Is your horse exhibiting uncharacteristic performance or behavior issues? Well then, check his saddle. Badly fitting saddles account for a vast array of issues in the horse. Yet they often go undetected, either because people don’t recognize the signs and symptoms of an improperly fitting saddle, or because they have no idea how to fix the problem.
This lack of knowledge can hurt our horses physically, diminish their ability to reach their full potential, and even label them as unpleasant or dangerous characters. Of course, saddle fit can’t be blamed for all behavior and performance issues in the horse, but it is something that should always be considered. If you don’t have the knowledge to determine whether your horse’s saddle fits, enlist the help of a competent saddle fitter right away.
Signs, Signs, Everywhere Signs
How do you know if your horse’s saddle is uncomfortable? Easy. What does he have to say about it? Sure, your horse won’t be able to communicate with you verbally. But his body language should tell you all you need to know if you take the time to listen. Ask yourself the following questions:
* Are the muscles in the top loin overly developed?
* Is the lower part of your horse’s neck thicker than the top part because he hollows his back?
* Are the muscles in the hollow region behind my horse’s shoulder diminished or atrophied from the nerves and muscles being pinched?
* When relaxing, does my horse have a dropped or sway back?
* Is there swelling or heat under the saddle area upon removal of the saddle?
* Is there raw or rubbed skin anywhere in the saddle area?
* Are there any white marks or bare patches on his back?
Once you’ve taken a good look at your horse, ask yourself the following questions about his behavior:
* Does he seem stiff?
* Does he hold his head high and stiff, and does he seem unwilling to accept the bit or rider’s aids?
* Does he seem unwilling?
* Is he hard to catch?
* Does he jump around when being groomed, especially when you are grooming the back area?
* Does he hollow his back, buck, or move away when saddled?
* Does he dislike being girthed?
* Does he jig when being mounted?
* Does he toss his head while under saddle?
* Does he refuse to walk calmly on a long rein?
* Is he irritable in general?
* Does he have a hard time walking up or down hills?
* Are his gaits uneven?
* Does he have difficulty with one lead over another?
* Is he stiff on corners, bends, or circles?
* Does he have trouble getting down and back up again?
If you answered yes to more than one or two questions do your horse a big favor. Don’t ride him under saddle again until a qualified vet or chiropractor has evaluated him. If your horse is diagnosed with back problems it is important to note that the saddle is not always to blame. However, taking a good constructive look at your saddle and how it fits your horse is a good place to start.
Good Saddle Fit
A saddle should fit both horse and rider, but don’t think that just because you find it comfy your horse does too. How do you know if your horse’s saddle fits? Check out the following tips:
* Sitting in the saddle with a relaxed seat and legs, check to make sure you have enough room to put your hand on your thigh between your legs and the pommel. You should also be able to fit the width of your hand between the back of your body and the rear arch. With the stirrups at the normal length, there should be an imaginary line gong through your shoulder, to your hip, to the center of your horse’s balance, and finally, to your heel. So now we know the saddle fits you!
* But does it fit your horse? First of all, it should never interfere with your horse’s movement in any way. There must be no contact between the saddle and the spine, which means you should see a clear channel of daylight down the spine from withers to loins.
* Check the width and length. With your weight in the saddle you should be able to fit two-and-a-half or three fingers between the pommel and the horse’s withers. If there is space for four fingers the tree is too narrow. If there is space for two, it is too wide. Check to see how far the saddle goes toward your horse’s hip bone. It should not be so long that it rubs the hip.
* The saddle should be stable and should never rock back and forth.
* Never commit to a saddle before taking it on a lengthy ride. There is no substitute for riding in it when it comes to finding a saddle that fits well
A comfortable saddle keeps your horse healthy in both mind and body. Now watch how far the two of you go!
Authorby: Ron Petracek
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