Ensuring proper saddle fit means more than tight cinch

Tiger Adams checks out the saddle fit on Moose. Adams, who with her husband, Dick, owns The Horse in Sport, is one of 18 people in the United States certified as a saddle fitter by the Society of Master Saddlers, which is based in the United Kingdom.

Moose was fortunate, we learned recently when Tiger Adams came to visit. The new jumping saddle I purchased in January, which I thought was a decent fit for my plus-size pony, actually fits him very well.

From pommel to cantle, side bars to girth, it sits where it is supposed to sit, but does not touch in the wrong spots. It sits well in the pocket behind his whithers, and doesn’t pinch or constrain him.

“The saddle should fit in the pocket, like a puzzle piece,” Adams said. Like shoes for a human, a saddle needs to fit several different ways to allow for the most comfort and range of movement.

Turk, my other gelding, hasn’t been so lucky. Neither the Western saddle I use on him most often, nor the jumping saddle I occasionally ride on him fit very well. In fact, none of the saddles in my tack room fits him appropriately.

Turk is smaller than Moose, but wider across the top of the back. Also, his leg and shoulder bones connect at a different angle than Moose’s, so the saddle and girth sit closer to his shoulder and are more likely to limit his movement.

Think of yourself carrying a heavy backpack that fits poorly, and pinches against the scapula, Adams said. It makes it difficult to move your shoulders and carry the weight comfortably. With a horse, that sort of poor fit may cause discomfort, soreness and a desire to get rid of its rider.

Adams isn’t just throwing words and ideas around. She and her husband, Dick, sell saddles — Western, English, trail, competition and more — at their store, The Horse in Sport, 215 Colorado Ave. in Grand Junction.

Beyond that, she has been tested and certified as a qualified saddle fitter by the Society of Master Saddlers — one of just 18 people in the United States with that certification.

The Society of Master Saddlers, based in the United Kingdom, began its saddle fiter’s certification in 1999 and expanded it to outher countries, including the United States, in 2000.

To be certified, participants must complete several fitting courses. Then they are tested on their knowledge of and proper fit for a variety of saddle types, including Western, jumping, dressage, synthetic saddles and side-saddles.

Adams said she became interested in proper saddle fit when she and her husband owned a saddle shop in Florida years ago. “I was following the hunter-jumper circuit, and I’d see a lot of horses with saddles that didn’t fit well,” she explained.

Some of the saddle companies their store dealt with offered fitting classes specific for that company’s saddles, but what they taught didn’t always transfer well to other brands and styles of saddles.

“It’s like buying clothes,” she said. “You may have two brands of something that are listed as the same size, but they fit very differently.”

Dick and Tiger Adams eventually moved to Colorado, first to the Front Range and then to the Grand Valley. After they opened The Horse in Sport in 2007, Tiger decided to pursue saddle fitting further. She learned of the Society of Master Saddlers’ program and worked to become a certified fitter.

These days, she’ll conduct a basic evaluation of your horse and current saddle for $35. “If you want a full assessment, with tracings and my recommendations for a saddle for your horse, I charge $75,” she added. “But $50 of that is returned if you buy a saddle from us.”

Even so, Adams said, “I tell people I’m not here to sell you a saddle. I’ll tell you what’s right for your horse.”

Saddles are a major purchase for most people, with prices for some of the top saddles often getting in the $3,000 range. When you make that kind of investment, you want to be sure it fits your horse well, she said.

Although she goes into much greater detail during a fitting, Adams listed six areas that must be examined to ensure proper saddle fit. They include:

The clearance of the gullet over the horse’s backbone. That’s the inverted V at the front of the saddle. It must not rest on the vertebrae but must line up properly, both vertically and horizontally.

The width of the channel down the center on the underside of the saddle. If it’s too narrow, it can pinch.

The length of the saddle compared to the horse’s backbone and ribcage. Too long, and it will put weight on vertebrae not supported by ribs.

How well the saddle sits in the pocket just behind the horse’s whithers.

How the padded side bars sit along the horse’s back muscles. They should be flat so that the weight is evenly distributed.

Where the girth or cinch attaches and circles the horse. Too close to the front legs, and it can pinch or constrain movement. The girth pocket on the horse’s belly must line up with the girth straps on the saddle.

For information, or to schedule a saddle fitting, contact Tiger Adams at The Horse in Sport, 970-263-0101, or on the Internet at http://www.thehorseinsport.com.


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