I have taught saddle fit for a dozen years and now have an online course covering the topic. And I’m ashamed to say that I have a saddle fitting failure story.
My husbands two hunt horses both have extra wide gullet measurements. One is 4 cm wider in the shoulder and about an inch (2.54 cm) wider in the withers. I know from the saddle fit studies that 2 cm is the measurement that delineates good fit from too narrow fit or too wide fit and that slightly too narrow of a fit had lower pressure point readings than the too wide fit.
So I decided to split the difference between the two horses and look for one saddle that would work on both. I know, you’re probably shaking your head wondering why. But hear me out … I thought my husband could use a thick pad on the smaller horse and a thin pad on the slightly larger horse and everything would be fine. I even decided that because both horses were so wide that I would search for a hoop tree saddle. A type of saddle that has a U shape instead of a V shape in the withers area. I reasoned the hoop tree would offer a bit more room for the saddle pads I planned to use.
I took my measurements and started shopping online for a deal. I love deals. I was looking for an extra-wide 8″ gullet, 34cm hoop tree english all-purpose or jumping saddle with an 18″ seat and I found one right away.
The saddle arrived a couple of days later and I was excited and anxious to try it out. I brought the horses in and tried the saddle on each one. The first thing I noticed was how low it sat on the smaller horse. There was only 1 finger of clearance at his withers even without being girthed up. The U shape hoop was a good match on this horse since he has a mutton type wither but the saddle was just too wide. Next I tried it on the larger horse and there was only 1 finger of clearance at his withers too, yet the saddle fit his shoulder fairly well. Why? The larger horse has a tall wither and the U shaped hoop tree was not the right match for him, he needs the typical V style to clear his dominate withers.
I couldn’t have been more disappointed but I shouldn’t have been trying to fit two horses with such different shapes and measurements with one saddle. I should have known better and now I have the extra fees to return the saddle or the hassle to resell it.
As a last ditch effort I re-measured the horse I thought the saddle would fit best and his measurement width had decreased by 1/2″- he has lost weight and I had purchased the saddle based on measurements taken four months ago. Again, I hang my head because I know better, I should have retaken his measurements and paid closer attention to his weight loss. The one positive light is that if he gains weight and I still have the saddle, it will probably fit. But I know I should really buy a saddle specifically for him and this time I will take into consideration his measurement variations over the past year.
The moral of the story – there is no such thing as one size fits all when it comes to saddles. It’s important to consider each individual horse and their size changes throughout the year.