Regular saddle checks by owners are a good idea provided that the saddle has initially been fitted by a qualified saddle fitter. Master saddler Kay Hastilow discusses a few checks you can do to assess the fit of a saddle.
A professional fitter will be looking at aspects of the fit you may be unaware of and will be better placed to perform safety checks and identify any possible damage to the saddle.
In between checks, however, there are a number of simple checks you can carry out.
The first check is for clearance. Think about what we’re trying to achieve, which is clearance of the spinous processes at all times, at all paces and with a rider on.
If the clearance is never less than 1/2in, then that’s enough, but it must be right through the saddle, including under the cantle.
This next check is rarely considered, but it really should be picked up by any professional involved with the horse, such as a trainer.
The saddle should balance evenly from front to back, so the rider will sit correctly without stirrups and without having to tip forwards to keep their balance.
The easiest way to check this is by asking someone to take a photo of you side on, at halt, walk and trot. Look to see if the saddle looks level. If it’s not, the rider will tip forwards in an effort to keep their balance.
Don’t assume, though, that if they’re tipping forwards, the front of the saddle needs lifting. It’s just as likely to be the opposite.
Listen to your horse
The third thing is to take notice of what your horse is trying to tell you. If he moves to the back of the box when you go in to tack him up, this may indicate he’s worried about something. It might be his saddle, but it could also be that his bridle, bit or girth is uncomfortable, or his feet are hurting.
Horses will tell us if they have a problem, but you have to learn the language. If your horse doesn’t seem to be going as well as he could, or he’s downright naughty, take time to make sure the behaviour isn’t pain-related.
Observe, listen and give your horse the benefit of the doubt until you’re totally sure it’s just naughtiness, not him shouting ‘I’m hurting – please hear me.’
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