Here are the two main things you need to pay attention to when searching for a saddle for your wider horse.
Anyone who has ever owned a pony or wider horse knows the trials and tribulations of finding a saddle to fit these Thelwell lookalikes. Many people end up breaking out the special pads, cruppers and breastplates in an effort to keep their saddles in place.
There are several considerations when fitting a saddle for a wide-backed horse, but the key ones to keep in mind are tree width and angle. Most riders are aware that saddle trees come in narrow, medium or wide, but these designations can refer both to the width and the angle of the tree. If the saddle is a “wide narrow”, this means the saddle has a wide tree width and a narrow tree angle.
Tree Angle and Shoulder Movement
It is important that the saddle stay behind the horse’s shoulder. If it does not, and constantly moves forward, the tree points of the saddle will drive into the horse’s shoulders, first producing a buildup of scar tissue on his scapula, then chipping away cartilage and bone. This can lead to persistent unsoundness, possible longterm damage, and premature retirement.
In order to avoid this kind of damage, it is crucial that the angle of the tree be adjusted to match the angle of the horse’s shoulder. Think of two sliding doors. If they are properly aligned, one will slide freely past the other. If they are not, one door will jam into the other. It is the same with the horse’s shoulders and the angle of the tree. As the horse moves, his shoulder rotates upward and backwards. If the tree angle does not match the angle of the shoulder, it will be unable to rotate freely under the saddle, compromising movement, sometimes severely.
Checking and Measuring the Tree Angle
We recommend a tool like the SprengerTM gauge to determine if the tree angle matches the angle of the horse’s shoulder. The Sprenger goes behind the shoulder blade, and is set so that the upper arm of the device is parallel to the angle of the horse’s scapula. The tree of the saddle should be adjusted so that the tree angle matches that of the shoulder.
To determine if the tree angle is correct for the horse, put the saddle on without a pad. Check if the angle of the piping on the front of the flap matches the angle of the horse’s shoulder. If it does, the angle of the tree is correctly adjusted. Baroque-style horses especially need to have saddles that accommodate freedom over the withers to allow their huge moving shoulders to move freely. While Thoroughbreds often have the paradox of “narrow wide trees” (to accommodate narrow shoulders but big withers), Baroque horses (Lusitano, Andalusian, etc.) usually have little to no withers and really wide shoulders, resulting in a need for wide narrow trees.
Tree Width and Shoulder Rotation
The tree width must be enough for the horse’s shoulders to rotate freely. Often, we see a saddle with a tree width that is too narrow for a particular horse. Not only do the shoulders not move freely under such a saddle, but it can be driven forward on top of the shoulders while you are riding. This will result in the problems we discussed above. Trying to make a saddle that is too narrow fit by adding more padding is akin to wearing another pair of socks to make shoes fit if they’re already too tight – it won’t work!
If the tree width is too wide, the entire saddle may rock or slip from side to side when it’s being ridden, or the back half may twist to one side or the other (this may also happen when one side of the horse – usually the left – is more heavily muscled, forcing the saddle over to the other side in compensation).
Saddle makers and fitters should consider both tree width and tree angle when fitting a particular horse. Tree width and angle need to be adjusted together. If the width of the tree is correct for the horse but the angle is not, the saddle will not fit. The same applies if the angle is good, but the width is not. Adding or removing flocking from the vertical panels will not solve the problem – the gullet plate needs to be adjusted. Some self-adjustable gullet plates will accommodate angle adjustment, but will not allow width adjustment (over the wither area). At times, both the width and angle of the saddle’s tree are incorrect for a particular horse, possibly causing restrictive movement damage.
Your saddle plays a crucial role in the well being and performance of your horse. If you are in doubt of your current saddle’s fit, or are having a challenge finding something to fit your wider mount, contact a certified fitting professional in your area to give you a diagnostic evaluation.
Jochen Schleese came to Canada in 1986 to establish and register the trade of saddlery in North America, operating the only authorized saddlery training facility in Ontario. Schleese is the world-leading manufacturer of saddles designed for women, specializing in the unique anatomical requirements of female riders. Schleese provides diagnostic saddle fit analysis and saddle fitting services across North America to maintain optimal saddle fit to horse and rider. Saddlefit 4 Life educational programs and certification courses are held throughout the world. His first book “Suffering in Silence: The Saddle Fit Link to Physical and Psychological Trauma in Horses”, is available from HorseBooksetc. and through Amazon.com in hard cover or e-format. Saddlesforwomen.com ; Saddlefit4life.com ; Schleese.com ; 800-225-2242