Is it possible to have TOO MUCH wither clearance on a balanced, correctly sized saddle?
I recently saw a social media post asking for saddle fitting advice. The OP had several pictures of a saddle on her moderately high-withered horse, and by all accounts, the fit appeared to be quite good. The saddle looked to be well-balanced, and there was plenty of room in the pommel for the withers, spine, and Trapezius. The OP said that the horse was moving well, and exhibited no signs of discomfort, but she wanted to make sure of the fit.
This is great, right? Except there were a few people commenting that there was “TOO MUCH wither clearance.”
HANGONASECOND... Why is that a bad thing????
Based on this line of thought, the question I pose to you is: When you have a moderate to high-withered horse with a correctly balanced saddle that fits well, why would anyone be concerned with “too much wither clearance”? To me, this is like complaining about having too much money, or being too pretty, or your child being too well behaved. It is simply a non-issue.
I suspect that these comments stem from riders wanting that “close contact” feel, but not understanding how quickly wither clearance on the narrow horses disappears when the rider’s weight is applied or the horse is basculing over a jump.
Some people say we can allow for just “one finger of clearance” in close contact saddles. However, in my experience, every saddle I’ve ever seen fitted this way sat right on the horse’s withers as soon as the girth was applied or the horse began moving. And there’s not a single pad out there - even if it could be made out of magical unicorn hair by woodland fairies - that is going to solve the issue.
I can tell you - with 100% certainty and 17 years of saddle fitting experience - that you can never have “too much” wither clearance on a well-balanced saddle, especially when you’re dealing with a high-withered horse.
Once we began to understand the importance of protecting the withers, the spine, and the Trapezius, we began building saddles to achieve this goal - the old McClellan military saddles are a perfect example of this.
When the pommel hits the withers, it causes unbelievable pain and suffering for the horse. When the saddle is used for weeks or months, it creates a whole slew of lameness issues, the need for compensatory injections, lack of thoroughness, crookedness, behavioral issues, and lack of trainability.
These animals are our partners and friends. We owe it to them to make their journey with us as comfortable as possible. And if that means you sit a little further off your horse’s back to accommodate his withers, I think it’s absolutely worth it.