Ask the Vet: Saddle Fitting

Do you have that perfect saddle that fits you but just won't fit your horse? Join us during the month of August to pose your questions concerning saddle fitting to AAEP Dr. Lyn Simmelink

1
Question: I own a mutton withered quarter horse and have trouble with saddle slipping. Any advice as to a certain pad or saddle that would help? I ride mostly hunt seat, but wouldn't mind riding in a western saddle if that would work better.
Answer: 
If you love the fit of the saddle otherwise, you could consider a foregirth or a crupper. There is a thin non-slip rubbery pad that is designed to stop saddle slippage also. That has worked well for some of my clients.
2
Question: I have two AP English saddles, 17" and 18"; however, the 18" has been in the shop for repair for a while now. I noticed that one of my Thoroughbred's drops his head close to the ground repeatedly during trotting when using the 17" saddle that I hadn't noticed when I used the other saddle. Is this a fitting issue or have I let him create a bad habit?
Answer: 
I do not think that this is a saddle issue because the 17 and 18 inch relates to the size of the seat for the rider and does not effect the horse. This might be an issue if you sit very differently in the two saddles. The other consideration is that horses drop their heads to the ground to stretch their backs and that can be a good thing occasionally.
3
Question: I have a 4-year-old, 19hh, 2500-pound Percheron that I am starting under saddle. As you can imagine, finding a saddle that fits has been very difficult, and he's still growing. Do you think that a treeless saddle would be my best choice?
Answer: 
I have not had good experience with treeless saddles and Dr. Hilary Clayton has done biomechanical analysis on saddles and has found that a well-fitting tree does help protect the horse's spine. There are two brands of saddles that I know of that can fit the extra wide horses. One is Duett and the other is Thorowgood.
4
Question: I have a mule in which I have tried numerous saddles, but nothing seems to fit quite right. They either slide up on her withers or I feel like I cut her in half with the cinch to keep them from sliding off the side. I have tried many "mule" saddles as well as flexible trees, flexible panels and air pads. Any other suggestions?
Answer: 
Perhaps a crupper would help. I have seen ponies where that is the only solution. The combination of low withers and well sprung ribs makes this a challenge.
5
Question: I have recently bought a Tennessee Walker and I have heard people say you should ride in a gaited saddle while others says it doesn't matter. What is your opinion?
Answer: 
I think that it depends on your intended use of the horse. If you intend for the horse to use his gaits to the fullest extent possible then a gaited saddle would be best. If your intent is pleasure riding, then a saddle that fits both you and the horse is the most important thing.
6
Question: I have a horse that takes a wide tree in an English saddle. What size tree would I need if I purchase a Western saddle?
Answer: 
Every  manufacturer of saddles has their own idea of size. It would be best to take a withers tracing or ask the saddle maker what information they want to size the saddle.
7
Question: I have a pony that has white hair coming up where her saddle sits. I try heaps of different saddle blankets but what can I do?
Answer: 
Using blankets to change a saddle fit is often not the best solution. It is similar to us changing our socks to make shoes fit. We usually need to find shoes that fit for us and a saddle that fits for the horse.
8
Question: Some saddles seem like they fit everywhere, except that they create pressure points in my horses' withers around where a concho would be. Should a saddle be tighter in that one spot, or should it be a uniform tightness all down the shoulder? I have returned many saddles because of this area of pressure, but I have found nothing to document my thinking that it shouldn't be there. I like to be able to slide my fingers between the horse and the saddle all down the side. Thanks for the help.
Answer: 
You are correct that the saddle has to have contact somewhere but the best fit distributes the contact over the largest surface area possible in an even manner. The top of the shoulder blade needs to slide under the front of the saddle just as you described sliding your hand.
9
Question: I'm very frustrated trying to fit my old Paso Fino with a saddle. Sport, English, saddle seat, endurance, Western and knock-off treeless all fit badly in different ways. Gel pad, air pad, foam pads (in different shapes), fleece pads, and everything also do not help. I give up. My new plan is to sell them all and buy a good treeless saddle for him and my Icelandic, which are very different horses. Any comments?
Answer: 
My personal experience with treeless saddles has not been successful. I know that Hilary Clayton did a study on saddle fit and concluded that a well fitted tree in a saddle does keep the pressure off of the spine and that is important. I do know that there are many riders who love their treeless saddles. If the horses are very different shapes, they may not be able to share the same saddle. You did not mention dressage saddles.