On the underside of the saddle, the gullet channel is lined by two panels that run the entire length of the saddle. The panels' purpose is to evenly disperse the rider's weight onto the Longissimus dorsi muscles in the horse's back. With the saddle sitting level on the horse's back, apply pressure downward onto the seat to represent the weight of a rider. Then feel along the length of the panels and check for an even distribution of pressure.
Next, check to see that the angle of the gullet plate and width of the tree matches the slope of the horse's body. To determine this, lift the saddle flap and locate the pocket that holds the point. It will be located on the topside of the sweat flap and will generally have a U-shaped stitching. The hardness of the saddle tree can be felt inside the pocket. On the underside of the sweat flap, padding will extend from the top of the point down past the bottom of the point. A saddle that is the correct width will make consistent contact with the horse from the top of this padding down to the bottom of the point. A saddle that is too narrow will have a section of padding residing above and off the horse's withers. The bottom of the points will also dig into the horse's musculature. This is not only painful for the horse, but can also result in muscle loss.
Another component of saddle width is pommel clearance. If the saddle is the correct width, the pommel will clear the top of the withers by two to three inches. Keep in mind that a brand new saddle with wool flocking will compress with use. In this case, allowing up to an extra inch of clearance would be appropriate as long as the angle of the tree matches the angle of the horse. A saddle that is too wide will lay too low on the withers and will have less than the recommended two to three inches of pommel clearance. Once the rider is mounted, the additional weight of the rider could push the pommel down onto the top of the withers. Over time, saddle pressure can damage the tissue as evidenced by white spots of hair on the withers.
If the saddle has passed these checks, tighten the girth and recheck all the steps. A final check should also be completed with a mounted rider. During the entire process, pay particular attention to the horse's reaction. Signs of discomfort, such as pinned ears, should weigh heavily into the decision to purchase or pass on the saddle.
As you try out different saddles, remember that there is no industry standard. Saddles from different manufacturers can have the same size, but vary in width, length and depth. Be patient, as it might take a little time to find a saddle that measures up!
When checking the fit of an English saddle, begin by standing the horse on level ground. It's best not to use a saddle pad since a pad would hide the points of contact that the saddle makes with the horse. Instead, place the saddle directly upon the horse's back. Be sure to start with the saddle forward of its final destination. Then gently slide the saddle toward the rear of the horse. There will be a spot on the horse's back where the saddle wants to stop. This is the saddle's natural resting spot. Now feel the horse's shoulder blade or scapula. There should be enough clearance between the edge of the shoulder blade and the saddle to allow the horse's shoulder to have a full range of motion. Repeat this step as needed to insure that the saddle's natural resting spot is behind the horse's shoulder blades.
The metal gullet plate is located at the pommel of the saddle. The angle of the tree and the length of the gullet plate determines the width of the saddle.
The saddle should sit level on the horse's back and not extend past the last rib.
The points of the saddle are the lowest part of the saddle tree and are located at the front of the saddle.
When choosing an English saddle, the length of the seat is generally considered a factor of the rider's needs. With the rider sitting in the deepest part of the seat, there should be approximately one hand's width of space between the rider and the cantle.
However, seat size also affects the overall length of the saddle and is an aspect of fitting the saddle to the horse. A saddle that is too long will extend past the thoracic region of the horse's back. This is the area of the back that is supported by the rib cage and by design is the strongest. To find the rear boundary of the thoracic region, locate the last rib and follow it up to where it joins the spine. The saddle should not extend beyond this point.
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The angle of the saddle should match the angle of the horse's body and not interfere with the shoulder blade.
Next, add a little weight to the saddle or push down on it. At the same time, feel along the entire length of the point to ensure that it is pressing evenly onto the horse. Do this on both sides of the saddle as horses are not always symmetrical. Then take a step or two back and view the saddle from the horse's side. The saddle should sit level on the horse's back. Depending upon the type of saddle, the top of the cantle may be an inch or two above the height of the pommel. The lowest part of the saddle should be the seat. A saddle that is the incorrect width may tip forward if it is too wide or backwards if it is too narrow. In either case, the rider will find it difficult to remain in the deepest part of the seat when mounted.
Located at the front of an English saddle tree is a curved metal plate called the gullet plate. This metal support is attached to the underside of the pommel when the saddle tree is constructed. The angle of the tree at the pommel and the length of the gullet plate determine the width of the saddle. Width is measured as the distance between the points or the ends of arched gullet plate. Some saddle manufacturers express this measurement in centimeters. Others list sizes as narrow, medium/regular, and wide trees. In-between sizes, such as regular-wide trees, may also be offered in some models.
Saddles with an interchangeable gullet system have a removable gullet plate that can be easily replaced by a gullet plate of a different angle. This allows for adjustments in the tree size as determined by the angle of the gullet plate and the width between the points. However, the gullet plate should not be confused with the gullet, which is the channel that runs down the center of the underside of the saddle. The width of the gullet channel doesn't change.
Pommel clearance is the distance between the horse's withers and the pommel of the saddle. Two to three inches is recommended.
So, you're in the market for an English saddle! Maybe it's because you bought a new horse or you're changing disciplines. Or perhaps, your instructor, trainer or trusted friend is blaming your horse's bad behavior on an ill-fitting saddle.
It's true that a saddle that doesn't properly fit can cause behavior problems such as cinchiness, head tossing and fidgeting during mounting. An ill-fitting saddle can also lead to serious issues like bolting and bucking. But even subtle body language like the horse's inability to relax or move correctly are signs that the saddle may not fit correctly and might be causing him pain.
To correct problems like these or simply to avoid them in the first place, it is prudent to carefully check the fit of a saddle prior to purchasing it and periodically throughout the horse's life. As your horse grows, ages or becomes more fit, the shape of his back also changes. So a saddle that fit last summer may no longer measure up!
Not to be confused with the gullet plate, the gullet channel is the space between the padding on the underside of the saddle.
Bridging occurs when the panels near the center of the saddle fail to make contact with the horse's back. When checking the initial fit of a saddle, a slight amount of bridging may be acceptable as the full weight of the rider is not yet bearing down on the saddle.
If the saddle easily rocks back and forth, side to side, or makes pressure points, the problem may reside with the stuffing or flocking inside the panels. Panels are typically stuffed with either synthetic foam or wool flocking. Foam retains its shape indefinitely, but wool flocking has the ability to compress so that it conforms to the shape of the horse's back. So a used saddle with wool stuffing may need to be reflocked or reshaped in order to properly fit a different horse.
Now stand behind the horse, being careful not to get kicked. Look down the gullet channel. Verify that the distance between the right and left panels is sufficient to place the panels on top of the long muscles of the horse's back. A gullet channel that is either too wide or too narrow can put pressure on the bones and nerves of the spine. As a general rule of thumb, a gullet channel that is three fingers wide will be sufficient for most horses.
To get a better understanding of how a saddle should properly fit a horse, it is important to consider how a saddle is constructed. It all begins with the saddle tree. This is the framework to which the leather and padding will be attached. It is the shape and size of the tree that determines the shape and size of the finished saddle.
Saddle trees can be constructed from a combination of materials including wood or wood composite, fiberglass, leather, and metal. A spring tree has two metal straps running from the front to the back of the saddle. These metal straps give the saddle flexibility under the seat and not only make the rider more comfortable, but also allow the rider to more effectively communicate with the horse via the weight aid.