When saddles don’t fit: bridging

Saddle fit - Bridging
This illustration from http://www.sustainabledressage.com shows what happens when a saddle "bridges."

Finding a saddle where the shape of the panels and tree match the shape of your horse’s back, is not as simple as choosing narrow, medium or wide.

One of the problems that you can encounter is “bridging.” This is when the front and back of the saddle make contact with the horse’s back, but there is a gap below where the rider sits. This means that the pressure is concentrated at the front and the back, and not spread evenly across the horse’s back. In other words, it’s a recipe for a sore back.

How can you tell if your saddle is bridging? If you do a visual inspection of the saddle and look down the pommel area you will see daylight under the panels. However there are other ways to check for bridging.

Reading sweat/dirt marks on your saddle pad.

Saddle Pad that shows the effects of bridging
Start with a clean saddle pad and a not so clean horse. After riding, check take a look at your pad. You want to see no dirt along the channel (over the spine) and an even distribution of dirt under the panels. Very dark areas mean there is more pressure; light or clean areas mean there is less pressure. Looking at this saddle pad you can see that there is no dirt on the center of the pad. This shows that the panels are not making contact with the horse's back in the middle of the saddle as a result of bridging. (Photo from therefinedequine.com).

Thermographic imaging

Thermographic images show heat. In the context of saddle fitting, heat correlates with pressure.

Thermographic imaging
This image shows the saddle is putting more pressure on the front and back of the saddle, which indicates bridging. (Photo from Saddlefitter.blogspot.com)

A few caveats about bridging

Two things to keep in mind about evaluating bridging in saddles is that

  1. Sometimes sweat patterns that indicate bridging may be caused by a horse that is hollowing its back. That could be caused by saddle fit but it may also mean that the horse needs to be encouraged to engage its abdominal muscles and raise its back, and
  2. A saddle that might bridge slightly when a horse is standing still may fit fine when the horse is in motion and it raises its back.

So, if you suspect your saddle is bridging, call a saddle fitter!

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