July 22, 2018
Wide Load: Fitting a saddle to a wide bodied horse
For as long as humans have been riding horses, the saddle has been one of the most important pieces of tack. Spending sometimes hours in the saddle means that you want your back and behind to be as comfortable as possible. You also want a saddle to help keep you in the correct position for both your seat and legs.
What about saddle fitment on the horse? Pinching or binding on the back, shoulders, or withers can make a horse uncomfortable and, thus, for an uncomfortable ride. Your horse could be telling you how uncomfortable he is by putting his ears back, flipping his head, or stiffening his shoulder in a turn. Think of how uncomfortable it is for you to walk or run with in a pair of boots that punch at the toe, or heel, or are perhaps to narrow! You get the idea.
Wide, low wither horses such as Haflingers, Quarter Horses, and some Warm Bloods require a much different saddle fitment than a high withered, narrow horse such as a Thoroughbred, Saddlebred or Tennessee Walking Horse. Many western saddles are made for wide Quarter Horses and can fit that body type comfortably, albeit sometimes requiring a shimmed saddle pad. Most English saddles, however, are built for high withered horses, so finding one to fit a wide body can be a challenge.
There are some saddle makers that offer wide gullet or changeable gullet saddles. Theses saddles can spread to fit a moderately wide and low withered horse.
But to get a saddle to fit a horse built like a propane tank, you have to start from the skeleton of the saddle – the tree. You will need to find a Hoop Tree Saddle. Most English type saddles are built on a tree shaped like the letter A. A Hoop Tree saddle has a tree shaped like an inverted U. Theses saddles fit a bit closer to the withers than an A tree saddle, and they are less likely to create pressure points or press on the spine.
My personal experience with an ill fitting saddle on a wide horse led me to seek professional help from Kate Wooten, owner of English Saddle Fit in Tennessee, based in Maryville, Tennessee. Kate conducts saddle fitting clinics throughout the mid-south, and I scheduled an appointment with her when she came to west Tennessee. I had interviewed Kate in 2015 for an article published in the October 2015 issue of The Mid-South Horse Review. So I was already familiar with how well “she knows her stuff” or stuffing saddles, as it were. Kate evaluates the fitment of a saddle and can alter the wool flocking for a proper fit. Not all saddles are wool flocked, though; many are machine-made with foam or Cair® (air cushion) panels that cannot be adjusted.
My horse Tessa needed the saddle fitment. She is a 15h Quarter Horse mare, of Peppy San Badger lineage, whom I have been using to fox hunt. She is very smart and would try her best to tell me that my Passier all purpose saddle was uncomfortable on her. This saddle had been great for my high withered Thoroughbreds over the years and had molded itself to my seat, so it fits me like a glove. But Kate took one look at it sitting on Tessa and told me she needed a Hoop Tree saddle.
Kate did tracings of Tessa’s back and gave them to me so that I could send them various saddle makers. Her notes on the tracings are quite humorous. “Tessa has been ridden (Master’s horse) for 3 hunt seasons. She’s a Tank!” Kate recommended three possible brands that fit her criteria of a wool flocked, hoop tree, all purpose or jumping saddle: Bliss, Black Country and Duett.
Duett actually makes a model for foxhunters. I e-mailed Duett about my saddle needs and the owners Steve and Sheri Katz were quick to respond. Sheri asked me to e-mail her copies of the tracings, from which they determined that a 38cm, 17” seat Duett Foxhunter should fit both me and Tessa.
I was not familiar with the Duett brand, so called Steve to get more information. I also did some Internet searching and looked for product reviews. Steve told me that he and Sheri had recently purchased the company from its founder, Nancy Temple, who retired. Nancy had owned Haflingers and founded the company 15 years ago because she had experienced the need for a saddle to fit a wide horse.
Steve is a lifelong rider who has been a certified equine chiropractor for 25 years. He said that he has seen many sore horses due to poor saddle fit and has worked with trainers to help alleviate this problem. He said that the Duett saddles have a Beachwood tree with metal reinforcements. They are designed and developed by Duett in the United States, and have been manufactured in Argentina and now Paraguay. This enables Duetts to be priced lower than European-made saddles. The factory also manufactures saddles for other brands besides Duett.
Steve had the correct size saddle in stock and shipped it to me for a trial period. He asked me to send him photos of the saddle at various angles, without a pad, sitting on my horse to make sure it fit. I could tell the difference in Tessa’s attitude immediately. She is no longer objecting to how her saddle fits when I tack her up, and she moves more freely. The saddle fits me as well. My leg is in the right position and pretty steady. I can also mount from the ground without a mounting block, and the saddle will not slip as my other saddle does. If you have a horse like mine who is too wide to fit through the Panama Canal, consider getting a saddle fitting from an independent saddle fitter and, if recommended, getting a hoop tree saddle.
For information on Kate Wooten saddle fitting, visit English Saddle Fit in Tennessee on facebook. For information about Duett saddles, visit: http://www.duettsaddles.com/
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