3 Sizes Fit the Same?
In this picture, you see a wide 32cm saddle (top), a medium 29cm tree (middle), and a narrow 27cm tree (bottom) on the same horse. Three very different sizes, all look to fit equally well, but why does only one fit correctly?
I had a client call me out to assess the fit of three dressage saddles of the same brand but varying widths. She placed each saddle on the horse’s back, and they all LOOKED like they fit almost exactly the same, even though they were all different sizes. However, after we completed the ridden evaluation for each saddle, it was obvious that only one of the three fit correctly. This situation is a perfect example of why you must ride in the saddle to assess if it fits.
When we look at a horse standing still, we only get one small piece of the saddle fitting puzzle. If balancing the saddle in the crossties is the only criteria for fit - then indeed - all these saddle would do fine. But when we rode the horse in these 3 very saddles, we saw three very different fits.
32cm Wide Saddle:
APPEARANCE - In the crossties, this saddle appeared just as balanced as the other two.
HANDS ON - I could fit my entire hand under the BOTTOM of the tree point, which we all know means the saddle is too wide (we want even contact down the entire tree point). This creates a pressure point at the top of the tree point on the Trapezius, exactly what we need to avoid.
IN MOTION - Here’s where we see the ramifications of this too-wide tree. As soon as the rider’s weight was in the saddle, the 3 fingers of wither clearance completely disappeared, and the hard pommel banged on the horse’s withers. Not only that, but the saddle shifted laterally so much that the rider was unable to stayed centered.
WHAT HAPPENED - You remember from previous posts that correctly fitting tree points assist in providing wither clearance AND give the saddle its stability - they keep it from rocking front-to-back and side-to-side. Because the tree points weren’t providing the necessary stability, the added rider weight plus the motion of the horse immediately showed us that the fit was incorrect.
The 29cm Medium Saddle:
APPEARANCE - Just like the wide saddle, the medium saddle looks like it is nicely balanced in the crossties.
HANDS ON - The tree points made good contact down their entire length. There were no pressure points.
IN MOTION - The 3 fingers of wither clearance remained unchanged when the rider was in the saddle. Laterally, the saddle was centered, even in the smaller 10m circles.
WHAT HAPPENED - Because the tree points were the correct width for this horse, they provided wither clearance AND lateral stability for the saddle. This was obviously the correct width for this horse based on the ridden evaluation.
The 27cm Narrow Saddle:
APPEARANCE - The balance with the horse standing still looks correct.
HANDS ON - Only the bottom of the tree points touched the horse, which created a pressure point at the end of the point.
IN MOTION - Wither clearance was maintained, but you could feel the bottom of the points were digging into the horse’s sides. Lateral stability also suffered because - just like the too wide saddle - the tree points did not have a good base of support to keep the saddle centered.
WHAT HAPPENED - Tree points need to make contact down their entire length to provide stability, not just at the top or the bottom. The too-narrow saddle perched, and thus stability suffered just as much as the too-wide saddle.
All these saddles LOOK like they fit the same, but once the horse started moving under the weight of the rider, the way they fit changed dramatically and two of the three became quite unstable. Because lateral stability of the saddle cannot be assessed without the horse and rider in motion, and wither clearance is affected by the weight of the rider and/or the motion of the horse, it’s SUPER IMPORTANT that whomever is assessing your saddle do so when you are actually ON the horse.