Saddle fitting can be a real nightmare. Sometimes you feel like Goldilocks: it’s just a bit to narrow or a bit too wide, or maybe that panel shape is a bit too flat . . . or a bit too curvy.
Seriously, for some people finding a saddle that fits their horse is worse than finding a flattering bathing suit!
My last two horses, Kroni and now Freedom, have pretty standard backs when it comes to saddles. The last time my saddle fitter came to visit he looked at three of my saddles and congratulated me: they all fit without any adjustments. In fact, even though Kroni was a Trakehner and Freedom is a Thoroughbred, I was able to have Kroni’s saddles refitted to Freedom without much difficulty.
So, what can you do to find a well fitting saddle?
Probably the best thing you can do is find an independent saddle fitter — someone who doesn’t rep a particular brand — and ask them to show you what works, and what doesn’t work, for your horse. Let them show you different ways that a saddle doesn’t fit and also how to recognize when it does. Make sure you know where to place a saddle (many times I see them placed too far forward, where they impede the movement of the scapula) and learn how to use the new shimmable saddle pads (they are lifesavers if your saddle is a hair too wide).
Are custom saddles worth it?
As far as I can tell, the jury is still out on the value of a custom saddle. People either have wonderful experiences . . . or really bad ones. I’ve read way too many sad stories on horse forums about the $5K saddle that was supposed to be custom and which didn’t even come close to fitting their horse.
While it’s tempting to order a saddle that is measured just for your horse, I also am loathe to buy a saddle that I can’t ride in. Unless, of course, they are such a good deal that I figure I can resell them :). I’m pretty bad about buying saddles on eBay and luckily the ones that I didn’t like, I resold mostly for a profit. After all, even when a saddle looks like it fits, your horse should get the final vote. Some horses are stoic and won’t object to a saddle that doesn’t fit like a glove; others (and I owned one of these drama queens once) make it very clear that the are not happy
Should you buy a new saddle? Or used?
There’s also the dilemma of used vs. new. It’s not such a problem for me as I can only afford the saddles I want when they have been already broken in by their previous owner; but if you buy a new saddle you need to understand how a saddle will fit after it’s been ridden in for awhile — the new foam panels are pretty good at accommodating small variations in shape — but wool flocking may compress over the first few months and need some adjustment. Other wool saddles come from the factory like an overstuffed sofa and need a bit of wool removed to make the fit more comfortable.
And if you do have one of those Goldilocks horses, you might just want to consider a treeless saddle!
What kind of horse do you have? One who fits the “off the shelf” sizes or a princess and the pea type who needs a saddle that’s “just right.”