mtn Tack Shop (google) -- they are great with working with you over email, even if you don't buy a saddle from them.


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