You have a saddle - either borrowed, leased, or you instructor has
one which you are using to establish you really do have the bug.
How do you know if it fits as well as is possible, and is
not causing any discomfort.
First your horse, as the most important member of the partnership, as
he or she cannot tell you ouch, that is uncomfortable (like
you know new shoes are not right), and, depending upon their pain threshold,
will suddenly explode, swish tails, drop shoulder or back, buck, nap
or perform any other unnerving move.
This saddle is too long and will cause discomfort
A good fit
Most horses are a different shape from those from the early to mid-1900s
- nowadays, horses carry more condition. This makes the fitting of side-saddles
over the withers much more difficult, and, unless care is taken, pinching,
especially on the off-side wither. Fit should be snug but not tight.
The saddle must be level from front to back (north to south) - sloping
towards the loins will mean the rider is dropping back onto her (or
his) seat rather than placing the weight over their right knee. When
the weight is over the hips, the rider is behind the movement, and overloading
the horses loins = discomfort.
The saddle which drops down to the withers, being higher at the back,
will overload the horses shoulders, causing strain onto the forelegs
and encouraging the horse to be on the forehand - it feels very uncomfortable
as there is a lot of concussion through the horse up to the rider, not
good for either.
Too wide - will rub on withers and likely slip
The position of the saddle from side-to-side - or east
to west - without the rider, the seat should be higher on the off side,
if a near-side side-saddle is used. This will support the right hip.
There must support under the left hip - the old chestnut of feel
there is a tin tack under your left hip is very outdated, and
causes tilting hips and crookedness in the spine. Modern saddles are
more level in the fit of the panels, with an angled seat, giving all
round contact for the riders hips.
Good level fit flat seat saddle
Good level fit dipped seat saddle
Seat built up on near side to push rider's weight to right seat. It
seems to lean right but is sitting evenly.
Poor fit - leans to near side
The Points of tree:
The near-side - hidden under the safe, is longer and can be overlooked.
Check the contact is even from top - by the withers - down the shoulder.
Check that the inner material of the point conforms to the shape of
your horses shoulder, flocking may have shifted or condensed to
cause gaps - this needs to be adjusted by an experienced side-saddle
saddler who understands the importance of correct balancing for these
saddles, and will take into consideration you, your horse and the experience
of you both. You should be able to run the width of your index and second
finger between the point and the shoulder, from top to bottom.
The off side - check the position at the wither - is the saddle pressing
into the wither?, it should be snug, not tight. The saddle should be
balanced when on the horse without being held in place, if it tilts
over if not held or girthed up, it will not improve with a rider up,
but exacerbated the problem.
The position and widths of the heads are important for the rider. Careful
measurement of your leg line, from the back of the knee to the hip will
give the correct size of the side-saddle wanted. Hopefully the horse
will accommodate the necessary length. Some riders prefer wide, triangular
heads, others find the narrow ones more comfortable.
Stirrup fitting - this must correspond with the make of the saddle.
Beware saddles which are not sold complete. Mayhew and Champion
and Wilton are fairly easy to make up with new stirrup fittings. Owen
is more difficult as saddles were hand made with individual stirrup
fittings, so each is a partnership rather than interchangeable. However,
careful adjustments can be made with machine modern Owen fittings to
ensure a good, safe fit and release. A good saddler will ensure correct
Position of the girth-straps - three are important, with a point-strap
for the balance strap attachment on the near side. Some saddles have
a point strap on the off-side as will. This can be useful.
A word about girths - a flat girth is important - leather three-fold
is best, with keepers to take the over-girth and balance strap, thus
preventing them slipping off the girth and pinching the horse, or becoming
For the rider - as well as the length of the saddle and the width of
the horns, bear in mind the width of the seat. Nothing is more uncomfortable
than riding on a side-saddle whose seat is a different shape from ones
own, so one overflows either side. Interesting bruises can
result. - as when jumping and punching ones chest with the right
knee. Try explaining that one away!!!
A certain amount can be adjusted with judicious use of flocking, positioning
of the point-strap for the balance-girth, and if the girth is fixed
to the first two or last two girth straps on the saddle.
What type is best? - the type that fits your horse and you feel comfortable
with. A good rider can rebalance a poor saddle - judges have to do so
often when riding exhibits in shows. It can be uncomfortable, but worse
is when the saddle starts to fall to pieces under you - the stirrup
falls off, the girth snaps, the leaping head - or fixed head in one
case - cracks and becomes limp.
I can go into this in much more detail if required, but for the present,
I decided to keep to the KISS motto - Keep It Simple and Straightforward
- the other definition is best not repeated. I look forward to hearing
any comments or requests for further details or problems.
Next - disabled riders.