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Tip 3: Gullet Channel Width - Western Saddles

Is your horse reluctant to bend laterally?
Is your horse not able to use its back correctly?
Do you need to call out the equine chiropractor often?

If you are answering “yes” to any of the above questions, you may be faced with a saddle Gullet Channel Width issue. A saddle with too narrow of a gullet channel can cause permanent damage to your horse’s back! Watch this informative video and learn how to determine if your saddle’s gullet channel is the correct width for your horse.

Ask yourself…

Is your horse reluctant to bend laterally?
Is your horse not able to use its back correctly?
Do you need to call out the equine chiropractor often?

If you are answering “yes” to any of the above questions, you may be faced with a saddle Gullet Channel Width issue. A saddle with too narrow of a gullet channel can cause permanent damage to your horse’s back! Watch this informative video and learn how to determine if your saddle’s gullet channel is the correct width for your horse.

There is no one gullet channel width that is appropriate for every horse.

There is no such thing as “one size fits all” where the gullet channel of your horse’s saddle is concerned. Instead, the width of each horse’s spine will determine how wide his saddle’s gullet channel must be.

To calculate how wide your horse’s spine is, do the following. Stand on your horse’s left side and place your hands on his spine in the area where his saddle will sit. Then, with the tips of your fingers, gently palpate downward towards the ground. You will first feel bone (the transverse processes of the lumbar vertebrae), then a slight rigidity (the supraspinal ligament), and finally, an area where there is a bit more give. This is his back or longissimus dorci muscle. Mark the start of this muscle and then do the same thing on your horse’s right side. Next, take your right hand and make a bridge over your horse’s back from mark to mark. Put your left hand inside that “bridge.” The number of fingers you can get inside your bridged hand will determine how wide the gullet channel of this horse’s saddle must be between the bars.

It is very important that the width of the gullet channel be the same throughout the entire length of the saddle. Too often we see English saddles with gullet channels that are the appropriate width at the front, but then progressively narrow towards the back. The result is a saddle that has a 4-5 finger gullet channel width under the pommel, but only 2-3 fingers at the cantle. If you consider the anatomical structure of the horse’s back, this makes no sense. The horse’s spine and surrounding ligaments do not get narrower over the length of his saddle-support area. As a result, in order to ensure adequate spinal clearance, neither should the gullet channel of his saddle. For most Western saddles, this is usually the case and the gullet channels are generally wide enough.

It is only infrequently that we find a saddle that is too wide through the gullet channel for a particular horse. But such a saddle will have inadequate weight-bearing surface, may start to strip muscle away from the top of the ribs, and the back of the tree may actually rest on the spine.

A much more common problem – especially for English saddles – is a saddle with too narrow of a gullet channel. This saddle will sit on the horse’s spine and/or ligaments. This is especially noticeable when the horse goes around a corner: if the horse is tracking to the left, you will see the saddle shift to the right, so that the left-side panel rests on the horse’s spine/ligaments. This is something we must avoid at all costs, and since most Western saddles are made to accommodate the working horse, this is generally never the case. A saddle that sits on the horse’s spine/ligaments will cause him to tighten his back muscles and hollow his back, producing exactly the opposite of the nice rounded back that we want to see. In the long-term, a saddle with too narrow of a gullet channel will cause permanent, irreversible, and often career-ending injury or damage to the horse’s back. The most severe forms of such damage are spinal stenosis (compression and narrowing of the spinal canal) and spondylosis (degeneration of the vertebrae).

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Wow, wow, wow, wow! I am so grateful and amazed at your generosity. It’s taken me a long time to write because I didn’t think I could possibly find the words to express my thanks adequately. I still don’t have the words but am finally writing anyway! My new saddle is amazing!! When you decided we needed a special new saddle, I thought it was really for my horse. After all, I hadn’t had any problems with saddle fit for myself when the saddle fit the horse and my last saddle was comfortable for me. I knew the new saddle would fit Juilliard beautifully, but I have been shocked at how big a difference it has made for me too! My seat and legs are always exactly where they need to be, without me even trying. And this isn’t just when the horse is still. It’s at all gaits, lateral work, etc.! I feel like I’m sitting IN my horse, not on top of him. My legs are long without me having to stretch them down. I have always envied how male dressage riders have such effortless position, and now I sit just as effectively as they do! This saddle puts my weight over precisely the right spot on my horse’s back. In every saddle prior to this, I’ve always felt behind the motion with Juilliard’s medium and extended trots. Now for the first time I am in balance with the motion for these big trots. It is wonderful to no longer be fighting my saddle, and to instead have one that makes my job more easy and comfortable! The biggest change I have noticed with Juilliard is the adjustability of the canter. With previous saddles, in even just a lengthened canter, it always felt like the rear of the saddle was blocking the movement of his back, and he had to brace against it hitting him. Often I had to go into a half seat or he would buck instead of making his stride longer. Now his back has room to move with the new saddle, and he easily and willingly elongates and makes big round jumpy strides (like he hasn’t done since he was young and saddle length wasn’t an issue). This is such an amazing saddle for both of us, and I can’t thank you enough for making it happen! Many, many thanks!!

— Jennifer Chong - Damascus, OR

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