Tag Archives: saddle fit

Secret Language of Sweat Marks – Continued

By Wiola Grabowska

sweat-marksFive years ago I wrote this post – Secret Language of Sweat Marks – after teaching a lovely young rider who was sure her loaned horse’s saddle wasn’t fitting him very well but wasn’t sure what to look for. I wanted an easy way to describe to her what to look for and how to spot pressure points and areas of concern that were not immediately visible and so we went for taking photos of the horse’s back directly after the lesson.

There are now many articles out there talking about it issue very eloquently.

This post has since proved one of the most popular on here and I have received many messages about it. There are a few things about sweat patterns as well as structure / feel of the hair on the horse’s body that I didn’t mention at the time and that I reckon are worth mentioning so here we go!


There are horses that sweat profusely whatever they do and those that barely break any sweat whatever they do but observing the muscles that work hardest and therefore sweat more can be a good guide to how correct (biomechanically) the training is.

Repetitive marked presence of sweat alongside the horse’s lower neck muscles could indicate the horse is overusing those muscles in place of engaging the top of the neck musculature that assists in developing better self-carriage.

Sweat patches in front of the wither (base of the neck where many horse’s has atrophied muscles and a smaller of bigger “dip”) and over the middle and top of the neck could on the other hand point towards the fact that those muscles are the ones undertaking harder work and therefore increase in strength and functionality.

Having no clavicles, horse’s scapulas are suspended in a powerful muscle sling that has an ability to significantly lift the horse’s wither (think of those moments when your horse “grows a hand” when they see something that excites them). This anatomy detail means the front end conformation can appear unrecognisable when a green horse is compared to a more advanced one in their training.

Sweat over the shoulders might at first indicate “forehand driving” but it is also believed to be a sign of that powerful muscle sling being employed, especially in collected work (front end has a significant part in “lifting” the horse in collected work).


Observing the sweat patterns over the barrel (belly, lumbar area/flanks) helps in assessing whether the powerful core muscles are being used. Slight belly sweat and flanks sweat is believed to be a good sign of the right muscle chains being tasked.


Sweat over gluteal muscles and sweaty upper thighs are usually thought to be good indicators of an efforts being sustained in the rear engine but it is worth noting that too much localised sweating around stifles is not so desirable, especially if coupled with a feel of lack of power from the saddle.

Although many of these observations are of very old origin and quite possibly don’t apply to every horse working well, I personally see a fairly accurate correlation between functional work and sweat patterns, especially over the neck.

Have you ever observed sweat patterns of your own horse post training? Do they correlate with “the feel” the horse gave you in his/her ridden effort? 









Saddle pad that doesn’t touch the withers…- saddle fitting made easy?

Recently, one of my clients was looking for a good quality saddle pad that can help with comfort for her posture and shape changing horse. When bringing horses back from long periods of no work or very inconsistent work, the back comfort is almost always an issue as the horse often moves crookedly and/or changes shape rapidly as rehabilitative work progresses. Using a new/different saddle every few weeks is out of question for an average one-horse owner.

In my research of what’s new on the market that might help with this issue (as it’s fairly wide spread among many horse owners), I came across these guys – Total Saddle Fit – and would be interested to know what you think…

wither free saddle pad
Wither free saddle pad by Total Saddle Fit – http://www.totalsaddlefit.com The company is selling several other very interesting products including shoulder freeing girth design.

I personally lost count of the amount of times I pull the numnah/saddle pad up into the gullet of the saddles to make sure they don’t end up pressing down the withers. There are various high wither numnah options on the market but you might ask a question – if we don’t want that material there in the first place, why not taking it out? The Total Saddle Fit one sounds like a very good idea even though I am not usually a big fan of thick padding under the saddle once the horse is fitted with one well.

My client ended up buying a really nice pad of a different make which made a distinct difference to how she sits in the saddle and how the horse moves. She certainly isn’t a one-off example so I would be silly to discount the benefits of a well chosen saddle pad.

total saddle fit video
Short video explaining the idea and the fit of the wither free pad – click on image to watch the video on You Tube.

What do you think? Have any of you used the Total Saddle Fit pad or their saddle adjustment system? Watching many horses working under my clients I would say that bridging, front to back imbalance and lateral shifting of the saddle are three most common issues I see that create motion discomfort. What are your experiences?

six point
Click the image to read about the six point adjustment system

A small detail with big impact on your seat…

Have you ever struggled with correcting “chair seat”? Does your lower leg swing forwards and you are often told to “keep your legs back” in your lessons? If so. let’s have this quick chat!

Stirrup bar placement determines the position of the stirrup leather and the stirrup and as a result, the placement of your leg…

Any knowledgeable horse owner who has ever tried to find a well fitting saddle for their horse will know that coming across one that sits perfectly on horse’s back, allows the horse to move freely and doesn’t ruin the bank account is not an easy task.
Equally challenging is finding the saddle that fits the horse as well as the rider. Today, I would like to draw your attention to a small element in saddle structure that can seriously influence your balance and that’s a stirrup bar placement.

The placement of the bar determines the position of the stirrup leather and the stirrup itself. If we are to sit comfortably with that hip/heel alignment giving us a feel of control over our own balance, we need the stirrup to hang underneath the deepest part of the saddle where centre of our seat is supposed to be.

Many riders sit well without stirrups but the moment they re-take them, their seat loses its centred quality and they tend to struggle with positioning of the thigh and lower leg so that they support their own weight rather than sitting as if in a chair.

The placement of the bar and individual built of the rider (length of thigh and lower leg) has a big impact here and so I have listed a few interesting resources below that are well worth a read:

1. Leg Length – How it influences your Position!

2. Male and Female rider vs stirrup bar position

3.Stirrup Bar Position – “Why do some saddles put you in a chair position”

What’s your saddle like? Does it help or hinder your position and effectiveness?

Secret Language of Sweat Marks

Who has never had a saddle fit issue is a one lucky person! When I was buying my first ever saddle in 1995 I had to trek many miles to a saddler and all I had to give him was the hight and type of the horse. He was a 16.2hh high wither Trakehnner and got his jumping saddle on that information alone :-/ No fittings, not even a photo of a horse for the saddler.

Thankfully, it’s a different story nowadays. We have some great saddle designs that can be fitted to both the horse and the rider well and come with some very good advice too.

As a horse owner or even as an occasional rider you want to know (don’t you?) how is your saddle doing on your horse’s back. There is a science to the saddle fitting and saddle check process and I will get back to it very soon but in this post I would like t odraw your attention to the secret language of the sweat marks that your saddle leaves on your horse’s back after you’ve ridden.

sweat marks
This horse’s saddle slides to the left matching his general motion pattern which you might happily classify as Right Banana… His dominant right foreleg and shoulder and crooked way of going also pushes the back of the saddle into right side of his spine every time he turns or circles. Small yellow circle on the side of the wither shows area of discomfort on palpation. A good saddle fitter can address all these issues but horse’s and rider’s training are both very important here.  

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