Saddle Fit

By Terry Golson


I bought my first horse back in 1976. I needed a saddle, and while on vacation in Scotland, purchased one from a local saddler. I used that saddle for a decade, and it seemed to fit every horse that I put it on. But it probably didn’t. Back then, we simply weren’t as aware of saddle fit. Liken it to wearing the wrong size shoe – you can wear shoes that are too small or too big, and still walk, but not comfortably.

The wrong saddle can cause back soreness, interfere with movement (it can stop the shoulder from swinging forward each stride), and can cause behavior issues from pain (which are often misinterpreted as “disobedience.”)

Finding the right saddle for Tonka has been an on-going challenge. This is what he looked like our first year together. We mostly trail rode. Note the prominent withers, with no muscling below them, and a dip behind.

 

A year later we moved to another barn, where we started our dressage training. His shape changed. Tonka became leaner, and fitter, but still had that hollow below his withers.

 

At this point, I invested in a saddle custom fit for him, and for me. It’s an Amerigo, an Italian brand that has flexible panels and other features that Tonka likes. (I won’t get into that here. Horse people can go on and on about trees and twists and panels!) The saddle fitter and I knew that Tonka would continue to muscle up and change shape, and so it was designed to at first fit with a sheepskin pad that we could put shims in. Eventually, those shims would come out, and the pad would be changed. Saddles are very expensive, it’s much better to replace the pad than the saddle!

That was the plan. It worked for two years. This is what Tonka looked like at the end of the show season last fall. Sleek and athletic.

 

At this point he still needed to develop muscles along his top line. This isn’t just for beauty, it would also keep Tonka sound and feeling good, especially when carrying me around.

For that, he needed to do more advanced dressage. Which we’re doing.

 

Ring work isn’t enough. Horses need to exercise and stretch out on hills and uneven terrain. Since we’ve moved barns last month, we’re doing that, too.

 

Now, Tonka looks like this. See those muscles below and behind his withers? Look at that topline that no longer sags!

 

It’s all good, except the saddle, with or without pad and shims, no longer fits.

The saddle fitter can come out next week. Until then, I’ll do only light riding so as not to make his back sore. The saddle can be adjusted, but will need to be sent away for ten days. There will not be a loaner. Tonka lives in a stall at night and a small paddock during the day. For his sanity and fitness (and mine too!) he needs to get out and move. I’ve always ridden a horse in a saddle. I was never one of those fortunate children that got to clamber onto a pony bareback and go galloping. I’m not about to do that now, either. But I am going to get on bareback and go for meandering walks in the field. At least that’s the plan. I’ll let you know how it goes.


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8 thoughts on “Saddle Fit

  • Shaste

    Why not invest in an inexpensive bareback pad? Bareback can lead to back soreness as your weigh is concentrated on the points of your seat bones rather than spread by the saddle panels. A bareback pad helps your horse and can also pride some ‘stickiness’ for your butt 😉

    • Terry Golson Post author

      Good point. Bareback is not “kinder” or “more natural” for the horse. A properly fitted saddle, put on a horse trained to accept it (rather than having it slapped on and cinched up suddenly and tightly) distributes weight and helps to balance the rider so that it is easier on the horse’s back than riding bareback. A pad can be a compromise. My hips can’t handle bareback for long stretches or anything other than a walk, so I think that Tonka will be fine with me up there for a week. I’d rather not spend any money on more gear (beyond the saddle fitting, the retrofitting, etc. etc.) Horses are expensive!

  • Laura Allemand

    My daughter is constantly getting after me to ride more bareback to help improve my balance. Good luck and enjoy!!!

  • Cindi Bajkowski

    I love reading about your adventures with your handsome guy. What I really appreciate is how realistically you write about the cost of being a loving, responsible horse companion. When I was a teenager I was a stable rat, I babysat neighbors kids, in addition I would clean tack and muck out stalls in exchange for time in the saddle. My younger self would be shocked that I never bought a horse, but I know financially I’m not in a place where I can give a horse all that they deserve. Sigh someday! Happy trails

    • Terry Golson Post author

      Thanks! Yes, not only are horses very expensive to keep, but they are a longterm commitment. I have a client with a 26 year old horse. She’s had him for 20 years. He’s been through colic surgery and more. Hopefully, he’ll be around another half-decade. In that time, she won’t be riding him. Just caring for him.
      You could look for a half-lease. Many people need assistance in keeping their horses. I did that for years. You don’t have to own a horse to have one in your life.

  • Gin

    I went through a lot of saddles, buying and selling them, before I found “the one”. It’s an older hand made saddle. When I put it on my Standardbred and she walked out right away with a natural loose walk instead of gimping along for half a mile I knew I had the saddle for us. And so far it’s been fine for my other horses. And for me.