Finding a saddle to fit a specific horse is like finding a pair of jeans that will fit you for 10 years. Not going to happen, but with the right combination of pads a good quality saddle can fit your horse for years to come & all the seasons in-between.
Many horses, like humans, change weight with the seasons, which means the saddle that fit perfectly in the winter may roll in the summer or the perfect summer saddle may pinch come late fall. If this describes your horse know that you will be changing the way you pad your saddle with your horse’s change of weight, and it may not necessarily be the same from summer to summer or one winter to the next.
Young horses (under 6) will often change dramatically from season to season as their bone structure grows & then they ‘fill in’ with muscle both from growth, use & work. Comparably, older horses are often affected by body changes as well, the middle age gaining of weight in different places than they ever carried extra weight before, and eventually the atrophy of muscle allowing bone structure to be closer to the outside.
The fact of the matter is that saddles come in pretty general gullet widths, narrow, standard (semi-quarter horse, also the same width as an Arabian tree which has slightly shorter bars), full & wide, and although those measurements change slightly from tree maker to tree maker (and that might make all the difference for your horse!) when it comes down to it there aren’t too many options. There are only a handful of tree makers, if you do your research & find out who makes your saddlemaker’s trees you will drastically narrow your saddle fitting options.
Another difference you will find between different brands of saddle trees is the rock of the bars, the contour on the bottom side of the saddle. Many fiberglass trees made in China are flat as can be, that’s a bad deal. There is another saddle maker who has a great speal about fitting the moving horse (as opposed to the standing horse) well, here’s some food for thought…your horse moves differently by himself than he does with you on his back, and even with you on his back he has options of holding his back differently (collection & self-carriage or not). **and when you ‘measure’ your horse for that new expensive saddle is your horse standing still?? ~just sayin’** Still, no matter how your horse is standing or moving there is a contour to his back…imagine if the seat in your car was as flat as leading against a wall, not too comfortable! Contour is good…unless you are riding a mule (which is OK too! But they’re just a bit flatter than your average horse, but they do need flare to make room for their shoulder blades which some contour affords, so again you don’t want a flat Chinese tree!)
Here are my collection of pads, the only one missing is my wool blanket (it’s safe & clean IN the house not the barn because I really only use it right after I bathe my horse! Like for clinics & shows etc. It’s just too dang pretty to get dirty!) With one or more of these pads I can get my saddle to fit the skinniest 2 year old (with plenty of room to grow) right up to my full-grown cattle working mare. Because my saddle is not a wide tree, I do have trouble fitting wide horses and no amount of padding will make too small bigger 😛
Besides buying a saddle with a high quality tree in the correct gullet width, I want to stress to you to purchase a saddle that fits your bone structure, the length of your upper leg will not change dramatically in your lifetime, nor will your pelvis (unless of course you’ve had your first baby…which I did, and yes it changed the way my saddle fit me, but it still fits my now wider seat bones!).
But my weight changes by the season too!?!? I hear you! & you will probably need different jeans, but as long as you can avoid gaining 30+ lbs your saddle is still going to fit you pretty well! A good fitting saddle supports your bone structure & allows room for your soft tissue. If you’re preparing for a long winter 😉 and you’re packing a little more weight than you would otherwise, you’ll need more room from front to back (seat size), but your stirrup length won’t change and the rise, dish & shape of the seat to support your pelvis won’t change much if at all. If I just lost you with those crazy terms, I’ve got tons more I would love to share with you!!
You’ve got a few choices, you can hire me for a private saddle fit to rider session (we can do a lot online!), attend one of my saddle fit to rider lectures (often the afternoon before a weekend clinic, I will be in Rochester, MA doing saddle fit to rider on Friday October 28th ) OR wait for me to publish that dang book I’ve been working on! Encouraging comments to get this book completed are welcome!!
PS if you are a retailer, manufacturer or saddle-maker feel free to send me free stuff & I will be happy to evaluate it for you!