Are You Getting Your Saddle Checked Often Enough?
If you want your horse to be comfortable while you ride, to be able to move freely and develop the correct muscles, then it is paramount that your saddle fits well and that you have regular saddle checks from a qualified saddle fitter. Horses change shape depending on the time of year, their workload, lifestyle changes (e.g. more turnout, less turnout, box rest, having a foal etc), change in type of work (e.g. changes in muscle tone) and these fluctuations affect how the saddle fits. At best, an ill-fitting saddle will cause performance issues. At worst, you could cause your horse pain and injury or yourself injury if the performance issues result in you falling off.
How often should I have my saddle checked? That depends on your horse, their shape and their workload. As a native pony, Tao fluctuates with the seasons, so I have his saddle checked at least twice a year. I wouldn’t hesitate to have it checked more frequently if there were any changes with his workload/weight/ body. The Society of Master Saddlers recommends checks every 4 - 6 months.
Is your horse telling you their saddle is uncomfortable? Your horse could be telling you they’re uncomfortable by not wanting to be caught, pinning their ears when you approach with the saddle, stepping away when you lift the saddle onto their back, yawning once you’ve put the saddle on, stepping away from the mounting block, rushing forwards once you get on, planting (refusing to move), being reluctant to go forwards, being reluctant to stretch down, not being able to round their back, stopping at jumps, bucking after jumps, bolting etc...
These can all be indicators of other problems, but should not be ignored and saddle fit should be considered as a possible cause. I always work through a process of elimination with Tao and usually start with body work – so that I have a better idea of the problem area in his body. I usually ask if there is any tension under the saddle to indicate it might need an adjustment or a gullet change. I use lovely Suz Crichton-Stuart of A Holistic Solution. My next port of call after body work is always the saddle.
How do I know which saddler to use?
There are many saddlers out there, some specialise in certain brands, others specialise in second hand saddles and some make their own. So if you’re thinking of buying a new saddle, you need to research which saddlers stock the brands you’re interested in – but be aware, the brand you want may not be the best fit for your horse, so be prepared for that. Do your research, look at those who come recommended. You could ask other equestrian professionals (physios, vets, trainers) who they recommend. It might also be an idea to check that whoever you’re planning on getting out is a member of The Society of Master Saddlers - https://www.mastersaddlers.co.uk/
What do I need to look out for? Make sure that whoever fits your saddle WATCHES YOU RIDE IN THE SADDLE. If they don’t, this should ring alarm bells. Both the movement of the horse and the rider weight can impact the fit of the saddle. My saddler, Rachel from David Dyer Saddles explained to me that this is because a static saddle fit (when the horse is standing still) is very different from a dynamic one (when the horse is moving). When David Dyer (David Dyer Saddles) and his team first came out to Tao, they brought a selection of around 30 saddles to try based on photos of Tao’s back from various angles and on information/measurements/ preferences I provided them. After looking at him and trying a few on, they quickly whittled it down to just three. I ended up with a very beautiful Bates Dressage Saddle (size WIDE – sorry, Tao) that fitted us both. They were so diligent in making sure it was the perfect fit and made a number of adjustments after watching me ride in it.
During my saddle fitting today, Rachel first measured Tao to compare his shape to last time. I was very impressed that she noticed he had put on muscle over his top-line. When she last visited us in January, Tao was struggling with his joints and was not in regular work due to my back injury. Subsequently, he lost a lot of muscle over his top-line and she had to put a lot of shims into the saddle. Now he has made some positive lifestyle changes – more turnout, regular work focussing on strength training, changes to his hoof trimming (which has improved the way he moves) and better overall fitness, I knew his saddle would probably need an adjustment. I take regular photos of Tao standing on the yard in similar positions, so I can keep track of these changes, but lockdown delayed everything, so I rode in my bareback pad until Rachel was able to come out. Once Rachel had measured Tao up, she looked at the saddle statically and made some adjustments to the gullet – the one he was in was a little too narrow for his new muscle! She was able to do this on-site in her van.
We then took Tao up to the school to see how it was fitting once my weight and movement were added to the equation. Rachel checked everything again once I was on board to see how it was sitting. Then I walked around on both reins while she examined Tao’s movement. She asked me to get off so she could make another adjustment. She was in no rush and made multiple small adjustments until she was happy. I was asked to ride again each time so she could check the fit with me in the saddle as well as with Tao moving. She decided to take the saddle away to add a keeper to the girth strap as she noticed it was creeping forwards which *could* cause the saddle to move forwards slightly. She didn’t want to take the chance, even though when she watched me ride it didn’t move much.
I highly recommend David Dyer Saddles – they are incredibly professional and the welfare of the horse is their utmost concern which is the most important thing to me. I trust that my saddle fits and that is something I haven’t felt in the past– I used two other saddlers before I found David and his team (I spent two years bareback because I didn’t trust that my saddle fit!). The first saddler I had, only watched me ride because I insisted on it and the second watched me ride initially but did not watch me ride after making adjustments in the workshop. David and his team cover most of Kent, Surrey, Sussex and Essex.
Regular saddle checks are something I feel really passionate about. It is just as important as getting feet trimmed and teeth checked – if not, more so. A horse’s back is so precious and contrary to belief, they are not designed to be ridden so we need to make sure they are as comfortable as possible. It is cheaper to have regular checks than vet treatment further down the line. Any questions, feel free to ask or contact David and his team direct (email address below).
David Dyer Saddles are expert saddle fitters providing professional advice on saddles and accessories to enhance the performance of both horse and rider. The David Dyers Saddles website makes it easy for you to access the best saddles and accessories from all over the world. We specialise in products tried, tested and recommended by saddle fitters. We can advise you on what will work for you, your horse and why. Order online via our website, or talk to our team and we will send out your products direct to your home, business or yard.
We have one of the largest saddle stocks in the country, with over 500 saddles across 40 brands and a wide range of accessories. We are an online equestrian superstore with a Master Saddler, workshop and a saddler fitters with over 40 years’ experience available for consultations.
We conduct saddle fittings and checks over most of Kent, Surrey, Sussex and Essex.
Please email them to check their coverage and to arrange an appointment: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: https://www.daviddyersaddles.co.uk/