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Kate Wooten Saddle Fitting


By Allison Lail

During the Aiden O’Connell Clinic August 23-24, 2014 at Blackberry Ridge Farm in Greeneville, TN, attendees had the privilege of attending a saddle fitting seminar with saddle fitter Kate Wooten from Maryville, TN. She showed how extremely important it is to have the proper fitting saddle for the horse. We all know how it can feel to walk in shoes that don’t fit, either too small and narrow or too wide and big, or even clothing that makes us itch, that is too tight, or makes us sweat in areas that make sores. Usually, riders find a saddle that fits the rider, considering leg length for flap, height and weight, discipline, but may not factor in how the saddle will fit the horse. Even within the same riding discipline there are different shapes and breeds of horses, so one saddle won’t fit all. 

There are two parts to a saddle fitting: fit of the saddle on the horse and the riding test. Clinic attendees watched one group riding prior to saddle placement. Then, as they looked at the fit of the saddle on the horse, they were able to see why the rider was getting different responses from horse, and they saw changes in position of the rider.

Ask: Is your saddle safe? First, look at the tree to see if it is broken or twisted; test its flexibility. A good rule of thumb is to use a mounting devise instead of mounting the horse from the ground. This will help prevent any twisting or pulling on the saddle as the rider mounts. 

Next, look at how a saddle is constructed, especially the panels. They could have wool, foam, or cair panels (DSC0029), as in Wintec or Bates saddles. All have pros and cons; however an independent saddle fitter can reflock a wool saddle if needed.

Finally, look at the horse’s age, breed, and, most important, the ridingdiscipline. This will determine the type of saddle and how much demand is on the horse’s back and body muscles. A chiropractor can do wondrous adjustments on a horse; however, if the saddle does not fit properly, it is a losing battle because the saddle will continue to cause problems.

In addition to fit, proper placement of the saddle is crucial. Find the back of the horse’s scapula, with hard points in a U-shaped angle. You may need to pick up the leg, stretching it forward to feel this. Set the saddle just to the back of the scapula. 

An independent saddle fitter, such as Kate, will measure the horse’s angles across the withers down to where the saddle will be placed to get a proper measurement for the correct size tree to fit the horse properly. There are two ways a saddle is measured: width and seat size. The rest is tree and not all trees are made the same. The tree width must be wide enough for the horse’s shoulders to rotate freely under the tree. When a tree is too narrow, the plate is in front, with the saddle sitting higher in the front. When a tree is too wide, the saddle is lower in the front. The main cause of pressure points on the horse’s back is the angle of the tree.

After finding the proper width of tree, look at the saddle to see if it is level across from the pommel to the cantle. Other key factors are the fit to the barrel, wither clearance, and even length of the saddle.

In the end, not only should the saddle properly fit the horse, but also does the saddle fit the rider? Areas to look at for the rider are flap size for leg length and seat size.

An excellent way to make sure you have the right saddle fitting is to try different types of saddles. Have a clinic with a saddle fitter, with a variety of horses and a variety of saddles. The Saddle fitter will measure the angles on the horse, and then  will be able to match that to a proper fitting saddle for the horse. It is very enlightening to have a saddle fitter do a clinic with several types of horses and lots of saddle options, whether used or new.

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