Signs of Poor Saddle Fit

Your horse cannot articulate feelings as you do, but there are a number of visual and behavioral indicators of poor saddle fit. If you fail to detect or address these warning signs, your horse will almost certainly resist being saddled and may suffer permanent physical injury as well. Protect your riding partner’s health and comfort by keeping an eye out for the following symptoms of an ill-fitting saddle.

  • White Hairs and Friction Rubs: When these appear in the saddled area of a horse’s back they are classic telltale signs of uneven weight distribution. Instead of spreading the weight equally over its entire surface, a badly-fitting saddle concentrates too much weight in some areas, producing white hairs or friction rubs.
  • Dry Spots: The parts of the saddle that make contact with the horse’s back should do so evenly, so that the wetness evident after you remove the saddle and pad is uniform over the back (except for a dry line matching the horse’s spine channel). If there are dry spots disrupting the overall pattern, the lack of moisture indicates pressure points.
  • Marks on the Hide: There is a problem if you see sores, scars, galls, calluses, or any other questionable physical marks in the areas coming into contact with the saddle or rigging. Depending on their location, the marks could arise from an ill-fitting saddle, an improperly adjusted saddle, or a cinch that is too tight, too loose, or too irritating.
  • Rock n’ Roll: This is fine when dancing, but a saddle that rocks or rolls from side to side signals a poor fit or an unevenly balanced rider.
  • Tipping Up in the Rear: Saddles that ride up in the back may have a twist angle, gullet width, or seat back that does not fit the horse.
  • Impaired Movement of the Horse: Changes in the way that a horse moves under various saddles may be too subtle for beginners to notice, but hampered movement usually indicates restriction of the shoulder muscles.
  • Behavioral Problems:Horses dislike pain as much as we do. Once a horse associates saddling with suffering, you can expect to encounter resistance to any part of the riding experience. This opposition can express itself in a number of behaviors that riders often wrongly attribute to a poor disposition, including:
    • Resistance to being saddled, cinched, or ridden
    • Fidgeting when being mounted
    • Uncooperative or cranky demeanor when being ridden
    • Opposition to being shod
    • Hypersensitivity when being brushed
    • Excessive rolling or bucking (cold-backed) immediately after being saddled
    • Tossing head, pinning ears, and swishing tail when saddled

Learn to pay close attention to your horse’s condition and behavior. They are the animal’s only way of letting you know that something is wrong.

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