Fit is Everything - Infinitely Adjustable for Optimal Comfort & Performance!

Tip 7: Saddle Straightness - Western Saddles

Ask yourself…
Do you often have to step into one stirrup while riding in order to center your saddle on your horse’s back?
If you answered “yes” to the above question, you may be faced with a Saddle Straightness issue. Watch this informative video for some saddle fit tips on “Saddle Straightness” !

Ask yourself…
Do you often have to step into one stirrup while riding in order to center your saddle on your horse’s back?

If you answered “yes” to the above question, you may be faced with a Saddle Straightness issue. Watch this informative video for some saddle fit tips on “Saddle Straightness” !

Understanding the Importance of Saddle Straightness

One of the things we see often – even in professional pictures in various magazines – is that the rider is not actually sitting straight on the horse (this is especially obvious when you see the rider from behind!).

Once you have determined that your saddle has adequate wither clearance, a gullet/ channel that is the appropriate width for your horse, properly aligned billets or latigo, and 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 we 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 lope. 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. Did your saddle sit 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, 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.

 

need a western saddle pic from behind here!

 

These pictures help demonstrate two ways in which Jochen Schleese will check for Saddle Straightness

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. 70% of horses have a left shoulder that is larger and more developed than their right shoulder; 20% have a right shoulder that is larger and more developed than their left shoulder; and 10% are even through the shoulders. Whether a horse is left- or right-side dominant can result from several things: the way it was positioned in utero, which leg is forward when the horse grazes, and/ or 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 Saddle Tips #8 and #9) 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 on a saddle can 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.

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I had a wall full of ribbons from countless horse shows and I still wasn’t happy. I wasn’t happy because my horses obviously were not. I spent thousands of hours riding with very talented trainers, but no matter how well I could ride, there was still a void. I wanted to be better. I wanted to be more than a rider. I wanted to be a horseman, that is, horsewoman. So, in my never-ending quest for self improvement, I embarked on a journey that would change not only my life, but the lives of the horses for whom I have such a deep passion. I began to study everything I could get my hands on about horse behavior. This led me down another path to a degree in equine nutrition. But wait, there’s more! I soaked up information about hoof care and the latest breakthroughs in equine pharmacology, anatomy, physiology, and holistic healing like a sponge. I moved away from any training techniques involving pain, fear, and intimidation. I solicited the advice of trainers well-versed in the Classical Method of Dressage- no easy task in the Cutting Horse Capital of the World! I aligned myself with only those persons with a similar philosophy. Along the way, I met an amazing number of horses who, for various reasons, were placed in a recliner and destined for a life spent staring at a fish tank in someone’s nursing home of a back pasture, or worse, the kill pen. These horses had failed at their current careers due to physical and /or behavioral issues. Over and over I was encountering riders whose trainers and vets had given up on the horses. Somehow, it didn’t seem right. If these horses were okay for some life in a pasture or to be passed off to some other unsuspecting rider, why couldn’t they be made whole again? Plenty of humans retire from one career to begin another, so why couldn’t a low level eventer become someone’s next First Level dressage partner? I figured they simply needed someone with the knowledge to help them succeed and that person was going to be me. But, I am human and flawed, so even I could fail a horse. Enter GG, an exceptionally challenging mare. Try as I might, I just couldn’t figure out how to make her happy. She was terrific to be around- as long as I stayed off her back. So, without further adieux, I delved into the world of saddle fit. I was pretty sure I had it all figured out and was making some pretty good progress with the mare, but I wasn’t quite there. My saddle wasn’t horrible, but it still wasn’t quite right- and it certainly wasn’t doing me any favors. So, in a last ditch effort to find a way to ride this mare successfully, I began my search for yet another saddle- one that would suit both of us. A chance outing one evening landed me in Saddle Heaven. I had stumbled upon what would become a savior for even more of the horses entrusted to my care: Schleese Saddles. Not only are these saddles made for women (Hooray!) but they are also fully adjustable for the horse. A certified fitter from the company -in Schleese terms, an Ergonomist- comes to my farm at least every six months to fit the horses both statically and dynamically. The Saddle Fit for Life philosophy aligned perfectly with my own.  So, thanks to a chance meeting with Jochen Schleese and his wife, Sabine, the final piece of my puzzle fell into place and now I can be even more successful giving horses the futures they deserve- far from the kill pens and forgotten back pastures. Utilizing nutrition, holistic healing, environment, proper saddle fit, and the Classical Method of Dressage, I have been able to successfully heal horses with not only physical trauma, but psychological trauma, as well. My name is Jennifer Fulton and my focus is the Whole Horse.

— Jennifer Fulton - Aledo, TX

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