Determining where to put a saddle on a horse seems like it should be simple, but saddle fit and placement can be difficult to get right. Every horse is unique, and the way a saddle fits on one horse might not be the same for another.
A properly positioned saddle will sit on a horse’s back just behind the shoulder blades and match the natural shape of the horse’s withers and ribs.
Proper saddle position is often influenced by multiple factors such as:
- Overall saddle fit
- The size and shape of the saddle tree
- The horse’s body shape and dimensions
- Whether the saddle is Western or English
- Saddle length and rigging
- Whether a breast collar or crupper are used
Fit and position are related since both contribute to both your comfort as a rider and the comfort of your horse. If either of these elements are incorrect, they can cause injury or strain from the saddle moving, pinching, or failing to evenly distribute your balance.
There are also some slight differences between Western and English saddles that you should note while examining the position of your saddle and whether it’s correct for a specific horse.
Before learning where to place a saddle on a horse, it’s first necessary to understand some basic anatomy. This will help you spot when a saddle is in the wrong position on the horse’s back.
A horse’s shoulder and shoulder blade play a key role in saddle placement since the saddle should sit just behind the shoulder blades. The goal of achieving proper saddle position is to allow the horse to move freely without restricting the horse’s movement in either shoulder blade.
An unofficial area that’s important to know is the “wither pocket.” A wither pocket is the proper place behind a horse’s shoulder blade that the front of a saddle should sit.
The withers are located in between the shoulder blades. This is the highest point on the back of the horse. The wither area is usually where a horse is measured for height.
The saddle covers a horse’s rib cage. For English saddles, the ribs are an important landmark that can help you assess whether the length of your saddle is correct or whether the saddle is placed too far to the rear.
Spinal processes extend from the vertebrae. The saddle should not sit in this area, and the tree should have enough space in the gullet to avoid putting pressure on that area.
Positioning English Saddles
When placing an English saddle, it’s a common practice to set the saddle slightly forward on the withers and then move it back slightly until it’s in the proper location. Leaving the saddle too far forward can cause the tree points to dig in and cause pain since there’s insufficient wither clearance.
Similarly, there should be enough space in the back between the saddle and the spine to avoid contact. Since this is most likely to occur once you’re in the saddle, you can ask a friend to check the cantle once you’re mounted up.
Be careful when assessing fit and placement with just your naked eye. English saddles are usually smaller and lighter than Western models. This makes them look shorter by comparison, but in reality, an English saddle can still be too long for your horse.
If you’re concerned that your saddle is too long or too far to the rear, you can use the last rib as a reference point. Imagine drawing a straight line up from that point along the body of the horse. This is roughly where an English saddle should end.
Positioning Western Saddles
Many of the recommendations are the same for English and Western saddles. You should still place the saddle behind the withers and shoulder blade areas while making sure that each shoulder blade can freely move.
One of the major differences in determining saddle position for a Western saddle compared to an English one is the presence of a skirt. A Western saddle skirt is longer than the actual saddle tree, which can make it a challenge to see exactly where the saddle is sitting.
When visually confirming that your saddle is in the proper spot, make sure you’re looking at the Western saddle tree itself and not simply where the front and back of the skirt extend past. The dimensions of the whole tree are drastically different than the whole saddle.
Many people believe that the rigging on your saddle should be straight to position the saddle correctly. In reality, there’s nothing wrong with having an angled latigo because it won’t significantly affect saddle placement unless the saddle already isn’t a good fit for the horse.
The Importance Of Proper Fit
A saddle that’s improperly placed can cause saddle sores and tender pressure points along a horse’s back, withers, or spine. Too much pressure over a long period of time can lead to serious injuries.
After all, a saddle is more than just a piece of equipment that keeps a rider in place. It also allows you to maintain balance and a healthy posture.
Therefore, fit is a matter of matching the saddle to both horse and rider since these are two separate considerations. A well-fitting saddle will be comfortable and spread a rider’s weight evenly to prevent strain on the horse.
A saddle that’s the correct size and tree width will also adjust itself to the correct position on your horse’s back if it’s slightly out of place. If your saddle doesn’t fit well, it may move to its natural resting place, which isn’t always where it should be on your horse’s back.
If a saddle consistently seems like it’s sitting in the wrong place, consider consulting a professional for custom saddle fitting. A saddle fitting will establish what your horse needs and help identify why your saddle is causing pain.
Solutions may include buying a new saddle, changing the saddle position, or using a different kind of saddle pad. For example, a bridge pad is a type of saddle pad that can fill in a horse’s frame if there are uneven areas due to muscle loss.
Signs Of Incorrect Saddle Position
There are some clues that can help you determine whether your saddle isn’t sitting in the right spot on your horse’s back. In general, it’s best to look at your horse for cues or symptoms that something might be wrong with your tack.
An improperly placed saddle can impede how your horse moves. Check for proper shoulder movement and see whether your horse has changed its gait. If it’s difficult to assess shoulder movement from the ground, pay attention to whether the ride feels unbalanced or different than usual.
A horse that’s in pain from pressure points, friction, or the wrong tree size will likely start to protest in some way. Your horse may seem upset any time you come close with saddles or apply pressure to a certain area.
Another key indicator of poor saddle placement can be the sweat patterns on your horse’s back after a ride. When the saddle is in proper position, the horse will sweat underneath the saddle panels and flaps/skirt.
You should not notice any sweat where the saddle sits over the spine. When positioned correctly, the sweat should be fairly even. A patchy appearance with wet and dry spots could indicate that the saddle is concentrating pressure on the dry areas.
Some saddle designs are also more prone to causing certain symptoms. With treeless saddles that lack a strong international support system, horses can experience an impaired gait and a sagging area in the center of their backs. This is particularly likely if horses are carrying heavy riders without a solid tree.
You should also check for bridging. This can occur if the saddle is up too high in the forward position, causing a “bridge” effect in the middle where there’s no contact with the body.
Once your saddle is in place, you should take care to avoid accidentally moving it out of the right location. One strategy is to use a mounting block since that places less strain on the saddle than mounting from level ground.
In some instances, the saddle might move around even if the tree size and placement is correct for the horse. This is why some horse owners choose to use a crupper or breast collar to keep the saddle from moving forward or back.
However, it’s best to avoid using a breast collar or crupper until you identify the reason that the saddle seems to be moving or sliding. This could indicate that there’s something wrong with the fit or position, so forcing the saddle to stay in place with accessories could mean that you’re accidentally holding it in the wrong spot.
Identifying the proper saddle position can take some time and practice to get right. Fit and position are interrelated, and both are required to make sure that you and your horse are comfortable while riding.
A saddle should go just behind the shoulder blades and follow the shape of the horse’s body, including the withers and ribs.
Make sure to frequently check your horse for signs of poor fit or saddle position. A saddle that fits properly one year might be too big or too small the next as the horse’s body changes.
Signs of improper fit can be subtle. From dry patches on the skin after a ride to behavioral problems, you should always listen to feedback from your horse. Ignoring symptoms of pain can lead to serious damage and a break of trust with your horse.
If problems persist, a professional saddle fitting can help you find solutions. You may simply be using the wrong saddle design or need to move your saddle forward or back by a small amount.
Even slight mistakes in saddle position can cause pain or block the natural way the shoulder blade should move. Pay attention to the feedback from your horse, and don’t be afraid to experiment with a different saddle, a new latigo angle, or a supplemental saddle pad.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ):
Where should the Girth be on a Horse?
The girth or cinch should be approximately four inches behind your horse’s elbow. An easy way to estimate this measurement is to use one hand width to check the distance.
This position allows for free movement of the horse’s shoulders and doesn’t interfere with overall movement during a ride.
How long is a Horse’s back?
In general, a horse’s back is roughly one-third of the length of the horse’s body when measured from the front of the horse’s shoulder to the buttocks. The actual dimensions can vary widely based on the horse’s breed and body type.
There isn’t even a consistent number of vertebrae in a horse’s spine. The number can range from 51 to 58.
Does the size of the rider matter?
Yes, the size of the rider can make a difference in how well the saddle manages weight during a ride. If there isn’t enough room in the seat for the rider, they may unintentionally sit too far back in the saddle. A rider who is off balance or using a saddle that’s too large may get pushed forward toward the front of the saddle instead.
This changes the whole balance of the saddle and can concentrate high pressure onto certain parts of the horse’s back. Even if the saddle is in the correct place, poor rider position can still cause injury.