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AskHQ: Saddle fit

Q: Can a badly fitting saddle cause behavioural problems in my horse?

Answered by Farryn Day

A: Absolutely! Along with correct trimming of the feet and regular dental work, the fit of the saddle is one of the biggest contributing factors to a horse’s overall behaviour and soundness.

The following is a list of behaviours which can be attributed to a badly fitting saddle:

  • Loss of muscle tone along the top line;
  • A dropped or hollowed back;
  • High head carriage;
  • Sore shoulders and neck;
  • Bucking;
  • Biting;
  • Kicking out at the rider’s leg;
  • Difficulties with transitions and turns;
  • Problems with engagement;
  • Grinding teeth, moving away or lifting the leg when being saddled;
  • Spooky behaviour or bolting;
  • Dropping one side of the pelvis in an attempt to alleviate discomfort in the thoracic part of the spine;
  • Inability to stand still when being mounted;
  • Resistance to moving forward, which can turn into nappy behaviour in the arena, as the horse starts to associate the arena with pain; and
  • Rushing into fences or refusing to jump, or knocking poles.

Saddle fitting can be an exhausting and very expensive experience and with so many saddles on the market it is often difficult to make a decision on the correct saddle for your horse. Be sure to enlist the services of a qualified and reputable saddle fitter to find the correct saddle for you and your horse. Also, keep in mind that a saddle will need to be checked regularly throughout your horse’s working life. As your horse grows, changes shape, and develops muscle the saddle may no longer fit correctly, and will need to be widened or changed altogether. Similar to an old pillow that develops lumps, older saddles may need to be ‘re-flocked’ – meaning the ‘flocking’ or ‘padding’ may need to be replaced to avoid pressure points on your horse’s back.