Sunday, December 14, 2008

Going Into Detail #2 - Panel Contact, Gullet Width

Another element of saddle fitting is panel contact. The idea is to distribute the rider's weight evenly over as large a bearing surface as possible without impingeing on the horse's range of motion or spinous process, or getting weight out past the 18th thoracic vertebra.
I touched on this a bit in my last post, explaining how a deeper panel is often necessary for a horse with a big wither and/or a "roof" back. Now I'm going focus more on the rear of the panels. You want the panels to make contact with the horse's back over their entire weight bearing surface, like so:

In general, a gusseted panel such as the one in the photo above is often a good choice for a horse with a fairly flat back (flat side to side, that is), and a plain panel (photo below, bearing surface highlighted in green) is often a good choice for a more "roof backed" horse.

This saddle would not work on a broad, flat back - these panels would only make contact on the outside edge, and would create pressure points and very likely make the horse back sore.

However, there are exceptions to every rule. Here's a photo of a plain panel with a very flat bearing surface (it was actually too flat for our saddle buck!):

The channel between the panels must be wide enough so that the panels don't impinge on the spinous process. Here's a picture of a rather ancient saddle (the tree in this saddle is twisted, which is why it's sitting crooked on our model) with inadequate channel width (red highlights the panel's bearing surfaces, green shows channel width, and orange shows the width of the horse's spine):

While the channel must be wide enough to clear the spine, it can't be too wide. Too much channel width can allow the saddle to drop down onto the spine, can create pressure points on the inside edge of the panel, or can allow the cantle area to shift side-to-side.


Sarah said...

Hi Kitt!
You've got a great Blog with some really, really useful information. I have a question that maybe you could answer as a part of your Blog. I always read about checking the sweat marks (or the dirt on your saddle pad this time of the year) to see if your saddle fits properly. Exactly what should the marks look like? Could you give an example or two of a bad fit? Thanks so much!!!

Sarah (another CoTH Forum reader)

saddlefitter said...

Sarah, thanks for the kind words. That's a really great subject, and I'll get to it as soon as I can. Sweat marks can be helpful if you interpret them correctly. More asap!