Saddle Fit Simplified

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I held another Saddle Fit educational clinic yesterday, the second one hosted by Julie Nelson at Trails Head Stable. It was a beautiful day and a welcoming location for learning.

As I was teaching, I realized that I am trying to do nothing less than the herculean task of changing the standardization of the saddle industry.  Actually pushing for standardization in an industry that literally has no consistency from english to western or brand to brand.

I am just one small person … what makes me think I’m up to this task? Particularly when people have lived with the same old system and they seem to have given up on the possibility of something easier and different.

What I’m doing isn’t ground breaking per se … it’s simply matching the bones of the saddle to the bones of the horse and adding an inch or so of padding between the two to help keep the horse comfortable.

In my early years of horse ownership I thought that if you had a horse and you had a saddle then you were good to go. I didn’t know saddles could cause pain for horses. I later learned that similarly to people having their own individual shoe size (6, 7, 8, 9, 10 etc.) that horses too had gullet sizes, usually from size 5 up to 8 inches (I give away a free gullet size guide on my website www.SaddleFitSimplified.INFO). I also learned that similar to people having narrow, medium, or wide feet that horses have narrow, medium and wide spreads to their shoulders (measured as shoulder angle where narrow is less than 90 degrees, medium is 90 degrees, and wide is greater than 90 degrees). Can you imagine having a size 8 narrow foot and trying to wear a size 6 wide shoe? How far could you walk without wanting to stop? Or if you were compelled to walk, how far before you had blisters on your feet? The same is true for horses and saddle fit.

It is very simple to learn how to measure a saddle tree to determine it’s gullet size in inches and to find out if the saddle has a narrow, medium or wide angle. It’s also very simple to measure the horse to determine his/her gullet size in inches and to find out if the horse has a narrow, medium or wide shoulder angle. Then it’s just a matter of combining those measurements to see if the saddle is a good match for the horse. I also taught the clinic attendees how to compare the horse’s dip in the back to the saddle’s rocker and how to make a template of the horse to take saddle shopping.

I was very proud of my students. I did pre-testing and post-testing of their measurements of a Western saddle and an English saddle. A 5 inch gullet size is a very narrow horse (or pony) all the way up to an 8 inch gullet size which is considered draft horse size. The Western saddle was sold as semi-quarter horse bars and the English saddle was purchased as a medium-wide.

Before being trained, the students pre-test measurements for the Western saddle ranged from a gullet size of 6 1/4 inches to 9 inches … a 2 3/4 inch variation. After being trained, the students post-test measurements for the Western saddle ranged from 5 1/4 inches to 6 1/4 inches. I measured the saddle at 5 7/8 inches. Their post-test measurements from each other were only 1 inch apart and they were all close to my measurement.

Before being trained, the students pre-test measurements for the English saddle ranged from a gullet size of 4 7/8 to 7 1/2 inches … a 2 5/8 inch variation. After being trained, the students post-test measurements for the English saddle ranged from 5 3/4 inches to 6 1/2 inches. I measured the saddle at 6 1/8 inches. Their post-test variation from each other was only 3/4 of an inch and they were only 3/8 of an inch either way of my measurement.

The above scores were collected from 12 students who completed this clinic research piece. And the pre- and post-test scoring occurred after less than 5 minutes of training. The entire clinic was 2 hours and covered basic saddle anatomy, basic horse anatomy, equine behavior and psychology, some simple physics (pounds per square inch of pressure), and hands on learning for measuring both horses and saddles. We finished with a segment on horse massage because even if you get your saddle fit corrected, past saddle fit damage can still be lingering in the muscle tissue.

I hope my little grass roots movements catches fire and starts a blaze of awareness and change around the globe. I’m confident we can start in little ways, simple ways, to bring more comfort to our horses and more joy to our rides.

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