By: Jochen Schleese
Tip number 7 in a 9 part series on saddle fit.
- One of the things I see often – even in professional pictures in various magazines – is that the rider is not sitting straight on the horse. (this is especially obvious when you see the rider from behind!)
Do you often have to step into one stirrup while riding to center your saddle on your horse’s back? This could mean that your saddle does not sit straight on your horse’s back, for whatever reason.
Once you have determined that your saddle has a gullet/ channel that is the appropriate width for your horse, its billets are properly aligned, and it is the correct length for your horse, you need to make sure that it sits straight on your horse’s back. Straightness means that the center of the saddle is in alignment with your horse’s spine. Sometimes, a saddle that appears straight when the horse is standing in the crossties will shift to the right or left when the horse is being ridden. A saddle that falls or twists to one side can lead to problems with your horse’s SI (sacroiliac) joint; if the saddle shifts to such a degree that the panels rest on the horse’s spine, this can lead to the kind of irreversible long-term damage I discussed in Saddle Fit Tip # 3 – Gullet/ Channel Width.
The best way to determine if your saddle falls or twists to one side while your horse is being ridden is to do a dust pattern ride and analysis. Without brushing your horse’s back, tack him up and ride him on a 20-meter circle in each direction at the walk, trot, and canter. Then, carefully lift the saddle off of his back, so as to not disturb the telltale outline left by the saddle’s panels. Put your horse in crossties if available; if not, have a friend hold your horse on even ground. Square up your horse. Put a mounting block or something on which you can safely stand behind your horse; the goal is to have a clear view of the top of his back. Stand on the mounting block and look at the dust pattern. Was your saddle sitting nice and straight on your horse’s back? Or did it fall to the right or to the left? If you are uncertain, take a tape measure and measure the distance from the center of your horse’s spine to the outside of the rear panel on each side. If the saddle falls to the right, which is most common due to the usual somewhat greater musculature on the left, the measurement from the center of your horse’s spine to the outside of the right-hand panel will be bigger than the measurement from the center of his spine to the outside of the left-hand panel.
What causes a saddle to fall to one side of a horse’s back? Horses are by nature uneven. The overwhelming majority of horses are not built symmetrically through their shoulders. Most horses have a left shoulder that is larger and more developed than their right shoulder; some have a right shoulder that is larger and more developed than their left shoulder; and a small minority are even through the shoulders. (approx 70-20-10%) Whether a horse is left- or right-side dominant can result from the way it was positioned in utero, and/or from which leg is forward when the horse grazes, and/or from the way the horse has been trained. Sometimes a saddle falls to one side because the gullet/ channel is too narrow and/ or the tree width or tree angle (to be discussed in upcoming Saddle Fit Tips) is not correctly adjusted for the horse. So the larger shoulder kicks the saddle over to the other side.
Alternatively, a rider who sits unevenly can compress the stuffing more on one side of the saddle, and drag it over to that side. Perhaps the rider has an imbalance such as is caused by scoliosis, or one hip is lower than the other, or s/he weights one stirrup more than the other. If you have determined that your saddle does not sit straight on your horse’s back, it is important to determine the cause and resolve the issue in order to avoid causing long-term damage to your horse. Please watch the video below demonstrating the importance of saddle straightness.
In 1984, Jochen Schleese was certified as the youngest Master Saddler ever in Europe, and in 1986, he was asked to be the Official Saddler for the World Dressage Championship. Jochen is widely respected in equestrian circles for his knowledge and expertise as a Certified Master Saddler (CMS) and as a businessman. A progressive developer of innovative products, Schleese received an international patent in 1996 for the AdapTree® saddle tree design which allows the saddle to be adjusted to fit as the horse grows and develops. Jochen is a regular guest speaker at major equestrian trade fairs and events, as well as at various veterinary colleges across the US and Canada, and is widely recognized as an authority in his field. He incorporates his personal experience as an international event rider into every product and service offered by his company. www.schleese.com