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The Effects of Poor Saddle Fit

Have you ever gone for a run in a pair of shoes that just don’t fit? Your toes banging up against the front, inadequate arch support, and blisters developing on your heels – your daily jog goes from pleasure to pain in a hurry. An ill-fitting pair of shoes does even more than cause discomfort however, they influence your stride and may even encourage you to quit running for the day.

Now imagine lacing up those ill-fitting shoes each day, heading out for another run, pushing yourself to run further and faster and despite the pain. It sounds a bit like an act of insanity, struggling to perform despite our equipment. However, this is what our horses are up against each and every day if they don’t have a saddle that fits properly.

Clearly our horses can’t explicitly communicate that their saddle is causing pain, however there are ways to observe changes in your horse’s behavior, personality, and physical appearance to help you determine if saddle fit is an issue.

Over time, the physical damage caused by poorly fitting saddle may cause tension within the back muscles. In cases of an ill-fitting saddle that has been ridden in for a long period of time, muscle atrophy (decrease or wasting of the muscle tissue) may be observed. Atrophy, and even extreme tension and soreness, will require rehabilitation to improve the muscle tone and tissue and allow for recovery. Simply giving a horse time off will not repair the damage that the improperly fitting saddle has imparted.

Other physical effects are easier to observe. A saddle may rub the hair from the horse’s back. If there is prolonged exposure to an ill-fitting saddle, these rubs may develop into open sores. White hair will eventually grow back over the affected area. This is often noticed on the withers or alongside the spine. Rubs are indicative of a poorly fitting saddle, however they have other causes as well. If you have a well-fitting saddle, your horse may be extremely sensitive to textiles. The Cheshire Horse has an extensive selection of wool and fleece saddle pads and girths to safeguard against skin discomfort.

A ill-fitting saddle does more than just cause physical damage. Emotionally, your horse will begin to connect discomfort to the saddle, which leads to your horse associating being ridden with pain. Your horse may become difficult to catch or uneasy while grooming, or he may dip his back while being brushed or jig under saddle. These initial behaviors may then manifest into exceedingly unsavory behaviors such as spooking, bucking, rearing, and biting. Unfortunately for the horse, poor saddle fit is often misdiagnosed as a behavioral issue, and the horse is then unfairly disciplined when the root cause of the problem is the saddle. Please note that there may be other or additional underlying causes related to these behaviors like health issues or training problems.

Fortunately, ensuring your saddle fits is within your control. It is recommended that you have a professional check the fit of your saddle at least twice a year. You may want to schedule additional saddle fit check-ups if you have a young horse who is rapidly developing muscle or if you have a horse who has been laid up for an extended period of time. At The Cheshire Horse, we work with a number of saddle fitters who will help you to determine if your saddle fits your horse correctly.

Even after you have found a well-fitting saddle, the physical and emotional damage may still be present. It will most likely take time for the horse to relax into a new saddle and realize there are no pain related pressure points. This may happen quickly, but it will probably require time and patience. As the horse discovers the new saddle that does not impinge, rub, or inhibit his movement, the behavioral issues will resolve and you will no longer experience the pain related resistances. In time, a well-fitting saddle will produce a happier and healthier horse.  

Save the Date!

We will be hosting a free Spring Saddle Fitting Workshop at our NH store on Sunday, May 5 from 5:30-7:30 PM. Join us for basic English and Western saddle fitting tips, and much more! You’ll learn about saddle innovations from top brands, you’ll have the opportunity to sit in different saddles and see their fitting features, and you’ll learn about how different saddle pads affect saddle fit. There will also be a demonstration of Easy Change saddle fitting solutions. Refreshments will be served, and you can enter to win great prizes.

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