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Tip 4: Full Bar Contact - Western Saddles

Is your horse reluctant to bring his back up?
Are you worried that your saddle is creating pressure points?
Watch this informative video for some saddle fit tips on “Full BarContact” that may help you!

Is your horse reluctant to bring his back up?
Are you worried that your saddle is creating pressure points?

Watch this informative video for some saddle fit tips on “Full BarContact” that may help you!


Understanding the Importance of Full Bar Contact

Once you’ve established that your saddle’s gullet/channel is the correct width for your horse, with the bars resting on your horse’s longissimus dorsi muscles, and not on his spine or ligaments, you need to ensure that your saddle’s bars make even contact with your horse’s back. We want the saddle to sit on the optimal weight-bearing surface of the horse’s back, and to distribute the rider’s weight over an area that equals approximately 220 square inches.

It is important that the saddle not bridge or rock. When a saddle bridges, the front and rear of the bars make contact with the horse’s back, but the middle does not. (For a visual image, think of an arch bridge.) When the rider’s weight is in the saddle, this results in excessive pressure at the front and back of the saddle.

To determine if your saddle bridges, place your saddle on your horse’s back without a saddle blanket. Stand on your horse’s left side and place your left hand on the swell and the finger tips of your right hand between the bars and your horse’s back. Move your right hand slowly toward the back of the saddle, feeling for any areas where the panel does not make contact with your horse’s back. Then do the same on your horse’s right side. Or, rather than using your hand, some people find it easier to test for even contact by sliding a pen or pencil in between the bars and their horse’s back. Use whichever method works best for you.

The arc device allows the saddle fitter to take the measurements of the horse’s back and check that the saddle’s panels have been flocked properly to reflect the horse’s back shape.

When a saddle rocks, the bars at the front and/or back of the saddle do not make even contact with the horse’s back. Think of the motion of a rocking horse. In this case, there is excessive pressure in the middle of the saddle, and the rider’s entire weight is concentrated in this one area. To determine if your saddle rocks, place the saddle on your horse’s back without a saddle blanket. Push down on the swell. If the cantle lifts up off the horse’s back, your saddle rocks.

Note that sometimes your saddle may be made with bars that deliberately flare up at the very back, so the last inch or so of the bars don’t make contact with your horse’s back. This is done in specialized cases: for instance, when there is a need to accommodate a tall or large rider on a horse with a short saddle-support area. If fitted correctly, this saddle will not rock.

Sometimes we hear that a saddle that bridges slightly is actually a good thing, because when the horse lifts his back as he is being ridden, his back will come up into and fill in the space left by the bridge. While this may seem logical at first, in reality, it doesn’t work. The reasoning here is faulty. To demonstrate this, the next time your Saddle Fit technician or Saddle Fit Representative fits your saddle, ask her/him to put the Arc device or Saddletech (the metal tool used to measure the curvature and width of your horse’s back) on your horse with the middle two wings lifted so that they do not make contact with your horse’s back. This will simulate a saddle that bridges. Then scratch your horse’s stomach along his midline, so that he raises his back. You will see that the middle 2 wings of the Arc device still do not make contact with your horse’s back. This shows that even when your horse lifts his back while being ridden, his saddle will still bridge.

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I am thrilled with the saddles and the fitters ! My 17 yr old draft cross has the cleanest spine they had ever seen when he had a bone scan done too see where arthritis was . His spine was clean . He only has been ridden in a Schleese . Julia Dixon has just been amazing ! She has done wonders to get me a loaner and get my saddle built quickly so I can have it for a scholarship I was awarded. Thanks again, Emily! [Update: May 31, 2016] Just wanted to tell you how much this new saddle has changed my horse.  My super short Obrigado [saddle] saved Pete.  No back pain.  The saddle fits Pete and me perfectly. He's happy and no longer reactive and spooky as his back is pain free!!

— Emily Morris, Avella, PA

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