Poor fitting saddles

I am often asked to identify the problems that can occur when saddles are fitted badly.

It is not just idleness that causes me to quote from my own small saddlery booklet, the comments therein identify the problems (many of which are, unfortunately still common). May I hasten to emphasize that the deficiencies outlined are certainly not exclusive to the Arabian horse although the Arabians different conformation can sometimes make the breed more susceptible.

This Saddle has been over-stuffed. Consequently the panels will be very hard and likely to cause severe pressure points, identified with worn patches on the horse's back. This illustration also shows a gullet which is too narrow.

1. An insufficiently large bearing surface can result in gait malfunction, muscle fatigue, a pulling rather that a pushing effect, a hollow back, rubbing, pinching etc. (A good analogy is that of the stiletto heel, too much weight/pressure situated over a small area).

2. When the shape of the tree doesn’t conform to the shape of the horse, pinching is likely to occur. A four-point contact may result in severe pressure points. Banana shaped trees may result in movement at the back of the saddle. Chronic scar tissue may build up at the back of the shoulder blade.

3. Putting the saddle on too far forward can have very serious consequences. The top of the shoulder blade (scapula) can rotate as much as 3" backwards, if the movement of the scapula is restricted the stride will deteriorate, the horse will tire rapidly and forward movement will be severely impaired.

4. A gullet which is too narrow will cause the saddle to ‘sit out’ on bends with resultant pressure points and malfunction. Pain in the trapezius muscle is frequently associated with a saddle which, because it is wide in the tree, ‘digs in’ just below the withers.

5. The saddle moving up and down is likely to produce rapid adverse effects. Gait dysfunction is common, hair loss and bruising will occur (frequently one side only). The horse’s back end will not be able to work correctly and the head is likely to be carried in the air with all the correspondingly related problems.

6. Pressure Points can cause reduction of blood supply to the muscles (especially in the case of long distance or hunt horses involved in prolonged activity) resulting in muscle wastage, lethargy and loss of condition.

7. Pressure Points may result in soft swellings on the back usually detected immediately the saddle is removed.

All horses should have the fit of their saddle checked regularly. The regularity will vary, some young horses may develop rapidly and it is possible that their saddles will require adjusting every few weeks or horses returning to work, older horses etc. 

My advice? Be aware of the need to act before a problem arises. It is far more realistic to employ the services of a qualified saddle fitter and thus eliminate potential saddle fitting problems than to wait until resulting malfunction/soreness is detected, possibly involving the horse being rested, vet’s bills, physiotherapist’s bills and general disappointment. 

The Lyndon-Dykes ‘The Common Sense Approach to Saddle Purchase. Fitting and Care’ price £1.50 inc. p&p. and the Society of Master Saddlers booklet ‘Saddle Fitting’ priced £1.50 inc p&p are both available by sending a cheque to: 

Crawford Messenger Publicity,
Hop Garland Cottage
3 Rock Farm Oast
off Gibbs Hill, 
Nettlestead, Kent, ME18 5HT.

For a list of Society of Master Saddlers members and registered, qualified Saddle Fitters send a SAE to:

Chief Executive,
Society of Master Saddlers
Kettles Farm
Stowmarket, Suffolk