Hard-to-Fit Horses and Saddle Fitting

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Part of why horses last longer today than they did in yesteryear is because we try to have tack that fits the horse, not just throw the same saddle on every animal we ride. This new way of thinking has helped eliminate sore backs, lameness, bucking and "cinchiness" in some horses. But there are horses that are really hard to fit due to size or conformation. Here are some tips on finding and fitting the right saddle to the horse.

As equine professionals, you’ve had more than a few horses in your life that have been hard to fit when it comes to tack. Arabian trees are too narrow, Quarter Horse trees are too wide, the widest tree you can find is just not wide enough, no matter how many different pads you use underneath it.

People with gaited horses, draft horses and Miniature Horses often have the most trouble finding saddles that fit. The conformation of those breeds was not taken into consideration when most saddles were designed.

And fit matters a great deal. Equipment that doesn’t fit right makes horses sore and often encourages bad behavior. So, rather than put an ill-fitting saddle on a horse, a good horseman searches long and hard for just the right tack.

If you have a hard-to-fit horse in your care, take heart: A large number of saddle makers are now catering to these challenging horses. Some companies make saddles for any breed, while others focus on specific types of horses. Each saddle maker has his or her own approach to dealing with the issue of fit.

Saddles for All-Breeds

Gone are the days when saddles were limited to whatever you found in your local tack store on a given day. The Internet has provided small and large saddle makers with a way to sell a wide variety of styles and sizes online.

Versatile or custom fitting systems are key to obtaining a good fit. Some offer removable shims that can be switched out or trimmed down to accommodate the shape of a horse’s back. Others ask the horse owner to trace the shape of the horse’s back on a piece of paper so a custom tree can be built. Some saddle makers ask the horse owner to use wire to create the outline of the horse’s shoulders and withers. Others rely on photographs or a combination of different tools to help them ascertain the right shape and size. One company sells saddles with interchangeable gullets to accommodate different shoulder shapes and wither heights. Another company offers specific saddles designed for horses with varying shoulder shapes and widths.

Some companies go so far as to include a DVD with the purchased saddle to help the horse owner determine if the saddle fits the horse correctly. A few even have regional representatives that can come out to your barn to help you make sure the saddle is a good fit. The bottom line is, there’s no excuse for using an ill-fitting saddle anymore.

Fitting Gaited Horses

Gaited horses tend to be hard to fit because of the layback of their shoulders and the unique muscling in their backs and shoulders. Gaited horses also need more freedom of movement in the shoulder area than do non-gaited horses, calling for a saddle that fits differently than most others.

Several companies are producing saddles that allow for wider shoulders and that permit more reach in the front. They are designed to avoid pinching the withers or restricting movement in any way. Flexible trees are particularly popular because they are less likely to impede movement.

As is true for all breeds, saddle makers producing tack for gaited horses often require tracings to help ensure the saddle will fit the particular horse. Although the saddles are generally designed to fit the gaited horse’s back, saddle makers know that each individual horse has its own conformational issues.

Draft Horse Saddles

Draft horses are being used under saddle more often now than ever, resulting in a need for saddles designed specifically for their very wide backs. These saddles are marketed specifically as draft horse saddles, and are only suitable for larger horses.

Although almost all drafts and draft crosses have wider backs than standard-size horses, back conformation and size vary. Smaller drafts that measure around 16 hands have different needs in saddles than do larger, hitch-type drafts 17 hands and taller. Besides these differences, individual horses within each breed or type show differences in their shoulders and withers. To accommodate these differences, draft horse saddles come with or without draft bars and in different tree widths.

Otherwise, though, draft horses are ridden in the same types of saddles as standard-sized horses. Saddle makers specializing in draft sizes offer Western, close contact and dressage saddles for these larger equines. Even Australian saddles are offered for draft horses that are ridden mostly on the trail.

Riding Minis

Most Miniature Horse owners limit their horses’ tack to carts and harnesses, but some people like to put children on the backs of Minis. For these folks, saddles made specifically for Miniature Horses are the only ones that will fit.

Saddle options for Minis are slim, with little choice in tree widths. Seat sizes do vary somewhat for young riders. The size of the seat may also be determined by the size of the Miniature Horse, since very small Minis won’t have a long enough back to hold a saddle larger than 8 inches.

Fortunately for most horses and horse owners, saddle fitting has become a top priority for saddle makers. Equine professionals today have a lot more options for finding the right saddle for the hard-to-fit horse.

For More Information

Here is a partial list of resources for finding tack for hard-to-fit horses.

All-Breeds

Advanced Saddle Fit 603-876-3707 www.advancedsaddlefit.com

Barefoot Saddles 910-489-8031 www.barefootsaddles.com

Crest Ridge Saddlery 1-888-297-1261 www.crestridgesaddlery.com

McLintock Saddlery 619-445-3946 www.mcclintocksaddles.com

Mountain Horse Inc. 1-866-781-4465 www.montanamountainhorse.com

Ortho-Flex 870-226-2301 www.ortho-flex.com

Specialized Saddles 575-882-3342 www.specializedsaddles.com

Stonewall Saddle Co. 951-834-5844 www.stonewallsaddles.com

The Reactorpanel Saddle Co. 1-888-771-4402 www.reactorpanel.com

Tucker Saddlery 1-800-882-5375 www.tuckersaddles.com

Union Jack, distributor for Fyna-Lite www.wintec.net.au

Gaited Horses

Circle Y 361-293-3501 www.circley.com

Dixieland Gaited Saddles 256-366-7480 www.dixielandgaitedsaddles.com

National Bridle Shop 1-800-251-3474 www.NationalBridle.com

Draft Horses

Draft Tack 513-528-3521 www.drafttack.com

Miniatures Horses

Mini Express 352-595-2410 www.miniexpress.com

Ozark Mountain Miniature Tack 1-888-775-6446 www.minitack.com

Star Lake Farm and Tack 724-947-9939 www.starlakefarm.com/saddles.html