All western saddles extend over the loin
We are no longer building saddle trees. We have two saddle fit videos available on our westernsaddlefit.com website. Western Saddle Fit - The Basics, aimed at riders, is available either on DVD or streaming on Vimeo while the six hour series Well Beyond the Basics, aimed more for professionals but understandable by anyone, is available by streaming on Vimeo. (We left this website up because we have had many requests to keep the information available.)
But before we get to that hind limb muscle that can be affected by poor saddle fit (now that we have finished the last foreleg muscles I'm going to talk about), I feel I again need to make a point I have stated before. (It has obviously been a while since I planned this post. No, we don't have snow in August!) To those who have only ridden Western or who don't read about "saddle fit rules" on the internet, this is a no-brainer. But for those who live in Europe, or who primarily ride English, or who do read the lists of "saddle fit rules" all over the internet, this may sound like heresy.
In fact, after the last post about whether the loin of a horse can tolerate weight or not, we had an e-mail from a saddle maker in Spain. He told us that his vet scolded him for using trees that went past T18. A Swedish saddle maker also told us that he cannot join the Swedish Saddle Maker's Association because he won't sign their statement which contains an agreement to never build a saddle that goes past the 18th rib. When it comes to Western saddles, is this even possible?
Here is one of our iddie-bitty kiddie trees. (It is an 11" wide Modified Association with an 11" seat length, 6 1/4" thigh length.) The bars on this tree measure only 19" long because this tree was built for a grandchild of a saddle maker who was barely walking yet. He wants it to last his grandkids till they are between 7 and 10 years old. So a very small child's saddle tree.
Here is Dancer. She is a 16 hand Quarter Horse with a fairly long shoulder to hip measurement of 28". The distance between the shoulder and last rib (as marked by the lower two pieces of tape on her back) is 18". The top piece of tape marks the approximate spot of T18. Behind that is officially "loin".
Here is the small kids' tree on Dancer.
Here is one of ours with 23 1/4" bars. (This one is a 13" wide wood post Packer.)
And here is one of our Wades with 23 7/8" bars.
In the post comparing bar surface area, the Ralide tree we measured had 22" bars and the old Bowden tree bars measured 23". They ALL extend onto the loin of the horse, even the 11" seat length kid's tree!!
If it is really true that a horse cannot tolerate weight on his loin without damaging him then NO western saddle trees can ever fit horses. So how have horses survived being ridden in Western trees for all these years?
It's a myth!
The answer - the popular internet saddle fit "rule" is simply a myth. It comes as unsubstantiated opinion from the mouths of people who are used to English saddles. (Excess pressure is another thing, and is as damaging on the loin as anywhere else on the horse's back.) The fact that it is imposed as a "rule" on Western saddles shows that the people making these claims really don't understand Western saddles, how they are built or how they work at all. And really, they don't understand their anatomy or their equine history that well either.
Here is a page with a very brief history of saddles showing ancient riders sitting on the hip and loin of horses. (The rest of the site is worth checking out as well. Pretty interesting stuff on equine biomechanics there.) (And to show that this isn't just made up and drawn, here's a picture of someone riding on a donkey's hip from relatively recently.)
And here is a picture of a statue with an ancient rider sitting on the loin of his horse. (I'm sorry that I have no more information on where this statue is or who/what time period it is supposed to depict. Anyone out there know?)
It is a good thing all these ancient warriors didn't know they were breaking "the rule". On the other hand, thinking about how courageous and skilled they must have been to enter hand to hand combat riding bareback, I really don't think they would have cared all that much about "the rule". They, like the working cowboys and other western riders of today, knew better.
Next, back to that hind end muscle...