Let’s See The Underside of Your Saddles

Having a horse with many issues is both heartbreaking and enlightening. Many athletic, healthy horses or extremely good natured, laid back ones put up with huge amount of training and management abuse without batting an eyelid. Now, if you have a horse with a plethora of problems who is unable to move in correct movement sequence when badly shod, when having side reins fitted, when saddle sits not quite where it should do, when you don’t sit straight…consider yourself lucky.

Horse with physical issues that are not a lameness and that eight different vets feels helpless in identifying opens your eyes so wide they never squint again. Even better, you start seeing a miniature version of those issues in horses that have no problems as such with their bodies but that are trying their best to communicate an issue without exposing themselves to danger…

One vet a few years ago told me that it’s interesting that we rarely see horses that “complain” upon a small physical discomfort like a person would. They get on with it, they adapt their way of going, way of holding their bodies so that whatever discomfort they feel is minimised. It’s a nature of a pray animal not to show its weaknesses and instincts often override thousands of years of domestication. 

Over time they strain more and more structures until it’s no longer possible for them to hide the fact that something is “off”. By the time this happens though, the intricate patterns of compensations have become like a labyrinth with many twists and turns and it takes thorough veterinary examination to find the real centre where it all started and where the treatment will be the most successful. 

So if you ever had or looked after a “difficult horse” when it comes to their management consider yourself lucky. I have Kingsley to thank for for my wide opened eyes and mind.

Kinglsey and I in 2011

One thing I learnt from this horse is how important it is to look very closely at the underside area of your saddle and I would be very interested to see how the saddles you all use are put together.

saddle 2

The saddle you can see above has a gullet that narrows towards the back. The saddle is also pretty rigid in the shoulders area. Kingsley would struggle in this saddle immensely due to pronounced differences in the way he used his left and right shoulder but also due to having long and weak loins predisposing him to sacroiliac strain.

Since horse’s spine doesn’t narrow as much towards the back I personally prefer saddles with gullet wide enough to accommodate the spine well not only at halt but most of all in motion. As a horse turns the saddle will move slightly to adjust to the change of ribcage position and that means one of the panels is likely to come in contact with the spine.

If your horse bends correctly and the saddle with narrow gullet moves slightly to the outside as a result of this bend, the panel might be putting pressure on the spine with each step.

If your horse is crooked and moves by displacing their ribcage inwards, the saddle might also slip to the inside and as a result come in contact with the outside of the spine.

However, personal preferences and feel that a horse moves so much better aside, I wonder…

An average horse has his spine + spinal processes has at least 4 fingers wide (some I looked at I could have easily needed 5 fingers width). The saddle above on the photo is 4 fingers wide ONLY in the widest  point (just behind the withers). It is a common knowledge that putting pressure on the spine and/or spinal processes is not a good idea.

Model z szerokim kanalem na kregoslup
Shleese saddle four fingers wide at the back allowing for sufficient room for the spine and spinal processes

So why are there so many saddles (sometimes with a massive price tag) produced with narrow gullets throughout or ones that taper back to 2-3 fingers??? It seems so logical that it would at least restrict the motion if not cause unsoundness over time…So why?

I found the SHLEESE Saddles and  DK Saddles  that specifically underline anatomically friendly saddles (gullet wide enough to accommodate the spine and spinal processes throughout without putting pressure on them or interfering with ligament). Do you know any yourself?

If you have a moment to snap a photo like the one below of me explaining the gullet width to one of my clients, and then post it to Aspire’s Facebook page referencing this blog post, please do, it might make for a very interesting discussion 🙂


What’s your saddle like through the gullet? 

9 thoughts on “Let’s See The Underside of Your Saddles”

  1. Ahh if I hadn’t just sold my (ill-fitting) saddle, I’d definitely have done this. It’s also something I will be aware of when buying my new one.
    By the way – I’ve nominated you for the Liebster award – sure you’ve probably been nominated several times, so don’t feel obliged, but if you want to, do pick it up at my blog: http://diaryofayounghorse.blogspot.co.uk/ 🙂

    1. Thank you Suzie! Believe it or not I have not heard of this award before 🙂 I’ve done many different ones but never Liebster award so much appreciate the nomination and shall get on it!

      I’m seeing many horses with ill fitting saddles which prompted me to research more and more about it. It seems that wide channel/gullet is one of key points but also it must only be wide enough…not too wide as then saddle moves too much? It’s a mind-field but totally fascinating!
      I hope you find a perfect fit for Echo soon 🙂

  2. Hi Susie,
    Your concern about the underside of the saddle is only part of the problem. Please visit our website, http://www.horse1stsaddlefitting.co.uk, to find out about our nationally accredited Remedial Saddle Fitting courses. This is a new piece in the jigsaw of horse welfare/performance and is one every equine professional should know about. Look too at our Remedial Saddle Fitting Seminar on Friday 20th September 2013 (CPD & Short Course page). Update your knowledge (and extend your skills portfolio?). We are not trade-based.

    Steve Wright
    Course Co-ordinator for Horse1st Saddle Fitting

  3. Thanks Steve – and Wiola! Really interesting. Hadn’t really thought that there would be remedial saddlery. I’ll definitely look into it.

  4. I don’t have a photo but that’s the problem I have with the current saddle I’m borrowing, a wintec pro. Wiz is growing in some tall whithers, so in order for the saddle to CLEAR the spine, he doesn’t need too wide of a tree. But, the wintec pro seems to narrow at the back, and I feel like it’s putting unnecessary pressure on his spine. I have absolutely no money for a saddle, so I don’t know what to do, but I have looked at leasing saddles from sstack.com- although they don’t have the best selection. I find it’s hard to balance the width of the tree to CLEAR the whithers and spine, and also not being too narrow as to cause pressure

    1. Try Thorowgood synthetic saddles. They have a high wither model made for Thoroughbreds,with adjustable gullets, wool stuffing that can be fitted to the horse, and a decent gullet. I found one barely used for a few hundred bucks on the internet. It fits my 17.2 high withered TB with an old back injury nicely. There are no signs of uneven pressure or discomfort, and believe me, he will let me know if the saddle isn’t fitting right.

      1. I have a wintec Isabel now which does well. I actually just tried a leather thorowgood but I didn’t like it for me and while it didn’t seem to bother him it narrowed in the back too. Thanks though!

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