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You're saddling your horse wrong...

Posted by RodandDenise on April 2, 2016

You can now purchase our 67 minute video, Western Saddle Fit - The Basics, by going to our new website, westernsaddlefit.comWe also have a 7 minute YouTube video on Western Saddle Fit - The Essentials.  Enjoy!

2016 April 2 1 Dancer second horse.JPG

The first thing the rider does that affects saddle fit is to put the saddle on their horse. Where they position it is so very important.

2016 April 2 2 saddle too far forward.jpg

How do you tell someone who has been riding for many years that they have their saddle in the wrong place? How do you explain that putting it up on the shoulder blades damages their horse?

2016 April 2 3a saddle on shoulder.jpg 2016 April 2 3b.jpg

We’ve posted pictures of the high pressure (red area) that results from having the saddle too far forward...

2016 April 2 4a off the shoulder blade.jpg 2016 April 2 4b off the shoulder scan.jpg

and shown how the same saddle doesn’t cause high pressure points when it is in the correct place.

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We’ve shown how to find the back of the shoulder blade

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and the front of the bar

2016 April 2 7 western saddle in proper position.jpg

and explained that you need to have the second behind the first

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or you do this to your horse in the long run.

2016 April 2 9 smooth transition between withers and shoulders.jpgWe’ve shown what normal withers look like, with a smooth transition over the shoulder blade to the back

2016 April 2 10 lump and hollow.jpg

and what withers damaged by saddles, particularly improper saddle placement, look like.

2016 April 2 11 saddle on shoulder blades.jpg

And it isn’t just recreational riders and newcomers who saddle wrong. It is trainers, top level rodeo cowboys, top level riders in all difference disciplines in the show ring, clinicians (even internationally recognized ones). It is people who write books and host clinics. And, surprisingly enough, it is a lot of working cowboys.

A great many of these people train horses far better than we ever could and can ride rings around us. Why should they listen to what some people who live in the boonie toons of Northern Alberta say? So, are we going to go and tell them that they are saddling their horse wrong? No.

But they are.

2016 April 2 12 ranch horse with lump and hollow atrophy.jpg

And they’re hurting their horses…

(Note:  For those who haven't followed the links above and are still wondering about the proper position of a western saddle, here's the link again.)

Comments:

Posted by Gail on
I have a 10 yr old Arabian cross with narrow shoulders. I had a saddle built for him and it seems to fit beautifully when he is standing still and I can slide my hand under the front and feel around the back edge of his scapula. But it always slides forward when he starts to move and I'm wondering if there's anything I can do about this?
Posted by RodandDenise on
Gail, It sounds like your saddle is built with the idea that you need "flare" to allow the shoulder blades to move underneath it - and it is doing what every saddle built with that philosophy does. Below I am attaching a link which explain why that happens, another which shows the result of using a saddle like this, and a third, with pressure data, that shows that the whole idea behind the philosophy that you need that "flare" is incorrect. Sorry we can't help you with the saddle, but at least you will understand why it is doing what it is doing.
http://www.rodnikkel.com/content/saddle-tree-blog-from-shop-and-desk/saddle-fit-shoulder-blades-and-flare/
http://www.rodnikkel.com/content/saddle-tree-blog-from-shop-and-desk/effects-flare-and-its-not-pretty/
http://www.rodnikkel.com/content/saddle-tree-blog-from-shop-and-desk/rethinking-saddle-fit-and-shoulder-blade-movement/
Posted by Diane Kaser on
I will be sharing it on. Why do some western saddle stick up it the back behind the cantle? Second picture from the top. I see this a lot. Is it a horrible saddle, horrible fit or a horrible back on the horse? We have an older thoroughbred that boards here (27) ridden english. He has the hollow, lumpy back. He got here with that. Pretty sad. Thanks for the post.
Posted by RodandDenise on
Diane,
We did a series on why saddles will lift up at the back. The link to the first one is below.
But I think you are asking why the skirts angle upward behind the cantle. That would be due to the way the saddle is constructed. A big problem with saddles is skirts that are too tight behind and end up rubbing either on the spine itself or on the back edges of the skirts. By cutting the skirts so they lift a little at the back, it alleviates those problems for the horse. This also looks to be a new saddle with shearling that hasn't packed down yet and it may change once it gets ridden some.
http://www.rodnikkel.com/content/saddle-tree-blog-from-shop-and-desk/why-does-my-saddle-lift-back-part-one/
Posted by Norman Stickler on
Thank you for posting this information. Saddle fit and proper placement has been an issue for me for more than 20 years. Two statements make me cringe: put another pad on and get a stronger bit.
Posted by Holly on
What do you do for a newly acquired horse that already has this problem with shoulders and withers?
Posted by RodandDenise on
Holly. Now you are dealing with damaged muscle, at least, and it is a medical issue. Obviously, stopping using the saddle causing the problem is a no brainer. And once you have the problem, getting a saddle that works well is so much more difficult since you now have a mountain and valley to deal with. Getting medical help to see if/how much the muscle can return is also wise. Here is a link that talks about the damage with a lot of good comments at the end, including some with practical rehab advice. All the best!! http://www.rodnikkel.com/content/saddle-tree-blog-from-shop-and-desk/wither-conformation-seeing-damage/
Posted by Carmen Slee on
I have an Arab and my western saddle slips forward going downhill, even with cinch done up tight! I I was thinking of adding a crupper to the saddle! Has anyone done that?
Posted by RodandDenise on
Gravity works, and we have heard of this happening on another really smooth shouldered horse where there isn't much definition between shoulder blade and wither pocket area. If it goes back behind the shoulder blades quickly when you get back on level ground, I wouldn't worry too much as it is just a temporary thing. If it stays there, then I would wonder if it has too much rock in the front of the bars - "flare" is often a term used. Here is a link where we talk about that. http://www.rodnikkel.com/content/saddle-tree-blog-from-shop-and-desk/saddle-fit-shoulder-blades-and-flare/
Posted by Lara on
What about properly placed panel saddles, such as those form hillviewfarms.com. I have found that these also help with shoulder blade relief and other issues such as bridging and spine pressure.

Great article on saddle fit though, thank you.
Posted by RodandDenise on
Lara,

I can't speak for that specific type as I am not familiar with them and they have no pictures of their tree and panel system on their website. However, from previous experience I can say that the issue with the flexible panel systems is the connection points between flexible and solid. If it is flexible enough to bend as the horse moves, why won't it "move" - ie bend down and create a high pressure point - under the connection between the panels and the solid structure above? So far, everything I know shows that they do, and horses get sore under those connection points. Maybe someone has figured out the solution to this but I haven't seen it yet.

The other issue is that these systems have you higher off the horse - a tree and then the panels - which intrinsically gives you less connection and makes you slightly less stable.

And I don't believe anything like this would be solid enough for roping.

So no, not a fan...
Posted by Morgan on
Does this apply to English saddles as well? My horse has high withers, a slight swayback, and a hollow behind his scapula. He's been ridden the last three years in an English saddle that was custom fitted, and his high withers and swayback often make the saddle slide back. Before getting the custom saddle I had a different one and the fitter told me I kept that one too far back. Is there a way to prevent the saddle from sliding too far back but also not putting it too far forward?
Posted by RodandDenise on
Morgan,

Yes, the idea that the saddle needs to be behind the shoulder blades definitely applies to English saddles as well. Western bars should fit right behind the shoulder blade. I don't know about English panels. I have often heard that they should go about 2 fingers back, but that is based on the idea of giving room for the shoulder blade when it rotates back. We've shown that this isn't a problem with Western saddles due to the fact that there is no weight on the leg when it is rotated back: http://www.rodnikkel.com/content/saddle-tree-blog-from-shop-and-desk/rethinking-saddle-fit-and-shoulder-blade-movement/

However, I don't know how this works on English saddles - if the panel design is different enough that the extra distance is needed. I would doubt it but since we only work with western saddles, I really can't say.

The other question is "What about these damaged horses who have so much lump and hollow? How does the rotation of the shoulder blade work on them?" And honestly, I can't tell you that.

But I can say that if the saddle is moving from where you put it, then it doesn't match the shape of the horse where you are setting it. If it did, it would stay there. So if it is moving, I would suggest getting it rechecked and probably reflocked by a competent saddler.

Just a word of warning - some saddle fitters know a lot about what they are doing and can really help horses. Others have a few hours of teaching by who knows who. I have heard some pretty outrageous things from "saddle fitters" who really didn't have a clue how saddles really work. So just because they say they are a saddle fitter or have letters after their name, you have to be wise in assessing what they say. Don't take it all as correct and true. (Especially when it comes to western saddles, which relatively few really know about.)
Posted by Ed Magonigal on
I was one of the people that placed the saddle up on the shoulders but have learned to set it back. More great information
Thank you
Ed
Posted by Don on
do you think that your opinions matter less because you live in N.Alberta ? how Canadian. it is just a spot on this great earth , and a very good one!
Posted by RodandDenise on
It is a very good spot to be! Just a little off the beaten track...
Posted by Stefano Terenghi on
Very interesting
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