Monday, November 24, 2008

"The Heavy Seven"

When it comes to saddle fitting, everyone has an opinion, and it can sometimes be tough to get much of a consensus. Theories abound regarding tree shape, panel shape, foam panels vs. wool flock vs. synthetic flock, you name it - and most fitters will happily debate different viewpoints ad nauseum. But there are seven points regarding saddle fitting put forward by the Society of Master Saddlers that are generally accepted as truths. So here are "The Heavy Seven" (how many of you remember that George Carlin riff?) of saddle fitting.

1) The points of the tree must lie parallel (or within 10% of parallel) to the horse's back - not the shoulder, but the back. Points of the tree and angle of the back are highlighted in red:

This means the tree width is correct. Here is a tree that's too narrow (angles highlighted in green):
#2) There must be even pressure under the tree points from top to bottom. In the photo above, there will be more pressure toward the bottom of the points; if the tree's too wide, the pressure will be greater at the top of the points.

#3) The channel between the panels must clear the spinous process.

#4) There must be adequate clearance between the gullet and the withers. "Adequate" will vary from horse to horse - sometimes it will be 3 fingers, sometimes 1. "Adequate" just means that the saddle is sitting in correct balance and at no time makes contact with the withers.

#5) Balance of the saddle must be correct, with the deepest part of the seat being the lowest point. Here's a saddle with the balance point too far to the rear:

Here's a saddle with much better balance:

#6) The panels must make even contact with the horse's back, with no bridging or rocking.
#7) The tree of the saddle cannot extend past the 18th thoracic vertebrae, which is the location of the last rib and therefore the last part of the back capable of bearing weight.
So there you have the seven basic points. Next entry, I'll go into greater detail on each point.


Boots and Saddles 4 Mel said...

Your blog is such a great reference tool. I recently purchased a Solstice saddle for my mare and I'm using your site as a guide for fitting. I'm still interested in your take on my mare's back and the Duett saddle fit, just so I have some options in mind for my future (I have a feeling that I'll never be done with the saddle search as her back changes). So far I think I'm good - I like the angle better on the Duett, but the Solstice is darn close (probably within 10%) AND the gullet clearance is much much better.

Jess said...

Just wondering - if there are dry spots a little down and either side of the wither does this mean that the gullet is too wide??

saddlefitter said...

Jess, dry spots can indicate either a complete lack of pressure or so much pressure that the sweat glands can't function properly. Without seeing the saddle and horse in question, it's pretty hard to tell. Also, dry spots under the stirrup bars are pretty common, since a lot of saddles are flocked lightly there to avoid pressure points. If you'd like to send some photos, I'd be happy to take a look and offer whatever input I can.

Mikey J. said...

My mom is riding a Draft/Canadian cross with a wide back and low withers. No matter who rides him, the saddle always slides to the left. It is obvious that his right shoulder is bulkier (more toned) than the left. Is there a short term remedy for better saddle fit to prevent the sliding? I would think that a constant shift like this would be detrimental to both horse and rider.

He has had a saddle fitter customize his current saddle ... Still the problem remains.

Thank you!

saddlefitter said...

Mikey J, constant lateral slip to one side is usually an indication of asymmetry in horse and/or rider. In this case, it sounds as though the horse may be the one with the bigger issue, though the rider may have an issue that makes the horse's issue worse. The short-term fix is often shims or flocking adjustments (I prefer shims), while the rider identifies and corrects the cause of the asymmetry.