As Grooms (and riders, too) we need to pay attention to the subtle clues that our horses give us in regards to how they are feeling. And while mine is king at unlocking paddock gates, he has yet to master email to send me a note that his saddle hurts. So how can we start to get an idea of if their saddle is wonky or not?
Of course - we must remember that horses, like humans, are not symmetrical by any stretch, and therefore a perfectly symmetrical saddle will likely not work. The other thing to keep in mind is that a Certified Master Saddle Fitter in your area can help you and your horse. If you even remotely suspect that your horse is uncomfortable in his tack, contact a Master Saddle Fitter for help.
How can we tell if our horse is uncomfortable? Well, there are lots of signs to watch out for, under saddle and in the grooming cross ties.
-snarky attitude, often with bucks
-resistant to move
-unable to relax
-inability to straighten
In the grooming cross ties, before and after exercise:
-dislike of brushing and touching in the saddle area, and often beyond
-palpates sore down the back
-white hairs appearing, even without a sore
-knots and tension in the muscles
-uneven dry spots and sweat on the saddle pad
You can also do a talc test - and that starts by sprinkling the saddle area with talcum powder. If your horse is spooky or unsure, please have friend help you and go very slowly, with lots of praise. *Very* carefully, and with a friends help, lay your horse’s saddle on his back without a pad. Don’t slide it around, and remove it straight up. When you flip it over, you can see the talc on the bottom side of the saddle showing you where it contacts your horse. This will tell you about the symmetry, but not really about the pressure. It’s a place for you and your Master Saddle Fitter to start.
You need to make sure the withers are clear of your horse’s saddle, all around, not just up and down on the withers. The center of your saddle (where you sit), should be parallel to the ground and the billets should be perpendicular to the ground. The gullet should be free and clear from front to back, and this includes when your horse is engaged and his back is lifted. If the gullet is sorta clear when your horse is in the cross ties, chances are when he tries to lift his back, he will bonk the gullet. His shoulders need to also be clear of the saddle.
If you suspect that your saddle is ill fitting, please do not “pad it up”. Often, this is the equivalent of putting on more socks for shoes that are too small. And then running a 5K.
If you don’t have a Master Saddle Fitter in your area, ask your local tack shop or contact the manufacturer of your saddle. Most sales representatives are trained to fit saddles and should be able to help you!