Saddle fit is a big issue for horses and riders, playing an important role in the comfort of both during a ride.

Many problems are caused by the saddle not fitting well, but that means they can also be solved when a better fit is found!

Discomfort is a big factor behind many behavior problems, from not standing at the mounting block to bucking, rushing, or refusing to move at all! The difficulty is in knowing when a problem is just behavioral and when it is caused by discomfort, from the saddle for example.

In today’s video, I am going to share four common signs of poor saddle fit. The more of these signs you recognize in your horse, the more likely it is that your saddle is causing some discomfort!


Want more resources?

1 – Get the book I referenced in the video above, The Pain Free Back and Saddle Fit Book by Dr. Joyce Harman. Click Here to view on Amazon

2 – Read this article from Angelo Telatin on how to work through girthy behavior through training.

3 – Watch horses that I have in training here at the farm, and how I work through identifying and solving behavior problems.

Check Out Training Journals for real training sessions, horse care mini courses, and more! Click Here to Learn More

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45 Responses

  1. I noticed my horse looking at me when previously he had always just stood the look was one I did not recognise so rather than wait for that look to become an attempt to nudge or worse bite me I sought advice x Shirley

  2. Hi Callie, while I haven’t read the book you recommended, I have read a number of vet journal publications. I really would like a personal answer: basically the journal articles stated that when we ride, within 10-15 min the horse’s back goes numb and that’s the way they can tolerate our sitting on them. I was horrified when I read this. Obviously, there can be specific initials pain as you describe in the video. How do you feel about the journal article? I didn’t see any rebutted article. Thanks, Phyllis

  3. Would have loved to see Callie show us with an actual saddle on an actual horse some things to look for when the saddle is sitting on the horse.

  4. My 19 year old QH/Percheron cross mare has had saddle fit issues her whole life. She has had a couple of western saddles with limited success and comfort. For 10 years I rode her bareback and those were the most comfortable for her. A couple of years ago I found an AP English hoop tree saddle that fit us well and we used it for 2 years of regular riding (dressage for aging horses). Recently, because of increased fitness and age, she has been changing again and I’ve had to order a new, better saddle for her. It’s adjustable in many directions! Her signs of discomfort were very classic: when saddling her, even when I brought the saddle within her sight!!! she would step away and pin her ears. She would reach back to warn me of incoming nips (she never actually bit me but would make all the moves). She started doing the same when I was tightening her girth. And most recently, she has started to show resistance under saddle, her trot has become rough and she refuses to canter. I suspect it’s her saddle because she shows none of these behaviours when being ridden bareback. She receives regular massage therapy (due to stiffness caused by training her to get her rear end under her and getting her off her front end…and she’s a middle aged horse…what middle aged female doesn’t like a massage?). A note about her conformation…being a cross bred horse, she has characteristics of both breeds. This is why finding a correctly fitting saddle has been such a challenge. Riding her bareback is like riding a couch. There are no pointy bits there at all! I hope any of this story will be helpful to someone in similar circumstances.

  5. Great video thanks Callie. Important topic and glad you’re putting it out there more people need to understand these signs. I’m a fan of saddles that have adjustable components to them so that you can try to make them work as your horse’s topline changes with weight gain and loss and muscle development. While these types of saddles are not perfect and sometimes need a gel or shearling pad for the perfect fit, at least it’s all aiming towards the goal of making our horses as comfortable as possible. Thanks again!

    1. Hi Lorraine! Hope you are doing well 🙂 Yes, adjustable saddles can help in certain situations the only thing it be mindful of is the integrity of the saddle’s tree since there are moveable parts that can be points of weakness!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  6. Thanks for the information. I’m pretty positive my saddle doesn’t fit but not sure what to look at for the correct fit. It’s all Greek to me. I don’t have a lot of money for a saddle but i do want my horse to be comfortable. Looking to get the book and learning more and any ideas you have will be great.

    1. Terry, I would start with Dr. Harman’s book it’ll help you develop an eye for what you are looking for and will be a great reference to you during your saddle shopping process!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  7. It seems like I am constantly looking for the ideal saddle for me and for my horse/horses. One sign I missed was my horse started scooting away from me when I started to lift the saddle up on his back. It was a custom made saddle so I assumed it fit. It did not! And my horse ended up getting really awful girth galls and a sore on his back. I switched back to a saddle I have had for years and girth galls, sore on the back and scooting away when saddling all disappeared. So I am riding in the same saddle for 4 different horses just because I cannot find the ideal saddle.

    1. Jean, it is really tough to fit multiple horses…it you can fit it to the widest horse and add pads for the narrower horses that is typically the best way to go about it!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  8. I just had a professional saddle fitter come out to help me and my horse, and I was amazed at how poorly my saddle fit my horse in several areas! The “clues” I had were 1) my horse hated to be saddled and would pin his ears, swish his tail, and swing his head around toward me during the saddling process, 2) he’s a naturally “energy-conserving” horse and this became even more pronounced under saddle (he really didn’t want to go, didn’t want to move correctly, and didn’t want to use his body), and 3) he would constantly mouth on and chew the bit, often stretching his head and neck forward to pull against the bit under saddle, even while standing still. I thought it was a hitting issue, but the bit and his mouth were checked out and found to be just fine.
    When we rode in a much wider and well-balanced saddle with an entirely different tree, his displaced behaviors stopped within about 5 minutes! He stopped gnawing on the bit, moved straighter in his body, his ears came forward, and he actually used his back in a back-up! He moved out more freely and even offered to lope when I hadn’t even asked him to! I felt SO awful and incredibly guilty about riding him in an uncomfortable saddle for so long, I almost began to cry! Horses truly are saints.

    1. Awesome Susan! How great that your horse made a change so fast, it is pretty remarkable what they will put up with for their riders 🙂

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  9. My horse began to get very jumpy and easily spooked on the trail. He also didn’t want to go straight down long hills but rather would prefer going down it by weaving side to side. He would stumble easily and rush. Changing his saddle took all of these behaviors away. Now I am experiencing some different symptoms that are leading me to believe this saddle is no longer a good fit for him. His body has changed a lot over the past 2 years because he’s now only 8 so he’s gotten wider. He now wants to step off when I try to mount and swings away from me when I start racking him up.

    1. Might be worth having a saddle fitter evaluate it for you Amanda!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  10. I clipped my mare but left winter coat under where the saddle sits. Being Spring, that saddle hair is shedding and today, when I went to put on the saddle pad, I checked to see whether it needed to be washed after riding today. One side of the saddle pad had more fur than the other side. This started me wondering what the saddle was doing… What do you think?

    1. Kathryn, it could be. You may also be weighing one stirrup more than the other…I would recommend asking a friend to video you from behind so you can evaluate your side to side balance 🙂

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  11. My new horse bites at anyone near her when I try to tighten the girth so I put some alfalfa pellets in a nose bag, hung the bag over her head to keep her from hurting anyone and that ended the biting.

    1. What a great idea for a solution to a girthy horse Colette!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  12. I’m delighted with all of the videos that I have watched since I discovered your training. They are especially helpful to me as a total newbie..
    My only critique, at this point, is the playback audio is not at the same level through all the videos. Sometimes I have to crank it up on my end and even then it may be difficult to hear.

    1. Thank you for your feedback Annie! I’ll keep that in mind when I go to edit in the future 🙂

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  13. Ahh, yes this has been a big issue for Captain. Kaitlyn McGarvey has worked tirelessly to help me find the best saddle for him that I also feel secure in. I know when he’s starting to get too much of a belly because he struggles to lift his back and his impulsion dies out at the canter. A saddle that fit him well in February is just a bit too snug now that the pasture is grown up. I now know what to look for because his behavior starts to change immediately when the saddle starts getting too snug. He doesn’t move forward as well, he tosses his head and just is generally not as willing to work. Now that I know the signs, I work to take care of the issue. For right now, that means a grazing muzzle, much to his chagrin and a call to the saddle fitter. The whole saddle fitting process really is an art and a science.

    1. I’m sure Miranda from the Creative Saddler would be happy to help you and Captain again! Don’t get discouraged – it is a process that takes some time and patience 🙂

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  14. That is a really good book-glad you recommended it-she has a western saddle one as well. I’ve found a good way to assess if it is the saddle is to hop on with a bareback pad or just bareback and ride around and see if the “problems” go away…pretty good indication. I’ve had it where a saddle by all standards “fits” and still-the entire way of going changes when it is taken away.

    Old Georgie-who had damage to his sternum area- moves much better in a wide “roping girth” of mohair-which spreads out the pressure-not too tight either-and NEVER EVER a synthetic girth! 🙂

    Feather on the other hand-loves a narrow straight girth-and seems to like the “pillow” like synthetic ones-go figure…she literally gives you the stinky eye if you try to put anything else on her. I can’t imagine neoprene being comfortable over a long trail ride-but she insists it is-so there you have it. She has a very narrow girth area before her ribs start to spring out-or her elbow interferes…maybe the lack of “solid” in the “bubble pack configuration” gives her some movement that a string girth does not. I try not to overthink it and just go with what they seem to work best in.
    I never have any pads but wool-and not too thick, unless I’m filling in a default space on a sway back or hollowed out withers.
    Thanks so much!

    1. Claire, great point you brought up in paying attention to the girth area that can definitely cause discomfort as well!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  15. Hi Callie, Saddle fit is a timely issue for me. About three weeks ago, my horse showed me that he was sore at his withers when I was grooming him. I talked to my instructor and she suggested we try a different western saddle on him. After the weekend off, she tried the different one. He was so much more focused and calm during his lesson. Things have been progressing nicely. He is young and I am learning to ride. I will buy the book you recommend and read it. Do you think I could buy him his first “made to order” saddle now, even though he is just turning 6? Thanks for your help. I have learned so much from CRK Training.
    Debbie Bates

    1. Hi Debbie, glad to hear you were astute and noticed the change in his behavior immediately! Every situation and every horse is different, what breed of horse is he? The bigger draft types take longer to develop physically. He may still fill out and change shape and the saddle may not work for forever!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  16. When my horse was a skinny 4-yr-old, he had a medium wide saddle which fitted him at thet time. Later, however, he outgrew it as his back became wider. His gait changed overnight into a stilted, short-stepping pace, and luckily I noticed right away. I had a friend who was giving up – a big chap who rode a big, wide hunter – and I bought his saddle. My horse’s gait went back to normal, and we’re both happy! A young developing horse always needs watching as his shape will change!

    1. Very true! It is recommended to have your saddle fit evaluated every 6 months, especially if you have a young horse or are bringing a horse back into work that wasn’t being used!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  17. When I got my mare, as a five year old, she had been ridden in a western saddle that was not a good fit. She had also never had dental work. The combination had quite an impact. Dental work, rest/chiropractic/ ground work were needed. Then I worked with my vet/chiropractor on saddle fit. (I ride hunt seat) A year later I needed to get a different saddle because her shape had changed. Fortunately I am close to a saddle shop with a great selection of used saddles that can be tried and returned. I had my trainer help with that selection. Having one that also fit me was a challenge because I have a long femur for my height. Good luck to everyone on this journey.

    1. Having a long femur can definitely cause some problems when you are looking for a saddle! It is very helpful to have the resource of a saddle shop with a variety of options to choose from!

      Thanks for sharing!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  18. Hi. My horse is new to me for riding. I have 4 yrs now but the first 2 I couldn’t ride. I had a bad car accident. Anyways. I noticed when I lunged my horse with the saddle on he would buck more in short hopping bucks until I moved him past them. He has not bucked me ever on the saddle but tends to go hollow u til I move him into more dressage work walking etc. My saddle is a wide tree. Also my horse is 17 hands. Percheron and thoroughbred. He stand wel at mounting block. Doesn’t move around. Although I feel saddle falls back underneath me and needs better even height. Plz help. Thank you. Lisa Pavia. I loved the videos u do.

    1. Hi Lisa, thanks for your comment. Does he have back pain when you palpate down his spine?

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  19. Thanks for the video Callie I have two horses that complain when I saddle them up one has his ear back and flat then tries to bite the other has what I expect is a habit from racing & I have had her seen to with Chiro and physiotherapist to eliminate physical causes.
    Both horses are reasonably narrow but the mare more so and I am really struggling to get a saddle to fit them.
    Kerry

  20. Important topic Callie and thank you for sharing your knowledge on important signs to look for in poor saddle fit. My horse was diagnosed with Kissing Spine Syndrome (KSS) – it turned out that I had purchased her with this condition and many other issues – she was a bit frightening in her behaviour at first – quite expressive – when she had been quiet when I purchased her – I think she had either been drugged or was under the influence of the previous owner to such a degree she never put a foot wrong. We discovered she had a dead tooth that needed to be removed (she had been walking round with a migraine for approximately 5 years) – She had never had dental work. The combination had quite an impact. Dental work, rest, chiropractic/massage and in-hand work work were needed. When the vet diagnosed KSS he also said that none of my three saddles were a good fit. He recommended the Wow Saddle as she would change with work (building a topline) and we are able to change the plates in this saddle to accommodate her change. The saddle is also a great fit for me as well – something I had always struggled to find. We are still dealing with a few behavioural issues, however, they are more to do with practiced behaviour rather than pain. Will look at the extra resources you have suggested here. Tks

    1. Carol-Anne, it sounds like she is very lucky to have you looking out for her! I’m glad to hear you were able to resolve many of her physical issues, I’m sure she will only improve from here!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  21. Unfortunately the recommended book which looks fantastic now costs about $125. The only good news is that it comes in both english and western saddle versions. Too bad that the book has become increasingly difficult to access.

  22. I’d say, before looking at it being the saddle’s fault that the horse is girthy, kicking out etc, all physical reasons must be explored. It’s widely know that if a horse displays uncomfortable signs when being tacked up, mounted, etc there is every possibility it has ulcers. These are so common in horses of all types or ages and the pain can manifest itself in all manner of behavioural issues. If a horse scopes clear for ulcers then it could be down to the digestive system producing too much acid. This ‘sloshing’ about in the stomach is also uncomfortable. A horse prone to ulcers or excess acid should have a fibre based diet (low sugar/low starch), have a small feed before work and have supplements that support the digestive system. Horses did not evolve to eat anything other than fibre. Cereal (grain) feeds can cause numerous problems.

  23. Hi Callie,

    I’m really enjoying your blog and videos. Just now watched the one about saddle fitting.
    By coincidence, yesterday, I was given a saddle that I hadn’t used before and felt that I was sitting too far forward in the saddle, making rising trot quite uncomfortable. I must talk to my trainer next week.
    Gillian

  24. Hi there also is a book called suffering in silence by Jochen Schleese which is very good as well he is also a master saddle fitter and maker.

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