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Saddle fit affects every rider. Jumper, reiner, dressage, or weekend trail rider – we all need to pay attention to our saddle fit in order to keep our horses happy and healthy and for us to feel comfortable and balanced too.

Many behavior problems as well as soundness problems stem from a poor fitting saddle. But how do we know if our saddle fits? Can we use pads to improve the fit of our saddle? What can we do when shopping for a new saddle to ensure we get the best possible fit?

To answer these questions, I interviewed Dr. Joyce Harman, author of The Horse’s Pain Free Back and Saddle Fit Book.
Dr. Harman is an expert in fitting saddles – no matter the brand or style, and in this week’s video, she shares her experience and advice as both a veterinarian and a saddle fit expert.

Visit Dr. Joyce Harman’s website here: www.harmanyequine.com
or Click Here to order her Saddle Fit book and DVD

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24 Responses

  1. What does a “saddle fitter” do exactly for you (and the horse), and is it worth hiring one? Do they tend to have expertise that goes beyond what an enthusiastic hobbyist can acquire?

    1. Hi Matthias, This is a great question! In my experience, there are great saddle fitters and there are not so great fitters. Recommendations and referrals are likely the best way to make sure you are working with someone good. A qualified fitter can work on the flocking of an english saddle or the wool of a western saddle. They can make changes to adjustable saddles, and should have more experience and a better eye for fitting.

  2. I’m pretty sure they can restructure or restuff the flocking on the saddle to make the saddle fit the horse as best as possible

    1. Hi Bethany, Flocking can be changed to adjust the fit but if the tree isn’t a good fit often there is a limit how much can be changed through reflocking.

  3. “Treeless saddles are wonderful from the horses perspective!”
    I love hearing that!
    My only problem with a treeless saddle has been mounting from the ground. Saddle wants to slip when all your weight is in one stirrup. Can anyone suggest a brand of treeless saddle that doesn’t have that problem?

    1. Nora, it would be best to use a mounting block. That saves the horse’s back from a lot of torque when mounting from the ground. A mounting block would solve your problem of pulling on the saddle causing it to slip. I use a Bob Marshall endurance saddle, and don’t know if it would slip mounting from the ground but using a mounting block or log when out in the woods eliminates excessive pulling on saddle and is so much easier on me too!

  4. Good video. I was wondering about the flexible tree by Natural Horseman Saddles. Their system includes using their pad and shims. I have tried a test saddle and my horse liked the saddle and we tried both their standard and super wide trees. My horse takes the super wide tree. I am working my way through the options of the saddles. NHS concept is for the saddle to have room for the shoulder to move back, so there is a shimming systems to aide in this. Just wanted to know if you or anyone has any thoughts or experience with this saddle maker.

    1. Hi Mary, treeless saddles are different from bareback pads, but there are many different styles of treeless saddles. Most have some sort of foam that creates more padding for the rider and some form of spine clearance for the horse.

  5. With many arthritis n prev injuries my heavier saddle is hard to move around. I got an abetta synthetic trail saddle with the wonderful memory foam seat which was light and great to sit in on trails. Unfortunately it did not seem to fit my horse like my older one did. He seemed to trip a lot and pin his ears when asked to do more than a walk. Finally it appeared it was pinching him although not sure where. I put my older partrade saddle back (sturdier) on and he seemed happier. Are synthetics harder to fit a larger quarter horse build. I can not afford an expensive nor custom saddle, however I would love a recommendation for an abetta lightweight comparable western saddle. Foam seat helped prev back/hip issues a lot.

  6. Hi Pattie,
    I purchased a Lady’s Fabtron wide tree saddle. It is lighter than my English saddle, as comfortable as can be and fits my wide Quarter Horse draft! It is reasonably priced and receives great reviews.
    Keep riding!
    JoAnn

  7. The gullet on western saddles come in three different sizes which can make a difference on how it fits your horse. Full quarter bars have a 7 inch gullet. Quarter horse bars have a 6 3/4 gullet and semi quarter horse bars have a 6 1/2 gullet.
    Full quarter horse is often a good fit for low withers and a broad back. Quarter horse often work for horses that are hard to fit. Semi quarter horse is for a medium back horse with descent wither.
    If you want a Dressage saddle and are not opposed to synthetic I recommend considering a Thorowgood which has a changeable gullet. It has leather billets that can be repositioned to help with shipping issues. The T4 is available for broad back horses (like Haflingers) the average horse and horses with high withers. I ordered my from Dover. The customer service was very helpful in determining the correct seat and gullet size needed. It is often available at a discount price.

  8. I am a western rider with 2 mustangs. I purchased an expensive western saddle that was suppose to fit most horses. Recently I noticed the hair over the loins was rubbing after I rode. I was lucky in that the Schleese saddle fitter was going to be nearby today. She came to my place and measured both of my horses. She fit the Schleese western saddle for both my horses and me. I could feel the difference in my horses movement with the first ride. I will know more in a couple of weeks riding but I believe today was the first day my horses have been pain free from the saddle. The saddle seat also has insert so I can make the saddle most comfortable for me. I think about how hard it is to find a pair of shoes that fit and feel good on my feet, yet I just strapped on a saddle on the back of horses for years and jumped on never thinking about how well it fit. It has taken 55 years and some really sensitive mustangs to make me ask the question about saddle fit. I now own a Schleese western saddle!

  9. Love the information you are sharing with us Callie and how well you do it! Simple language and easy to understand the lessons. We need more of you!

  10. Excellent video! The sound was actually pretty decent. This is my second video and once again like the first video I watched, this video was short and simple, yet concise with a lot of VERY good information. I have learned that saddle fit is a critical component to having a happy horse and thus, a happy rider. This is another topic that needs better promotion. Thank you for this video!

  11. after having experienced poor saddle fitting experience with both my horses I can now tell you if your is pawing the ground, refusing what you ask such as walking and continually trots off you may very well have saddle fit issues. Both my horses exhibited these behaviors and I thought it was training issues. Our horses are very good at telling us when something is wrong but we as riders must learn to listen. We must constantly listen to our horses to find the answers. So my quest for the right saddle after purchasing many good used saddles finally took me to a saddle maker and fitter. I drove my horses 2 hours away and found they have very normal backs and purchased the correct size saddle and pad for my horses. I am pleased to say I have very happy horses and am much more comfortable myself . It is worth your time and effort to see a professional fitter.

    1. Thank you for sharing your story Cheryl, it is unbelievable how important saddle fit is and how much of a difference it can make with our horses!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

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