Saddle fit… This is a subject that looms in the horse industry. Something to be so highly politicized is really very simple. A saddle that fits will make you more correct in riding and allow the horse to perform properly. There are many theories from all aspects of the industry, with gullet width being the focal point of saddle fit. The truth is gullet width is far from a single importance theory. We could talk for days about this subject, but we are only going to touch on a few main points to help you understand saddle fit a little better. The most important factor in saddle fit is bar shape, not gullet width. The function of the bars is to distribute the weight of the saddle and the rider across the horse’s back.
Gullet width is denoted by the double arrow in red on the Western saddle pictured. Gullet width is created by the swell (where the horn rests) and forks (just below the gullet where the saddle contacts the horse).
There are always a few things that will help you distinguish that your saddle may not be fitting properly, the most common being dry spots. In the pictures shown, dry spots can show up as small spots with ruffed up hair or a large dry area. The small ruffled areas are definitely more of a concern than the larger just dry areas. The small spots are normally a more localized pressure point from the saddle tree that will more than likely sore the horse in time. These spots are usually no bigger than your palm and the hair is ruffed up. The bigger dry spots are normally there because of the bar not making correct contact with the horse and might not be as of a concern.
There are several things that can cause dry spots, but always check your pad. A good pad can fix a lot of problems. We would suggest a 3/4 or 1 inch contoured pad with natural fibers to be a good basic pad. By having a contoured pad, this allows room for the withers and shoulders to move properly. The second thing to look at when assessing the fit of your saddle on the horse is to make sure it is level, as seen on the grey mule below.
If you saddle sits too high or too low in the front, the bars might not fit properly as seen on the chestnut horse above. This saddle on the sorrel is too high in the back and does not sit level.
This is just a tip of the iceberg on saddle fit, but using these tips to assess saddle fit will improve your horse’s comfort. If you have more questions on saddle fit or padding concerns work with a local knowledgeable saddle fitter/maker to help you make the correct decisions for you and your horse.
Ashley Best, Newton County Extension Coordinator