Just as we change shape over the months, our horses also fluctuate both in terms of weight and muscle tone. When it comes to the fit of your saddle, it is much better to stay one step ahead and have it checked on a regular basis – after all preventing problems is far simpler and takes up less time and expense in comparison to fixing problems that may arise.
No matter how well your saddle is made, if it doesn’t fit your horse correctly you are at risk of causing a multitude of problems. Your horse will be unable to move well, which will in turn hamper your performance as a partnership and likely lead to your horse experiencing stiffness and soreness – and in some cases even soft tissue damage.
Treating the horse as an individual
In most cases, having your saddle checked every six months is sufficient. However, many horses change shape more often and therefore would benefit from more frequent visits. Here are just a handful of scenarios.
For performance horses, it is likely that their fitness and overall muscle tone will dictate how often they need to be seen. If a saddle restricts movement or action, it can lead to the horse being unwilling to move correctly and therefore unable to build and strengthen the muscles across its topline – a must for any competition horse. As such, it is wise to have saddles of performance horses checked as they are brought back into work after any period of rest as well as before the start of the competition season to ensure they are free to perform to the best of their ability.
For owners of horses kept at grass, you will probably have much experience at managing condition. Many horses can balloon when the spring grass comes through and then slim down throughout winter, meaning their body will have changed shape quite drastically in some cases across quite a short space of time. Even with horses that are in light work, having the saddle seen regularly will help ensure it stays correct to the horse’s shape and keeps them free from discomfort. Do bear in these cases that it is important to time these visits strategically if weight is an issue – there is no use having a wide saddle at the end of summer if the horse is soon to lose weight and become noticeably narrower going into winter.
Considering the effect an ill-fitting saddle can have on a horse, if you own any young horse that is starting under saddle, irrespective of breed, it is so important to have regular saddle checks to avoid causing issues that may develop into problems later in life. Once in sustained work, it is likely your youngster will develop muscle and condition quite rapidly and as such, will need close monitoring as the saddle will only stay fitted for a short time. In such cases, checks every three months will help alert you to any potential issues.
If your horse had spent time off work and you are slowly increasing his workload, you may want to consider more regular checks. Similarly, if you are reducing your horse’s workload, a check may be in order.
If you see your horse on a daily basis, it may be hard to keep track of any changes to their condition and shape, so it may be worth taking photos at regular intervals (from the side as well as front and back) to assess muscle coverage and shape – as well as show up any areas where progression seems to be lacking, which may indicate an issue with fit. Another way to keep in tune with your horse’s shape is regularly taking measurements with a weigh tape. You’ll be able to keep track of changes far more easily and get a better idea of when to arrange a saddle check.
Other than changes to your horse’s condition, there are a few other indicators that may mean your saddle is due for a check-up. These include:
- Your saddle seems to move around when you ride
- The panels of the saddle feel uneven or hard
- You are struggling to maintain your position (this can also be a result of using a saddle with the wrong design for your intended disciple, read our previous blog for more advice)
- Your horse doesn’t stand still or seems nervous when tacking up
- Your horse becomes tense when you go to mount
- Your horse reacts negatively to his neck or back being felt
- Your saddle is rubbing or causing marks to any part of the body it sits on
- Your horse is struggling to bend through its body
- Your horse’s paces have become shuffled
- Your horse is heavier in your hand
Keeping the saddle in shape
Between saddle checks, it is important to do your part keeping the saddle in a sound condition and ensure you aren’t causing any unnecessary damage. The biggest no-no is mounting from the ground.
While there may be occasions when this is necessary – such as when out hacking – on a day to day basis you ought to be using a mounting block or another sturdy platform to mount from. When mounting from the ground, you are using your saddle as a lever and putting a great deal of weight through areas of the saddle that aren’t designed to hold it and over time, the saddle will become damaged – in some cases twisting the saddle tree! Similarly, you should always gently lower your weight into the saddle and ensure your stirrups are the correct length, so that when riding, you can ensure you don’t bang the saddle.
Storage is also a key factor to consider. You should keep your saddles off the ground in an environment that is dry and has a consistent temperature as well as good ventilation. Ideally, saddles should be kept on a stable saddle horse or rack, with a cushioning pad or towel between the saddle and the bars. Also, consider the saddle cover that you use. Breathable cotton covers are excellent at protecting the saddle from dust and scratches, whereas plastic or waterproof covers can encourage moist conditions and attract mould.
Accidents happen – but you must let us know! A saddle that has fallen off its stand, has been dropped, has been rolled on or fallen on will need special attention to ensure it is still fit for use and safe. While saddles may have only been aesthetic damaged slightly, it doesn’t mean there isn’t hidden damage. Broken or cracked trees can be difficult to see without a trained eye, so after any occasion where you think your saddle may have been damaged, it is imperative to have it looked over before it goes back on a horse.
With farrier visits, dentist, physio and vet appointments, feed and bedding deliveries, egg counts and worming to keep on top off, scheduling in regular visits from your saddle fitter can sometimes be the last thing on your mind. But with saddle fit playing such a crucial part in terms of horse performance and soundness, is it time you booked in for a visit from our team?