Tuesdays with Tony
During a rainy spell this past weekend I went down a rabbit hole, metaphorically of course. Usually I go for actual rabbit holes. I am a top line predator after all. However, my real life rabbit adventures are generally frowned upon by my staff. Anyway, about that rabbit hole. It involved saddles and saddle fit. Want the TLDR (too long didn’t read)? There’s a whole lot that goes into saddle fit!
Western or English
This is going to be short. There is basically no information on Western saddle fit. What there is, has been extrapolated from English saddle fit. Based on what I could find you should be aware of how the ends of the bars sit on your horse. It may be too narrow or too wide up front, and there may be more pressure on one side or the other. This could be due to defects in the human. Yep that’s right. You probably don’t ride straight. And don’t try to fix your saddle by just adding a thicker pad. Western or English, that’s never the right answer. It does seem, based on my limited feline understanding, that the design of Western saddles is more forgiving to horse anatomy. Take that with a big ol’ grain of salt, because this cat certainly isn’t getting saddled up for a ride with any kind of saddle.
Pinching, poking, constricting
These are not words you want associated with a saddle which you strap to your precious horse’s back, which you then climb upon, and then ask said horse to do stuff. It seems reasonable that a horse’s reaction to any of those things would be to remove the pinching, poking, or constricting thing as quickly as possible. This does sometimes happen, but more often those tolerant souls try their hardest to do what you humans ask while wearing ill-fitting tack. Anyway, how to check your saddle for fit. This is going to be the basic feline understanding of the process. I strongly recommend you find a saddle fit professional, and take a trip down your very own metaphorical rabbit hole, to get the best fit for you and your horse.
There are some things you can do to your saddle to see if a professional should be called ASAP. Start by holding your saddle with the cantle resting on your hip. Grab the front and crunch your saddle front to back. Much like me when one of the Docs asks me to get off the top of the truck, nothing should happen. Next put the saddle on your horse with the girth tightened. ProTip: you should not need your girth tight enough to cut your horse in half for your saddle to stay on. With the saddle on your horse, grab front and back, push it away, and pull it towards you. There should be some motion, but not a ton. Here’s a few more things that should cause a whole lot of nothing: while holding the front and back of the saddle push it away, and pull it towards you, try to twist the saddle, and push down. If anything dramatic happens, don’t ride in this saddle, call a saddle professional ASAP. For more nuanced saddle stuff, I recommend a good fitter. However, I have linked a pretty good article at the end of this blog that covers a whole lot of stuff.
The human element
For simplicity, I’m going to continue on from the point of your saddle fits your horse. That leaves us with you, the human. You humans have some issues. For one, you are very rarely symmetrical, which means you don’t sit in a saddle straight, which means it might just be you, and not your horse, or your saddle that are crooked. Crazy talk, I know. Have someone film you riding with lots of straight towards, and away shots. I promise you, you will develop a whole new appreciation for your crookedness. If in doubt that it’s you, have someone else ride your horse with your saddle. While the saddle may still slip, it will likely slip in different ways with this other crooked human. I won’t give you humans all the credit for crookedness. Sometimes it’s the horse, usually as a result of some crooked human. If in doubt, have one of my amazing Docs evaluate your horse. Not only can they identify potential problems, they have solutions. For you humans, I’m going to plug Centaur Rehab. Tonya Olsen is a master at helping humans figure out where they’re twisted and turned, and finding solutions. Ask any of my Docs about Tonya’s amazing skills. They’ve all ridden with her.
Don’t forget all those extra things you attach to a saddle. Girths being the most common, and most necessary. It seems horses are as picky about girths, as cats are about cat beds. There are a ton of options out there. If your horse isn’t happy when you’re girthing up, try another version. The most important thing about a girth is that it buckles straight to the billets. If there’s an angle, change your girth, or saddle location. That angle will cause the saddle to do bad things, and increase the pressure at the buckle, which your horse may object to. A breast plate is generally not necessary for a well-fitted saddle. However, in some situations they are necessary. If you use one, consider one that attaches to the pommel and the billets, to minimize pressure in any one location. Look for one with elastic inserts as well. This will put some give into the breast plate, and make it more comfortable for your horse.
Until next week,
P.S. This was an extensive rabbit hole. If you would like to follow me down it, I recommend starting at “Evaluating the suitability of an English saddle for a horse and rider combination,” authors
A. Bondi, S. Norton, L. Pearman, S. Dyson, and published in the August 2019 Equine Veterinary Education Journal. The Saddle Research Trust is also an excellent resource. Don’t want to read any of it? Check with any of my Docs for help sourcing a qualified saddle professional, and evaluating your horse.
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!