How often do you get your saddles fitted?

saddle fitting

My County didn’t look bad from a distance, but it was overstuffed (for Zelda) under the stirrup bars. Lots of old clumpy wool was removed. The saddle was made in 2002 and the darker wool is original.

I was talking to someone once who complained that her horse’s back was sore. I asked if she had a saddle fitter look at it. Her response? She’d had it fitted when she bought it . . . three years ago!

That begs the question, how often do you have your saddles fitted? Personally, I have them checked twice a year by an independent saddle fitter (someone who doesn’t sell saddles). My saddles don’t always need work, but sometimes the horses surprise me by changing shape.

Today was one of those times. When you have horses that are in constant work of a similar variety, once they are fit their shapes stay pretty constant unless they are very young (getting bigger) or very old (withers becoming more pronounced).


I knew that this saddle currently fit Zelda the best, but it was still spitting saddle pads out the back like watermelon seeds, a sure sign something isn’t working.

This spring I put off having my saddles checked because I hadn’t ridden much over the winter and the horses weren’t fit. Nothing fit right, including my clothes. However, as they got fitter, I noticed that their saddles were fitting less well . . . saddles pads weren’t staying put (I had one saddle where it looked okay from a distance but the saddle pad shot out the back like a watermelon seed as I rode), and another saddle was tipping me a bit off balance.

I’m not surprised that Zelda’s back has changed. She’s using herself better and her topline has improved a lot since last fall when she had several saddles that fit. Now they all looked a bit too narrow, perching on her back


The saddle was reflocked with soft, new wool. Just enough for her to feel comfortable. A saddle that is tight under the stirrup bars can cause real problems when you start to jump — every time you land, the weight of the rider in the stirrups exerts a lot of force. If it hurts, most horses will eventually stop wanting to jump.

And Freedom? One of his saddles fit fine, but the other was the one that was tipping me a bit more forward than it used to . . .

Today was saddle fitting day. Sure enough, Zelda’s saddles were too narrow, especially below the stirrup bars. Luckily, I’ve held onto my County Extreme. It was the saddle I used on my Trakehner and it was too wide . . . until now. A bit of reflocking and it will definitely do the trick. I’m happy too as this saddle is one of the most comfortable I’ve ever ridden in.

As I’d guessed, the cross country saddle that I used on Freedom isn’t fitting right any more. It’s a shame, because it’s a very handsome Kieffer monoflap, but the panels don’t have enough give in them to change the fit enough to work and I don’t like to use shimmed pads out hunting: there’s too great a chance that they will shift and I’ll end up with a sore horse.

However, the silver lining is that the jumping saddle I’d bought for Zelda (which fit her great last year but is now too narrow) fits Freedom perfectly!

That’s why it’s so important to have a “saddle library”. No new saddle purchases required!

How about you? How often do you have your saddles checked by a fitter?

Saddle fit is dynamic and changes as speed increases

Kieffer norbert Koof

This saddle fits Freedom extremely well — it works at all gaits, allowing him to lift his back and use his body effectively.

A new study conducted by researchers at the University of Zürich and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences confirmed that saddle fit is dynamic and influenced by even modest increases in speed within a gait.

Researchers found that a 10 percent increase within each speed range resulted in a 5 percent increase in the total saddle force peak at the walk, and a 14 percent increase at the trot.

The Swiss and Swedish researchers based their findings on data gathered from sensors that monitored seven dressage horses ridden on a treadmill in their regular tack, walking at speeds from 1.3 to 1.8 metres per second, and trotting speeds from 2.6 to 3.6 metres per second.

The motion of the horse and rider, vertical ground reaction forces and saddle forces were measured simultaneously. The study showed increasing velocity significantly accentuates the basic motion pattern of the respective gait and consequently exerted a distinct formative influence on the saddle forces.

At the walk, increased velocity could accentuate a rocking type of movement of the horse’s back.

At the trot, saddle movement was influenced by the vertical oscillation of the horse and rider, the resulting higher ground reaction force peaks and the stiffening of the horse’s back.

The bottom line?

It’s not enough for your saddle to fit when your horse is stationary; you need to work with a fitter who understands dynamic fit and who can make sure that the fit will work even while the horse is in motion.

The study was supported by a grant from the Stiftung Forschung für das Pferd (Research Foundation for the Horse).

Influence of velocity on horse and rider movement and resulting saddle forces at walk and trot
S. Bogisch, K. Geser-Von Peinen, T. Wiestner, L. Roepstorff and M.A. Weishaupt.
Comparative Exercise Physiology, 2014; 10 (1): 23-32 DOI 10.3920/CEP13025

The Princess and the Pea

Princess and the pea

We’ve all seen saddles with a few too many pads under them. This one was passed along by my saddle fitter.

I suspect we’ve all seen saddles like this one — perched so far above the horse’s back that you might not even know you are riding a horse.

I’m sure that the rider’s intentions are good. But while they might want a pad to protect their horse’s back, too much of a good thing can cause problems.

Fundamentally I think people have lost track of the purpose of saddle pads, which used to be to keep your saddle clean. Now there seems to be more emphasis on the pad than on the fit of the saddle.

In this case, it appears that the folded towels are being used to prop up the cantle as well as lifting the entire saddle a good 6 or 7 inches off the horse’s back. Why isn’t this a good idea?

For one, stability. When you have that many pads under the saddle, it’s not really sitting on the horse and is likely to shift during riding. Certainly when you are doing any kind of riding that includes varied terrain or jumping the last thing you need is a saddle that moves independently of you and your horse.

For another, pressure points. Propping up one part of the saddle almost always creates pressure points under the opposite end. A saddle needs to be the right shape for the horse’s back — the tree points should follow the shoulder and the panels should touch the horse’s back evenly, supporting the rider’s weight.

Saddle fit is such an important part of keeping your horse comfortable and the rider balanced that it’s worth spending some time learning more about the basics. I’m lucky enough to have access to an excellent fitter. I’ve learned a lot from watching him over the years. But if you are just looking for some basics, this video is an excellent starting point.

Saddle Fitting Long Distance

Saddle fitting long distance

Kitt Hazelton of Panther Run Saddlery wrote an excellent blog post that shows what kind of photos you need to provide to help a fitter evaluate your saddle on your horse.

I am lucky. I live in the land of saddle fitters. I have many choices of who to use and don’t have to wait months for one to travel to my neck of the woods. My fitter comes to my barn at least twice a year to evaluate how well my saddles fit. Even better, I have access to independent fitters — people who are not repping a particular brand so they are not trying to sell me a better, more expensive saddle than I already own.

However, many people live in a saddle fitting wasteland. Perhaps the only people they can get to look at their horses is a rep for a brand. Maybe they aren’t even that lucky! Those people have two options: learn to fit saddles themselves or work long distance. Given how many people I come across who have ill-fitting saddles (even when they think the saddle fits), choice #2 is a pretty good option.

To work effectively with a saddle fitter you need to be able to provide two things: a good set of photos and a wither/back tracing. You can follow the link to video instructions on how to do a wither tracing. And Kitt Hazelton (Panther Run Saddlery) wrote a great blog post that shows exactly what kinds of photos you need to provide but they include conformation shots, a conformation shot with the saddle girthed up, and a view that shows the tree points in relation to your horse’s withers.

Just remember not to compromise on fit. A poorly fitting saddle can cause your horse a lot of pain and can often be the root cause of performance issues. It’s definitely worth getting a professional opinion.

What the dust patterns on your saddle pad tell you

saddle pad dirt patterns

The dirt patterns on your saddle pad can tell you a lot about how your saddle fits. Read this article at or at

Reading the dust patterns on your saddle pad is the equestrian version of reading tea leaves. You study the marks that are left after riding and they help you evaluate the pressure points under your saddle and if it’s a good fit for your horse. Of course, it can also tell you that your horse is dirty!

In general, wherever you see dirt, there is contact. Where there’s no dirt? No contact. Analyzing the dirt patterns can help you see if you are crooked in the saddle (more dirt on one side than the other), whether the saddle bridges (no dirt where you would expect to see contact)

According to master saddler Jochen Schleese:

The dirt should accumulate in the areas of the saddle pad that experience the most movement: at the front of the saddle (where the shoulder moves up and back) and at the back (where horse’s back swings). No dirt should show in the areas where the saddle doesn’t come in contact with the horse’s back, such as the gullet or at the transition between sweat flap and panel.

Just remember to start with a clean, white pad and a clean horse. If your horse isn’t pretty clean, excessive dirty on parts of its back can skew the results. Also, if your pad slips at all during your ride, it will impact the patterns.

Finally, your horse gets the final say in fit. I had a saddle a few years ago that created dirt patterns that, to me, indicated saddle fit problems. My horse apparently hadn’t read the manual because he loved that saddle. So sometimes the tea leaves don’t tell the whole story.

How your horse’s “girth groove” impacts billet positions.

Billet position explained

Click through to read this article on Saddle Fitting: The Inside Journey

Does your saddle slip forward? It could be that the saddle is too narrow, but it could also be a combination of the billet placement on your saddle and your horse’s girth groove.

I read a great article today on Kitt Hazelton’s Blog, Saddle Fitting: The Inside Journey that really explains the issue well.

Click on the photo to read more.



Saddle fit for riders makes a real difference

Roosli Pilatus

I can’t remember the last time I rode in my Roosli dressage saddle but it is perfect on Zelda.

There’s so much focus now in equine forums about saddle fit for horses that sometimes fit for riders gets overlooked.

Sure, it’s important for the saddle to fit your horse. But it also needs to fit you! Fighting the tack every stride does not make you a better rider, it makes you a frustrated one. And yes, there are some riders (usually pros) who can ride in any saddle because their core strength and balance can overcome the issues with fit.

For the rest of us, saddle fit — and the use of a saddle made for a specific discipline — can make riding infinitely more pleasurable. A saddle that allows you to sit in a balanced, appropriate position is a pleasure.

I’ve been struggling to find the right saddle for Zelda. I had my Ainsley Chester fit to her, but since it’s a true cross country saddle with very forward flaps, it puts me in a bit of a chair seat. For flat work, I knew I needed to open my hip angle and stay in a more centered place. After all, she’s a draft cross and she already carries a lot of her weight on her forehand, she doesn’t need me adding to the burden. I tried my Freeform treeless saddle on her but it wasn’t giving me the support I needed.

I rarely ride Freedom in a straight dressage saddle because the saddle I bought for Kroni is slightly too wide for him. But guess what, it works pretty darn well on Zelda.  I dusted off my beloved Roosli Pilatus dressage saddle and bingo! It sits me just the right way and all of a sudden it’s not so hard to have the right hip angle, my pelvis is balanced just right and I feel solid in my position.

When I bought that saddle I probably tried 15 different brands before I decided to what to buy. It wasn’t my first dressage saddle — by then I’d owned several, the most recent being a Prestige that my horse had outgrown. I was at a larger barn at that time in my riding life so I was able to try other boarders’ saddles, plus I had several shipped to me from consignment shops. My trainer had a Roosli and once I sat in that, I was convinced. In fact, the process of trying so many saddles was fascinating because they were all so different — the width of the twist, the depth of the saddle, the position of the knee blocks and stirrup bars — these elements all influence your balance. (Of course, the saddle has to fit your horse, too. If it’s too wide or too narrow, it will tip you slightly forward or slightly back).

I’ve held onto that saddle, despite not riding in it for a few years, mostly because I knew I could never replace it for what I could sell it for — or, really, what I paid for it. This is a saddle that was made for me based on my measurements and it really fits my long leg. I was lucky enough to order it from the factory during a time when the exchange rate was more favorable and I got it at a great price because my trainer ordered it directly from Fredy Roosli. Sitting in it again, I remember exactly why I bought it in the first place. I’m so glad now that I didn’t sell it!



Reflocking necessary

Saddle Doctor

Gary Severson, aka The Saddle Doctor, starts work on the Chester

The Ainsley Chester saddle that I’m now using on Zelda is the one I bought in the parking lot of a CVS from a woman who drove up in a white van (see Another Saddle for my Tackroom). This brand/model was very popular among eventers about 35 years ago. The woman who sold it to me said it had belonged to her

Wool from saddle

The wool that came out of the saddle was a wool/synthetic blend and was quite compressed.

room mate’s father and that it had been sitting in a closet for a long time. Probably 20 years!

The saddle is in good shape for its age although the panels were quite firm. My saddle fitter (who has been around long enough to work on them when they were trendy) said they often came slightly over stuffed from the factory and this one hadn’t been touched since then (there were no flocking slits).

The “wool” that came out was obviously a mix between real wool and a synthetic fiber and it was so compressed that it almost looked felted. The new wool that went in is soft and fluffy and left the panels feeling very cushy.

Compressed wool

The wool was so dense and compressed it felt felted. That will happen after 30 years!

Of course, the final say on comfort is up to Zelda. So far, she seems very pleased with her “new” saddle. I’ve had two buck-free rides now and she’s starting to use her back better. She has a long back and it’s easy for her to get hollow. I’m guessing that the new saddle is making it easier for her to lift her back.