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Understanding the fit of a saddle - Part1: The saddle and the horses back

Where should we place the saddle? 

When I am meeting clients for saddle fitting, I always let them place the saddle on the horses back. It is valuable information for me to see where they put it, as a lot of people put the saddle too far forward or too far back. And of course, that will influence the fit of the saddle, and therefore the comfort of the horse. So it is vital to educate horse owners to place the saddle correctly. In this blog, I will tell you as well so you can make sure your horse is comfortable.

We should begin in understanding the horses back and the parts of the back that influence saddle fit. Let's start with the rigid structure: the skeletal structure of the horse and more specifically, the spine. In the pictures you can see the skeletal structure with some vital parts for saddle fit coloured. 

Skeleton of the horse

Most important for saddle fit are the thoracic vertebrae, in purple colours, the lumbar vertebrae, in red in all these pictures. The scapula, the shoulder blade of the horse is marked green. And you can see the outline of the last rib, which is coloured pink. 

The spine and vertebrae

Some parts of the bone structure we can feel through the layers of muscles and skin. These are the palpable parts of the skeleton and they are very important for determining where we can place the saddle. The next picture shows what you can feel of the bones when you run your hand over its skin. You can see the scapula again in green, and the last rib in pink.

Parts of the skeleton you can feel (if your horse is not too fat)

Now we know this, we we can look for the markers in the body of the horse, that determine where the saddle should lie. The scapula (shoulder blade) of the horse is easy to find in most horses, some real fatties excluded. The majority of (English) saddle trees are designed to lie 3 fingers behind the scapula. So we find the round shape of the end of the scapula just under the wither and place 3 fingers behind it. This is where the tree of the saddle may start.  

We know now where the saddle tree, which you can see as the skeleton of the saddle, can lie. The saddle, like the horse, is padded around that rigid structure. In most saddles, the panels protrude a little over the saddle tree, a lot of them about 2 to 3 fingers. This means with the majority of English saddles the saddle may lie just behind the scapula. When you compare the pictures you can see that 3 fingers behind the scapula is the same place as 3 fingers in front of this saddle tree.  

The saddle should not pass the last rib which connects to the 18th vertebrae of the horse's spine. This is the last thoracic vertebrae, the lumbar vertebrae should always be clear of any saddle pressure. To find the 18th vertebrae we fist have to feel for the last rib. As you can see in the picture of the palpable parts of the horse, you need to follow the last rib up to find the 18th vertebrae.As the rib curves,a straight line up once you find it is not good enough. This means that with horses carrying excess weight, it can be tricky to find the actual place of the 18th vertebrae.

Finding the shoulder blade and 18th vertebrae will give you the boundaries for the saddle. 

Sometimes you will find your saddle is longer than this last line at the 18th vertebrae. Please double check if you have done all correct. And if you keep coming to the same conclusion after checking, call your saddle fitter to see what they think and if your saddle is the right one to use for your horse.  

Once you know the saddle is not too long, i.e. it will not pass the last rib, you do not have to focus too much about the end of it anymore when it comes to placement. But it will always be essential to check if the front of the saddle is in its correct spot. Teach yourself to check if you can slide your fingers between the shoulder blade and front of the saddle every time you put your saddle on your horse before you girth up. 

I hope these steps will help you. Some other blogs about saddle fit will follow soon.

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