We need to consider saddle fit before we close a sale to ensure customer satisfaction, and enhance the
comfort, stability, and freedom of horse and rider. A hasty, misguided saddle purchase might yield an irritable and unresponsive horse which is prone to back problems. A balanced saddle, however, enhances an equine athlete’s performance. A jumping horse can freely lift his shoulders to clear a tall, wide obstacle; a cutting horse can quickly sink to his hocks to lock in a cow. Saddle fit shouldn’t be a hit-or-miss process, no matter what kind of riding is preferred. Through awareness of modern equine anatomy and dynamics, and improved materials, manufacturers are creating equipment that allows horse and rider to perform with comfort, stability and freedom of movement. Unfortunately, customers often lack the knowledge necessary to make informed saddle choices for their mounts. That’s where we come in. We’d rather miss a sale if we don’t have the right saddle for the horse than sell a poor-fitting saddle.
Once a customer has ridden an ill-fitting saddle and dealt with a horse which has become uncomfortable in his work (due to poor saddle fit), the rider becomes in tune to correct saddle fit. Our philosophy is this: We don’t care what the saddle is made of, if it works on the horse and the rider is comfortable in it, please don’t fix the problem. Of course there are many other reasons we would prefer to have our clients riding in Schleese saddles - simply because we believe these are one of the best saddles available on the market today.
Mechanics and Measurements
Saddle fit has become fashionable for good reasons, and now almost everyone is concerned with it. Western trail riders are just as interested in having their saddles fitted properly as any competitive English rider. In some ways, a western saddle won’t do as much damage to the horse’s back as quickly as an English saddle. But when poorly fitted, a western saddle can actually do more damage than an English one.
Armed with a flexible curve, available at drafting stores for roughly $15, or a soft pies of solder wire, a piece of tracing paper and a pencil or colored chalk, a savvy equestrian can adequately measure his or her horse at home. You should concentrate on four main areas when doing a wither tracing: The area an inch behind the shoulder blade, the low point of the back and the last rib. Finally, do a spine tracing.
Imagine trail riding for hours in pointy-toed western boots that crunch your toes and rub painful blisters. A horse is just as miserable, saddled with equipment that pinches his withers, presses on his spine or cuts into his flank. These are some of a saddlefitter’s biggest challenges and, most importantly, can leave a horse in significant pain, causing long-term damage. Unfortunately, not all saddles can be adjusted to the point where they will fit perfectly in all these areas.
Correctly fitting saddles pay good dividends. The time it takes to fit a saddle varies directly with the customer, and while most fitting sessions take 25 to 45 minutes, we have spent up to four hours with a customer.
Correct saddle fitting requires assimilating numerous details. We determine the breed of the horse we’re fitting and the rider’s discipline. Then we ask the customer’s price range. A custom saddle definitely fits better than a $2000 off-the-rack saddle, because it’s fitted and adjustable to the horse (especially if it’s a Schleese!).
We also ask the horse’s age and condition. The customer sits in several saddles to determine seat size and style preference. With all that information we narrow our choices to four or five saddles that might work.
Many a saddle that’s initially fitted correctly is undone by unnecessary padding. A specialized pad can work effectively, but often proves only a Band-Aid fix that causes extra expense. Trying on the saddle first, without a pad, reveals how the saddle sits on the horse’s back, and whether it has a chance of working.
We fit the saddle without corrective padding, since we don’t want to hide symptoms; we want to solve saddle-fit problems.
English Saddle Fit
Saddle fit is just as important to English riders as it is to Western ones. Use these basic tips to ensure a proper English saddle fit. (See Schleese’s guide to correct saddle fit, which expands on these basic pointers)
1. Balance: Ensure the lowest point of the saddle is the seat. This indicates the saddle is balanced.
2. Wither clearance: Make certain the withers have plenty of clearance in the gullet to prevent pinching.
3. Tree Point angle: Check that the angle of the points (akin to a western saddle’s bars) matches the horse’s shoulder angle, giving him freedom of movement.
4. Panel Fit: Slide your hand flat under the flap and feel how the panels fit. You want to feel a smooth contour along the horse’s side with no obvious bridging. Panels can be reflocked to improve fit.
5. Gullet width: Check the gullet width. In general, a too-narrow saddle will inch low on the withers and rock the saddle backward; one that’s too wide will drop down on the withers, propping up in the rear.
6. Gullet Clearance: Look from behind the saddle. You should be able to see daylight through the gullet if the saddle fits properly. Ensure that it is wide enough!
Happy Horse, Happy Rider.
In any retail environment, service is the name of the game. Customers crave knowledge about the products they buy for their equine partners, and anytime their shopping experience is positive, and their buying choices are correct, we become the hero. We always offer accurate saddlefit advice to ensure that our customers will ride properly fitted saddles on happy horses.
(This article was originally written by Bonnie Jeter for Equestrian Retailer magazine. We have taken some liberties with the content to make it more personalized to Schleese, as it ties in to our saddle fit philosophy.)