Some of us “lucky ones” have dealt with a hard-to-fit horse or have been though some kind of saddle fit nightmare. We’ve had to learn first-hand how detailed and complicated saddle fitting can be. There’s so much to worry about! Are the panels and tree the right size? Are the flaps the right length and in the right position? How do the thigh blocks fit? Is monoflap or twin flap better? Are wool or foam panels better? Do I need a deep or shallow seat? And the list goes on… but I won’t bore you with any more of these concerns, since you’ve likely felt a healthy dose of them in your own life.
With all this to think about, not to mention all the contradicting information on the Internet, getting a saddle right for you and your horse can seem like a mind boggling affair. In all the madness, the simplest and most impactful part often gets breezed over. I am talking about saddle balance.
Why Be Concerned with Saddle Balance?
It may seem overly basic, but that is the beauty of it. Balance applies to all of us, whether we are riding in a 30 year old relic or the newest five-figure-price-tag custom saddle. The scary part is that I see unbalanced saddles ALL the time. It often happens even to the savviest of riders because a tree can fit at the withers, a seat can feel the right size or a saddle can look okay in the cross ties. But the problem still persists. And a lot people just don’t know how detrimental it can be for both a horse and rider to ride in an unbalanced saddle. Here’s an abbreviated list of some of the problems associated with poor balance:
- Pressure points causing sore horse
- Damage to horse’s spine
- Bouncing saddle
- Chair seat
- Legs out from underneath rider
- Sore rider knees or knees sliding over the blocks
- Poor lower leg contact
- Pubic, back and hip flexor pain
What Does an Unbalanced Saddle Look Like?
This saddle is too low in the front:
For a horse this can pinch the withers, interfere with the shoulder, and cause instability in the form of rocking/bouncing. For a rider it can tip her forward, cause the lower leg to swing backward, cause pubic and lower back pain, and cause the knees to creep over the blocks.
This Saddle is too low behind:
For a horse this can cause lumber soreness and bridging in the mid back. For a rider it can put her in a chair seat, put her legs too far forward and lose contact with the blocks/flap.
If a saddle lists to one side, meaning the center of the gullet is not directly over the spine, it can cause asymmetries in the form of muscle atrophy and uneven development. It can also damage the spine, as a saddle should never put pressure on a horse’s spine! For a rider it can wear the saddle unevenly, form bad habits and give trouble using aids effectively.
What to do about it
As GI Joe says, knowing is half the battle. Pay attention to how your saddle sits on your horse when you’re riding. A friend with a camera can help here. Once you know there is an issue, a saddle fitter can fix it for you. If you are on a budget or a DIY kind of person, strategic padding/shimming will be your best friend. There are pads available that allow for shim inserts. This will let you pad the front, back or one side of the saddle more than the other to get it back in balance (shameless plug: a Six Point Saddle Pad is perfect for this). You can also fold a hand towel and place it in between the saddle and the pad to lift the saddle in the right place. Although shims aren’t the perfect longterm solution, they are infinitely better than an unbalanced saddle.
Keep your saddle in balance, and your horse will love you for it!
Feel free to ask questions, give feedback, share experiences, etc. in the comments below. I will reply to you!