Tuesdays with Tony
We had a special visitor at the clinic last week. Faye Flynn of Flynn’s Equine Massage Therapy & Saddle Fit was kind enough to give a presentation and live demonstration about saddle fitting to our clients! In case you missed it, here’s what I learned while being passed around from one audience member’s arms to another.
How you know if your saddle doesn’t fit
In short: check it! Yes, sometimes you will know you have a saddle fit issue by how your horse is behaving (bucking, resistance to moving forward, unwilling to lift through his back). But other times you may not even realize your horse is uncomfortable or that your saddle is not allowing him to utilize his full range of motion. Your horse may be stoic, or you may say “that’s the way he has always moved,” or perhaps he is just a very good boy and wouldn’t complain even if your saddle was rubbing raw spots on his withers. So, for this reason, you need to check it.
Run your fingers down your horse’s back and see if there are any sensitive spots under the saddle area. Set your saddle on your horse without any pad and see how it feels. You should check your saddle at least once every 3 months, because horses grow, lose weight, gain weight, develop different muscles, undergo muscle atrophy following rest or injury, etc. Our horse’s bodies change over time, so we need to adjust our saddle over time to compensate. Lord knows I haven’t always been the stunning slender specimen that types before you today. Yes, there was a time when I looked more like Tony Soprano than Tony Montana. I definitely could not have fit in the same saddle then as I would now. Don’t get any ideas.
How to check your saddle
Faye Flynn has been all over the world to learn from several diverse saddle makers how a saddle should sit on a horse. She taught us last Thursday that it’s not enough just to stick 3 fingers under the pommel and call it good. You need to stick your whole arm under there along the tree from the front and the back until your hands touch. You should also run your hand under the panels on each side to make sure there is even contact along the entire length of the saddle. Make sure there is no rocking (less contact in the front and back, more contact in the middle) which can cause the saddle to move while you’re riding. You also want to avoid bridging (more contact in the front and back but a spot in the middle with less contact).
You need to consider the shape of your horse’s withers and shoulder and how it compares to the shape of your saddle. If you have a Quarter Horse with broad shoulders and low withers, you probably need a wider saddle. If you have a Thoroughbred with a narrow shoulder base and tall withers, also called more “A-frame,” you will need a more narrow saddle shape.
Another thing you want to consider is how long the saddle is in relation to your horse’s back. Ideally you don’t want the back of the saddle to extend beyond the horse’s last rib, or the last thoracic vertebra. You should try to avoid any weight from the rider sitting farther back than this point because it will be supported only by muscle, which could cause fatigue and soreness in the lower back.
The stuff inside the saddle
Another cool thing we learned from Faye is what’s on the inside of a saddle! We learned the advantages and disadvantages of various flocking materials including air, foam, and wool. We talked about saddle pad materials, both what to look for and what to avoid.
It turns out that air under your saddle, while it sounds nice, comes with a few issues. This type of saddle panel typically comes with several separate, adjustable plastic air bladders. Everything’s great when they are new and full, but they pop easily. Once the air bladder has popped, you are basically left with an uneven plastic container with hard pieces sitting directly on your horse’s back. Not to mention, a popped air bladder will definitely cause uneven pressure along the rest of the saddle. If you have one of these saddles, be sure to check that all the air bladders are inflated every time you go to put your saddle on your horse!
Foam paneling is nice and comfy, but be aware that it does break down over time. Eventually, the foam will develop this black goo around the edges, and the padding will essentially turn to dust. If you have an older saddle made with foam, you may want to consider having it re-flocked with wool. Wool is a nice saddle flocking material because it lasts forever, it is relatively light and breathable, and it holds its shape.
Being light and breathable is especially important when it comes to saddle pads. Faye suggested avoiding any saddle pads with any type of plastic material, as they are the opposite of breathable. The pro recommends ThinLine or Mattes saddle pads. When it comes to saddle pads, you generally get what you pay for. This is in contrast to my monthly seminars, where you can get all this information and more for free!!
Remember, if you are absolutely married to your current saddle, you can’t afford a new saddle right now, or the used saddle you just bought online doesn’t fit your horse quite right, you can usually make it work with a high-quality shimmable saddle pad. Just be sure to enlist the help of a saddle fitter, veterinarian, or other knowledgeable horse person to make sure your saddle/pad combo is comfortable for your horse.
P.S. Did you know my docs have a podcast? That’s right, when my once-a-week amazing blog isn’t enough to satisfy your thirst for horse knowledge, you can go to the podcast page on my website, or listen right from the Podcast host, or search iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, or your favorite podcast app for Straight from the Horse Doctor’s Mouth. You can learn all about colics, vaccines, eyes, and all kinds of other horse stuff. Use caution, as binge-listening may cause horse-nerdiness, know-it-all-ness, and other hyper-knowledgeable disorders.
Tuesdays with Tony is the official blog of Tony the Clinic Cat at Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic in Newberry, Florida. If you liked this blog, please subscribe below, and share it with your friends on social media! For more information, please call us at (352) 472-1620, visit our website at SpringhillEquine.com, or follow us on Facebook!