5 Reasons Your Saddle Doesn’t Fit (Answers May Surprise You)

We’ve all had the misfortune of seeing someone at the barn riding in a poorly fitting saddle.  Or worse yet, we’ve been that person!  While some saddle fit problems are obvious, some are not.  And even some of those obvious ones probably have different solutions than you’re used to hearing.  Here are the top 5 fitting problems and their solutions. (Note: these solutions work for jump, dressage and all-purpose saddles alike.  Don’t let the example images deter you otherwise!)

1. Tree Too Wide

Many riders want to do good by their horse and will get a saddle with a wide tree to “give their horse more room in the withers/shoulders.”  While the intention is noble, this often backfires. When a saddle is too wide in the front, it can sink down over the withers.  This takes the saddle out of balance by making the pommel lower than the cantle, which in turn carries more pressure over the front of the tree (at the withers/shoulders) than a saddle with a properly sized tree.  One major indication of this is trying to get your fingers under the tree point when in the seat… It can range from tough to impossible.

Solution: Add shims or padding under the front third of the panels of the saddle.  There will be a little trial and error here in terms of the thickness needed, but as a rule of thumb, once the pommel and cantle are level you should be in good shape. Place the shims here:

To read about tree width problems and solutions in detail click HERE.

2. Crooked Horse/Rider

Saddles can be crooked for a number of reasons.  Sometimes it is a rider’s tendency to lean one way, and sometimes it’s an asymmetry in a horse.  Regardless, we need to make sure it is sitting evenly to keep weight distribution even.  But the important thing to remember here (regardless of the cause) is that a crooked saddle is usually twisting in some way, as opposed to uniformly shifting off to one side. This is important because it affects how we solve the problem.

Solution: Assess your saddle from the back (or get a friend to do it with you).  Walk and trot in a straight line away from a person watching you.  Once you determine which way the cantle is shifting, you will know how to fix it.  Whichever way the cantle is shifting, pad the same side in the front third of the panels.  Play with the thickness of the shim until you find the thickness that straightens the saddle. For example, if the cantle is shifting right, pad it like this:

Crooked Saddle Shim

To read about crooked saddles and solutions in detail click HERE.

 

3. Shoulder Interference

Although it might seem like common sense to keep your saddle from running into your horse’s shoulders, it still happens too frequently.  This takes 2 forms.  First, a saddle is initially girthed up too far forward and on a horses’s scapula (shoulder blade).  Second, the horse has a forward girth groove relative to its shoulder which causes the girth/billets to angle forward and pull a saddle forward after a few minutes of riding.  Either way, these fitting issues interfere with the horse’s freedom of motion.  However, the second one is more insidious because it can trick even an astute rider since the saddle appears to be fitting at the beginning of the ride.

Solution: If you are placing the saddle too far forward, simply feel for the back of the scapula near the wither area and place the front of the saddle 1 inch behind it (note: I say 1 inch because the tree of the saddle is usually an additional 1 inch behind the front leather edge of the saddle, totaling 2 inches of clearance). If your horse has a forward girth groove and the saddle pulls forward over the ride, your best solution is a Shoulder Relief Girth which has a big offset from the center to the buckles.  This will redirect your billet line and eliminate the forward angle in the billets, thus reducing the forward movement of the saddle. Click HERE to read more specifically about the Shoulder Relief Girth.

FB SRG New Style w Annotation

 

4. Bad Saddle Balance

Here we are talking about the balance of the saddle from front to back.  We touched on this in the first point, but any saddle that is either too low in the front or too low in the back will cause problems.  The horse feels it because the lower portion of the saddle will carry a disproportionately higher amount of weight than the other area of the panels.  A rider will feel it in one or more of the following ways:

  • Thigh blocks interfere with rider’s legs
  • Too much pressure on the pubic bone in the front of the saddle
  • Feeling pitched forward when posting
  • Feeling in a chair seat

Solution: If you feel any discomfort in the front of the saddle (blocks, pommel pressure, pitched forward), this likely means your saddle is too low in the front.  In this case, the front third of the saddle should be shimmed to lift the front (also see illustration from #1).  If you feel behind the vertical or in a chair seat, it likely means the saddle is too low behind and you need shims under the rear third of the saddle.  A Six Point Saddle Pad is super effective at solving both of these problems, and for each issue you can shim like this, respectively:

FB Orange Background Pad

To read an article about saddle balance problems and solutions in depth click HERE.

 

5. Bridging

A bridging saddle is one that makes most of its contact on the front and rear portion of the panels, leaving the center without contact.  This will cause most of a rider’s weight to be acutely focused on the front and rear-most parts of the saddle.  This is a nasty situation because it can often go unnoticed, as it is basically impossible to tell if it’s happening just by looking at the saddle on the horse.  A big “tell” is dry spots over the withers and on the lumbar area after a ride.  Another thing you can do is feel under the center of the saddle once it is fully girthed.  If there’s much more contact under the front and back of the saddle compared to the center, you probably have bridging.

Solution:  Once you determine your saddle is bridging, place a shim under the center third of the saddle to fill in that space.  Like most shimming, this will require a little trial and error to pinpoint the right thickness.  A Six Point Saddle Pad is super effective here because it has center pockets specially for bridging.  Click HERE to read more about it:

Center Shim

4 Comments

  1. Susan Flesher on February 15, 2016 at 5:02 pm

    This was a good reminder and cause for me to double check my saddle fit twice a year. My horses shapes change a bit with the seasons so I’m it!

    • tsf on February 16, 2016 at 10:59 am

      Great!!

  2. Edith Levitz on February 28, 2016 at 3:18 pm

    This is great, but now can you show the same shimming on a western saddle. My horse is a Tennessee Walker, I have a gaited saddle but it’s a bit too snug in the shoulders.

    • tsf on March 1, 2016 at 1:57 pm

      Thanks! I don’t have the images to show it on a Western saddle. But the principles are quite similar for affecting fit.

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