Debunked: The Lie That’s Told About Adjustable Gullet Saddles

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One of the best innovations in the world of saddle making has been the interchangeable gullet plate in the synthetic saddle tree. I mean, there’s no getting away from it, it’s brilliant. With the removal of a few screws, every horse owner can adjust their own saddle in minutes. Easy.

saddleWhy so good? Well, they can be fitted to a lot of horses. They can accommodate the changing shape of a growing young horse, as well as seasonal weight gain and loss, or the development of back muscle through training.

So what’s my problem with them?

Unfortunately, such saddles are often accompanied by extra inventions,
this time originating in the marketing department.

Before I go on, I must declare an interest here. I fit saddles. What’s more, I fit saddles with interchangeable gullet plates. I’m not going to say which brand, because that’s not what this post is about. I say this simply to demonstrate that I’m not against adjustable saddles.

My problem is very much with the misleading statements that are made in order to sell them, and in particular the notion that these saddles can be adjusted to fit any horse. Not just a single weight-changing or shape-changing horse, or a few horses in the same yard, but any horse.

They can’t. It’s not true. They simply can’t.

 

Back to the horse’s back

XchangeLet there be no doubt that many horses experience a lot of pain from ill-fitting saddles that are too tight, or too wide, at the front of the tree. Most people are familiar with the sight of horses with white hair behind the shoulder blade, and areas of mild to profound muscle wastage.

The so-called wither profile is incredibly important for this reason. Gaining a correct fit across the gullet (and I mean gullet in the Australian sense – referring to the front of the saddle tree only, rather than the entire channel) is a highly important aspect of saddle fitting.

Yet it isn’t the only aspect. Astonishing as it may seem, horses are 3-dimensional organic structures. Yes! And they have many profiles in that area where the saddle sits.

 

S/W Ver: 96.66.76RThink about horses’ backs. The gullet plate matches the profile across the withers. But what about the profile along the withers, as well? Withers have different heights and lengths…

There are other profiles, too. There’s along the spine. There’s across the back at the rear of the saddle area, close to the last ribs. All of these profiles have both lengths and angles.

 

This is one of the reasons why many experts in the world of saddle making and fitting refer to the 9 points of saddle fitting. Several of these points involve the length and angle of the profiles I’ve just mentioned.

genesisGoing back a few years, the common view was that there are 5 points. Times have moved on, anatomy and biomechanics are better understood, and saddle design has evolved dramatically to reflect more recent ideas about how a saddle should interact with the horse’s body and movement, as well as the rider’s. And yet…

 

 

Fitting saddles isn’t like buying a pair of socks

Going by a single measurement might be OK for some things, but it isn’t for saddles. There’s more than one measurement involved, and I’m not just talking about the rider’s seat size. Think again about horses’ backs.

  • We have high withers, middling withers and rangy tabletops. High withers can extend way back into the area of the saddle.
  • Looking along the spine, we can see dippy backs, straight backs and bumpy backs.
  • Looking across the spine, we can spot angular A-frame backs and smooth, flat and pudgy backs.
  • It’s easy to spot uphill and downhill backs.
  • Not to mention short backs and long backs (or, to be more accurate with saddle fitting, rib cages).
  • And spines may have wide spinal processes or narrow ones.
  • And how about round rib cages that spring out nearer the spine, or narrow, flat-sided rib cages that drop sharply away, and everything in between?
  • This is before we even look at damaged backs, uneven shoulders, laterally curved spines, and all manner of physical issues affecting the horse, rider and the saddle in between.

Horses have a combination of these features. Many horses have one or two that can make saddle fitting a bit tricky.  Some have combinations that make saddle fitting an utter nightmare.

The saddle’s tree must reflect all those variations. It’s what makes saddle fitting such an interesting challenge, and occasionally a very hard one.

© All text copyright of the author, Jane Clothier, www.thehorsesback.com. No reproduction of partial or entire text without permission. Sharing the link back to this page is fine. Please contact me for more information. Thank you!

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But what about adjusting the flocking?

Well, what about it? Adjusting flocking is the saddle fit version of fine-tuning. It is not changing the overall fit of the saddle.

Adjusting the flocking when the tree is the wrong shape is like (ahem) whistling in the wind.

It’s like adding an extra hole to your belt in an attempt to make a pair of jeans fit, despite the fact that the waist is a size too narrow and the legs 6  inches too short.

Adjusting the flocking only works when the tree is already a fundamentally good fit. The same goes for any flocking substitute, such as risers or wedges inserted into the panels. It is not enough to make a saddle fit the horse, when the tree is the wrong shape.

 

screwdriverThe message is being massaged

Adjustable gullet plates are now free of the original designer’s patent restrictions and a number of companies are now using them.

As already said, that’s great, providing the saddles are fitted well.

And who determines that? It can be hard to be sure when certain departments continue to make this ongoing, inaccurate claim about their brand of saddles being adjustable to all horses.

It’s marketing at its worst. It’s not just misleading, it’s plain untrue. Worse, it’s willful mis-education that leads horse owners into the mistaken belief that because they have the right gullet plate, then their saddle fits and their horse can’t possibly be in any pain. 

It bugs me that people are being misled. It bugs me far more that horses end up being the silent incumbents of a problem with so much potential to lead to back pain. (And I have worked with the results first-hand.)

As I said earlier, when the saddle fits, FANTASTIC. In fact, FANTASTIC with bells on.

And when it doesn’t, it’s the horse who suffers, no matter how many professionals are saying that black is in fact white, and that with the right ‘system’, an adjustable saddle can be made to fit any horse.

It can’t.

 

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Comments

  1. Wow, interesting article — makes you wonder how people were able to ride horses for so many centuries without these high tech saddles and saddle fitters. Their poor horses’ backs.

    Maybe one day in the future they will make a special saddlepad (or something else) that takes readings of the horse’s back shape to let one know what would be the best saddle and adjustments needed to be made to that saddle to fit the horse’s back right.

    But even with better fitting saddles wouldn’t the ever increasing weight of American riders also have to be taken in consideration?

    • There are some very sophisticated measuring devices out there, which take multiple and accurate measurements. Not to mention sensor pads…

      But yes, it often amazes me how little responsibility people take for their own riding, seat, position and yes, unavoidably, weight being a part of the horse-saddle-rider equation!

      It’s baffling to see big riders on small horses, when it’s so hard for a saddle to accommodate the rider’s seat size and then also be short enough for the small horse’s back.

      • You are so right, Jane. We have been telling people for decades that saddle fit is more than pommel width. Shape of the head of the saddle tree, such as flared points, short points, straight or forward points, are all important. But the 3-demensional shape extends all the way to the cantle. Flocking adjustment can correct some issues, but only some. There is only so much room inside the panels for flocking. When too much is added to correct for wrong shaped tree, the panels become overstuffed and hard. They are no longer pillow like and cannot absorb impact of the rider.
        As Americans become heavier, they need bigger saddles and it becomes increasingly important that their equipment fits properly and that they ride well. Some lessons from a good instructor are a good idea for anyone…especially if someone carries a few extra pounds.

    • Hi Joni,
      I understand your plight! There actually is a pad like that, I invented it, it’s called an Impression Pad. It will show you exactly how your saddle fits (or doesn’t) after a 20 minute ride and is reusable. Our web site is http://www.portlewisworkshop.com.

      Regards,
      Greg Roskies
      President
      Port Lewis Workshop Inc.

      Please note: This post was made for informative purposes only, it is not intended as spam.

      • Hi Greg

        I’m happy to leave your links up in return for a replacement pad sent to Australia (my last one went weird in the Australian heat: the glue melted and the velcro detached, while the red colored dough went brown!) and a return link on your site 🙂

        You may also be interested to know that I’m starting an Equine Business of the Month feature. Please email me if you’re interested – jane@thehorsesback.com . That’s another legitimate way to reach the thousands of people who are reading these articles! This article has had nearly 12k views in its first 3 days.

        Thanks!

        Jane

      • Thomas Smith says:

        I have used the Port Lewis pad for years for saddle fitting. It is great for showing owners what is going on under the saddles.

    • This is so true, and it annoys me also, when I hear this from people, that you just have to change the gullet, when in fact the channel its self, maybe too narrow, or too wide etc. Riders should however, also, either get the right size horse, to carry their weight, or go on a diet, to loose it, if they are over weight, for the horses benefit, if not for their own.

  2. Claudia says:

    I find saddle fitting one of the most difficult things to do, I am always doubting myself. At the end of the day I sometimes just wish the horse could say “that feels good” or “that feels a bit tight here and there” or “I don’t feel like being ridden I had a bad day and woke up on the wrong side of the stable!”

    • Yes, wouldn’t that make it easier?

      A general point to make – and I’m not talking about you here Claudia:

      Horses often say ‘ah that feels so much better’, because the saddle just put on their back by an untrained person isn’t the offending saddle that hurts. This often happens when friends swap saddles, without knowing how to check the fit.

      After a few weeks riding, the horse may be showing signs of pain again, because the replacement unfitted saddle is now hurting. In that regard, saddle pain is often like RSI – repetitive strain injury – in that it’s incremental, creeping up slowly through repeated actions when working.

  3. Brilliant article Jane- Thank you- would love to be able to share?

  4. Thank you, I frequently find it a challenging exercise & am very rarely 100% satisfied. I recognise the dynamic nature of the horses back & the varying shapes, sizes & underlying problems. I would love to share your article.Thanks again.

  5. Ann Reason says:

    I am based near Swindon in England. I cannot find someone to fit a saddle to my young 6 year old warmblood mare. She is bum high, flat withered and with wide shoulders, and from what I have read in this post you are the only person who makes any sense. The mare is bred for show jumping and I like close contact, forward cut saddles. Any suggestions? Jokingly I said to my sister that I need a felt saddle to mold to her shape. I would like to hear what you and others think.

    • Hi Ann, many good saddlers know the facts included in this article, and in England you are well placed for independent saddlers as well as those attached to certain companies. A saddler with integrity is willing to walk away from a potential sale if the fit isn’t right.

      I can’t comment on a horse I can’t see, but a wide jumping girth (intended to stop shoe studs hitting the horse under the chest) will help create stability for a forward-slipping saddle. Be sure to use a saddle with forward girth points too.

      Brand will be determined by your budget… just be sure that the balance point (lowest point) in the seat is well forward to help your balance when jumping.

    • Actually, high quality long staple virgin wool stuffed panels will shape and mold to the horse’s back IF the panels are not overly stuffed. There needs to be some room inside the panels for movement of the wool. Obviously, the tree must first be correct for the horse. Sometimes, after a new (or newly re-flocked) saddle has been ridden for a while, additional flock will need to be inserted to fill in voids where the flock shifted away. A competent saddle fitter can do this.

      Unfortunately, “certified” doesn’t always = competent. You might ask for references of satisfied clients.

      There is an expression which is true for any product or service. “you can have any two of he following: (1) fast, (2) cheap, (3) good.” If you want good saddle fit, you should be prepared to pay appropriately for a trained and knowledgeable fitter to do the work. Also be prepared to continuously re-evaluate fit as the horse changes shape and the flocking shifts and compacts with use.

  6. Katrina says:

    Its about time someone spread the word about this. Yes they are not bad and a good invention but dosnt mean the saddle will fit in other areas especially as most horses are built more on one side than the other.

  7. Thomas Smith says:

    Jane,
    Your article is very good. Very few articles address all the dynamics that saddle fitters must take into account.
    Tom

  8. I agree with the article in that adjustable treed saddle only currently can have the width at the HEAD of the tree adjusted, not the width or angle of the rails (sides of the saddle) or the twist (narrowest portion of seat in tree) , Barnsby saddlery in the UK did start to offer a tree that was heat adjustable in all three areas but sadly may no longer be viable due to their current situation but only speculating…. My issue as a saddle fitter and master saddler is that people want to buy an adjustable for their ‘young horse’ in the expectation (and money frugality) of it fitting for years to come via changing muscle shape and skeletal growth! If this works for you and your horse thank your lucky stars, my horse went through at least 4 varying tree shapes until she ceased growing and even now I believe she will require a newer dressage saddle as her training and musculature develops. Saddles are expensive yes, but more open minded ness MUST exist about the inevitability of having one saddle that fits for life – it rarely happens!
    Saddler form Bedfordshire UK

  9. Very interesting read, thank you!
    All my horses have individual saddles fitted by the saddle fitter. Although every one of my saddles have the interchange gullet plate, they have never been changed since the day they were first fitted! All that is generally needed is a slight tweek in the flocking every 4-6 months or seasonal change depending on the work load, because they started off with the correct fitting tree in the first place. Having the gullet changeable plate is just coincidental.
    In the whole of the country (I am UK based) I only trust 2 saddle fitters and I will travel the distance to use them.
    Someone once asked me which saddle is better, the £1000 or the £500 one? My answer has always been The one that fits!
    It does annoy me the way marketing blinds the laymen though.

  10. Kate A. at Animal-Eze says:

    Jane, thank you so much for this! I have a very new and small business working as a horse muscle therapist. Poor saddle fit is one of the most common causes of the problems I see with horses backs, and all too often I hear from owners that “it can’t be the saddle, I have all the gullets and can change it whenever I need to”. I have had the good fortune to have instruction from a veterinary chiropractor about saddle fitting, including the “9 points”, and use this valuable knowledge to guide owners where necessary. I am not a saddle fitter, although I would very much like to learn much more about it, but I am able to give basic guidance and recommend owners have a qualified saddle fitter attend them and their horse for professional assistance. May I please post a link to this on my Facebook page?

  11. An exception to the rule might be the Wow Saddle, who IMO has taken adjustability and proper fit to the next level. They offers gullet plates in various sizes as well as wither profiles; V, U, and UU…which accounts for both width and angle. But agreed, the headplate is only one small part of the fit. In addition to interchangeable gullet plates, they have numerous different panel shapes, sizes and styles, curved or flat trees, a pointless tree with lateral flexion for the shoulder, and they ability to place your billets where they are best suited for each horse.

  12. i was told by a saddle fitter form a large saddlery retail chain store that a particular saddle would fit my horse without even seeing the horse or even a photo. i was told i can make this saddle fit any horse .
    And a friend who had a saddle that was ill fitting ( changeable gullet ) , that kept lifting at the back was told by another saddle fitter ( from same retail chain) theres no problem with the fit its just the way you ride

    • Some saddlefit issues are indeed caused by poor riding, which is why ongoing lessons are so important. But the lifting of the cantle is usually caused by poor fit to the horse. Saddlefit to the rider is equally important. If the saddle is too small for the rider, pommel rise and poor distribution of weight is the result.

  13. Sue Whicker says:

    Hi Jane, I wasn’t sure if here was the place to ask about your own opinion on the merits of treeless as opposed to treed saddles?

    • A huge discussion in itself… I see every horse and rider combination as individual, as are their related needs. Fit is just as important, whether the saddle has a tree, or not. As is rider position and riding style…

  14. Jon Tallis says:

    Best piece of advice I’ve every received in the area of saddle fit…
    Don’t under any circumstances let anyone other than a Master Saddler fit a saddle to a horse. I’m sure there are some good saddle fitters out there but as there’s no professional standard you have no guarantee of competence. Start with a properly trained and qualified
    Master Saddler and go from there. P.S. I’m not a master saddler just a horseman who has had a few bad experiences with people calling themselves saddle fitters.

    • It’s certainly a good piece of advice, although easier to implement in the smaller geographical areas of the UK, where you usually have a choice of fitters (I’m English myself). Where I am in Australia, choice is more restricted. Due to the distances involved, many people can’t get even a single saddler to their horse. That’s what prompted me to find training with two of the best independent fitters in the country, who are both MS qualified as well as immensely expeirence (alas, travelling back to the UK to gain a MS qualification would cost me thousands of dollars, and as I’m not about to open a store, that is hard to justify). I support what you’re saying, but over here, where the ‘official’ saddle fitting association is in fact linked to a major retail chain, which in turn specialises in a brand of saddles that its saddlers can “fit to any horse”, there’s a serious problem! Hence my frustration, and hence this article!

      • Even in England…I’m a non SMS fitter and specialise in wide and tricky fit ponies. I have no intention of gaining my QSF qualification to be honest, I have 6 years fitting experience (none of which counts towards the 2 years you have to spend training for the SMS certificate, plus who would want to apprentice me, I am their competition?!), I fit many horses and ponies that SMS fitters have clearly struggled with and I have a good reputation. I would say to choose a fitter that has a good reputation (you can easily find out now we have the internet) and if you have a tricky horse or pony consider using a specialist. In the long run you can save yourself a lot of money and heartache.

        • I totally agree. Certified doesn’t always equal qualified. Here at Smith-Worthington we work with many INDEPENDENT saddle fitters. Some are certified….others are not. We have also tried working with “fitters” who had paid their money, gone to the UK for training, acquired certification, and returned to the U.S. unable to draw an accurate back diagrams. My suggestion is the same. Research online and ask around your barn or at shows to see who has been successfully fitting saddles for others.

  15. Interesting article but not all owners are saddle unaware. It takes but a moment to assess theh horse’s body language on saddling and girthing. Is the saddle sitting level, is it bridging, and have you got shoulder clearance before and when mounted? It is not rocket science just common sense. If the answer to any of those questions is no, then do somethg about it.

  16. Hi Jane – this was an excellent and unbiased article. Just a note to one of your posters who seems to think that only Master Saddlers know how to fit…we think there is nothing further from the truth. Saddlers are trained to make saddles; saddle fitting is a science and art unto itself and requires further training. We train saddle ergonomists under Saddlefit 4 Life – a global network of equine professionals of all walks of life working together to protect horse and rider from long term damage by correctly fitting saddles. Most if not all of them are also riders, and can be veterinarians, trainers, physiotherapists, farriers, etc. Ergonomcs is the study of making the saddle as the interface between horse and rider work as optimally for both as possible. Yes, there are actually saddles that are truly adjustable and can work for one horse over the course of its life – with the ability to be fit asymmetrically if necessary over the withers/shoulder to accommodate a horse’s larger side, changing width and angle, and reflocking. But they need to have a wide enough gullet to begin with (although even this width can be changed) and fit into the saddle support area (recognizing that as the horse grows and the shoulder comes up and back during the maturation process that this may actually become smaller as he ages!

    • Thanks Sabine. My understanding is the the UK MS has separate training for fitting and for saddle making, which wasn’t always the case. However, that isn’t the situation in Australia, where the main saddle fitting association is effectively under the operation of the country’s major high street retailer. Am I right in thinking Saddlefit 4 Life is now in the US, UK, Germany and Australia? Please add any other locations…

  17. RICHARD GREER says:

    Please can you write about the damage done by air filled panels and the marketing lies told. Saddle companies need to be held to account. I wonder just how many horses and riders have been injured or killed due to badly made/designed saddles. I fix damaged horses for a living 90% of them are down to bad saddles. Everyone needs to know that just because a saddle fits it can still cause problems if it is badly made or designed or twisted and yes brand new saddles can come out of the work shop twisted! and some plastic trees will warp in the heat !!

    • A lot of the Vietnam-made adjustable saddles also crack across the tree’s head, after a certain number of adjustments.

      There are very few air filled panels out there. The famous one is foam sealed in vinyl – yes, there’s air in there too, but it’s not what the consumers are picturing.

  18. In response to Sabine whom I’m very respectful of for her courses and training – I would not purport that only Master Saddlers know how to fit ( yes she is correct in that a master saddler has at least 8 yrs on the bench and a wealth of knowledge or appropriate exams in saddle making bridles etc. and that saddle fitting is taken as a seperate exam with no bench work neccesary) but in my opinion as both a Master saddler who has trained apprentices AND as a saddle fitter I am scared by how little knowledge some saddle fitters have with regards to how a saddle is basically constructed and the legitimate adjustments that are possible within the perimeters of each individual saddle. I not only fit but can make saddles from scratch and that design and manufacturing knowledge is invaluable when selecting saddles for a horse. When I took my saddle fitting exam ( many years ago!) there was no necessity for a fitter to have any knowledge of how to flock or adjust a panel in a saddle or have the skill for any adjustments ( the Sms in UK are addressing this issue by running flocking courses and other additional training) hence the ‘easy adjust’ changeable gullet saddles were quite a gift for the saddler if they had no bench work skills. I still will only train my apprentices to adjust( flock) saddle onsite with the horse present and will not alter panels just in the shop. Adjustable gullet saddles were also much cheaper than anything leather offered on the market when they first came out so the rider with a limited budget and Young growing horse was convinced that this was the best option open to them and I for one have seen a huge number of riding establishments squeezing different body shaped horses all into one design of saddle for economic reasons!
    In my opinion problems arise out of 1) ignorance and 2) financial constraints, I would just like to say don’t be so quick to slate the manufacturers for at least trying to produce a product that is both functional and affordable and we are all responsible as horse owners to seek out the best saddle option for each individual horse, there is no one saddle for every horse as each horse is as different as we are to each other!

    • Hi Karen, thanks for such a great post. I am from England and am hugely aware of the difference between the industries in our respective countries. That is why, as a bodyworker, I HAD to start learning a lot, lot more about saddle fit – I could find few informed saddle fit professionals to direct my clients to.

      When writing, I don’t intend to paint a picture in black and white, but I do have to say here that in Australia, where the main saddle fitters course is pretty much run by the biggest manufacturer of these saddles, that there is a problem with the information that’s going out there. Being a bodyworker who has learned about saddle fit, I run a small workshop day for horse owners, to help people spot when there’s a problem with their saddle fit. During one of these days, I’ve had a previous attendee of the main ASFA course tell me how wrong I was when I said that these saddles could not be fitted to any (or should I say, to every) horse. She had been taught otherwise and valued that information above mine (which I have gained from sources I value more, and which I am also very open about!).

      I fit an alternative brand (the English one), and appreciate its greater variability, as well as functionality and affordability for my clients, many of whom cannot afford thousands of dollars. So no, I’m not knocking them – they’re great, when properly fitted. And that means recognising that sometimes, the retailer-fitter has to walk away without making a sale. Or, the fitter has to say, ‘well this saddle you’ve asked me to adjust isn’t working for the horse’. It’s about honesty and integrity, isn’t it? I’m sure you exhibit that, as do the Schleeses, and many others – but it’s not always there at high street level. At least, not down here.

      My aim in writing is always to raise awareness and educate, for as I’m sure you’ll appreciate also, many horse owners find this a terribly difficult subject and lot of the writing about it is, frankly, rather dry. It is always frustrating when a complex message is read as a more simplistic one, and when some parts of the article create more impact than the more acquiescent parts. But that is the nature of blog writing and, whether we like it or not, words such as ‘myth’ do get people to turn up and read 🙂

      Thanks for such a good discussion!

  19. Saddlefit 4 Life is becoming truly global, with training facilities in Canada, USA, Brazil, Germany and Australia, but with affiliates working under the S4L philosophy in many additional countries, including some in the middle East, all over Europe, and soon South Africa. We are truly gratified at the number of equine professionals who attend the courses and subscribe to the philosophy, the methodology and the theory. The point is that S4L is a global network of equine professionals all dedicated to protecting horse and rider from long term damage that can result from poor saddle fit – which you can do with a non-adjustable saddle as long as you recognize that you will likely have to buy a new saddle every couple of months as your horse’s conformation changes as he matures.

  20. As I said Ruth Karen (edited for Sabine) – saddlers are trained to make saddles – not fit them. As you yourself know, this requires a whole lot more additional training. And yes, most saddle fitters are not saddlers and don’t know how to make a saddle – but should know how the biomechanics and anatomy work together in order to fit a saddle (presuming of course that the saddle can actually be fit, which is not always a given either!)

  21. In response to Richard: I can’t address damage done to the horse by air filled panels, but I do know that we have a box full of air panels that customers have asked us to remove and replace with wool flock. Never once has anyone asked us to remove flock and insert air panels.

  22. Bronwyn Whitehead says:

    Hi
    What about a too wide gullet stuffed with a folded towel?
    My name is Bronwyn and I live in Johannesburg South Africa.

    Now in my long Equine years I have always learnt that a saddle should fit the horse like a glove bearing that there is not contact with the wither and shoulders and that there should be a even weight distribution along the horse’s back and that a numna is only needed for sweat as well as preventing rubbing.

    Now here in Johannesburg their is one qualified saddle fitter who dose the most bizarre thing.
    She insists on people with your standard 6yr old thoroughbred to be fitted in the widest gullet possible in a wide Kent a master saddle.
    To fill the gap she uses towels and a very thick numna – apparently her theory is that the horse will be able to build muscles under the saddle. Now I can understand if it was one horse that has through time had muscle detioration and his current saddle dose not fit, but this is not the case. She is making people put new saddle in a huge gullet on all kinds of thoroughbred – like draft horse size gullet!

    I would like to find out your opinion.

    Lastly my best friend’s horse has now been diagnosed with kissing spin after been ridden in one of these saddle systems over 6 months. Do you think there could be a link?
    Also after being ridden there are dry patches on the shoulders of her horse and to my knowledge that is a bad thing as there should be a equal sweat line running down the back of the horse but dry over the spine and withers. We took a picture of this and showed the saddle fitter – her reply as ‘That’s perfect! What we want to see, meaning the saddle is sitting perfect!.’
    I for some reason doubt that as every time we had the equine physio out – where the dray patch was on the shoulders was the problem area he had to treat.

    To be honest he is a ex race horse and could have sustained the Degenerative Disease in his joints but for some unknown reason ever since this saddle has been tampered with he has been lame and now he has kissing spine and arthritis in his legs.
    If it was just him I would understand but all the other horses at the yard who are in this wide gullet system and towels are showing signs of lameness in their joints.

    What is your opinion on this?

    Be wonderful if you can help 🙂
    Looking forward from hearing from you.
    Unfortunately the damage to his back is so bad he now has to be put down.

    Thanks and Kind Regards

    Bronwyn

    • Hi Bronwyn

      It’s not possible, or fair, to speak on saddle fitting when we can’t see the horse, or the saddle. However, it does sound as if the approach being followed is basically that of using foam ‘shims’ to enable muscle development in the ‘wither pocket’ area, at the front of the saddle.

      Personally speaking, I would be using a gullet plate one size up and a specially designed pad, such as Prolite pad, although there are many on the market now. BUT, this would only be in rehabilitative cases, where muscle wastage or atrophy was evident. Balance Saddles were early movers in using this approach, so you can read more on their website. However, it is still a case of removing the extra padding behind the shoulders once the muscle is developed and healthy once more.

      Saddles don’t usually sit over the shoulder – I imagine you’re referring to the area behind the shoulder blade, at the front of the sadddle, where the tree points sit? As a general point, over-wide saddles can still lead to pressure points behind the shoulder, but they will be higher up, and are caused by the saddle dropping. Thick padding really can’t make an extremely wide saddle fit, and pressure areas will still be felt by the horse. The other problem with the overwide saddle is rocking when the rider is aboard – this would cause several points where pressure could occur, depending on the horse/rider combination.

      Sweat isn’t the best guide to saddle fit. Yes, it can highlight problem areas, but it can’t always tell you what the problem is 🙂 For example, a tight saddle that is tight all over can create even sweat patterns 🙂 High pressure contact can cause dry patches, as well as areas of no contact. Have you looked at Jochem Schleese’s 9 points of saddle fitting on YouTube?

      With your friend’s horse, yes, being an OTTB could easily mean he has worked hollow for many years, if this was not corrected in the intervening time, long term back problems could follow. A saddle fit issue would not help. I am sorry to hear that he has such severe problems now, but again, without seeing first hand, it’s not possible to attribute causes.

      I hope that helps – thanks for posting!

      Jane

      • I have an OTTB (off track now for appr. 8 years) His topline is barely existent. If i remember correctly he has always (for the four years i’ve had him) been this way. Maybe worse now than before. He’s just 13. You said OTTB’s can be worked “hollow” what does this mean and more importantly, how can i NOT do it? You mentioned long-term problems from being worked hollow, can one of those problems be a tendency to remain poorly developed in the topline? He is 15.2 and appr. 950lbs or so. He’s very “ribby” but his hindquarters and shoulders are fairly muscular. I only ride him gently, about two or three times a week and quite lightly. It isn’t from the saddle, i know for sure. The way i know is…
        Have i got your attention?
        …I don’t ride him with a saddle, just the bareback pad. ;P got ya ^.^
        Okay sorry. I had to break up the monotony.
        He gets about 3 1/2lbs of pelleted feed per day, 1/4 bale of grass hay per day, and 24/7 pasture except in severe weather. He doesn’t have access to any thing he can crib on in the pasture, but when he does- that and eating are all he does. I’m planning to get his teeth floated very soon, which may make a difference in his weight. He was wormed a month ago.
        The saddles we have just don’t fit because he is so thin where the bars go. I don’t know if i should get a saddle that fits well now, (since he has been this way for so long) because if i got one i would ride more which might build him some muscle and in turn make the saddle stop fitting.
        There seems to be a general idea that if someone plans to own a horse, he/she should have everlasting funds at their disposal to provide for every possible need their horse could ever have. But sadly, i don’t. I have a very small budget.
        He has food, water, a buddy, some room to run, frequent hoof care, and someone who really loves him. That is a lot more than many horses get. The budget only rears up its stinky little head when it comes to those things halfway between necessity and luxury. Like a new saddle for instance. We have three, but none fit. I CAN ride bareback, just not as much. So it’s not strictly necessary. But i do need it to ride a lot more. So it’s not a luxury.

        • I would take a holistic approach- as a saddle fitter I often see horses that due to age, lack of training, weight issues cannot physically carry a saddle in the condition they are in. It is not nust a case of money- has the horse exhibited lameness or joint pain , is his way of going affecting his top line build up, does he suffer with ulcers/ worms/ internal parasites, is his body repelling an infection etc etc. until you are sure that he is in physical good condition and any issues (such as the crib biting) are managed (ie collar) and blood tests and worm egg count have been taken, foot balance etc have been addressed you cannot expect to be able to ride him just to resolve the muscle hollowing. Once he has been determined healthy you can then speak to an equine nutritionist, and take steps to work the horse to build up both muscle and stamina first by lunging and ground work until the top line can sufficiently comfortably carry a saddle and yes it will be one of many saddles as his muscle shape changes. Unfortunately blood horses that carry both physical and psycological traits take time patience and money to see right which is why I never recommend them to a beginner or a small budget! Good luck and be prepared to be patient they can come right.

        • Whatever saddle you buy, make sure that the tree correctly fits the horse and can be adjusted as he changes shape. HE WILL CHANGE SHAPE WITH MORE EXERCISE. This tree should be a traditional tree made of wood and steel. Also, be sure to get a saddle with wool flock in the panels. Both the tree and the panels will then be able to be adjusted and you won’t need to buy new saddles as he changes shape. If you have a good saddle fitter in your area, you should contact them. You might need to have a saddle re-fitted frequently at first. A good tree will NOT be compromised by frequent adjustments. A well made tree will remain strong through dozens of adjustments.

  23. Yolanda Seguro says:

    Saddle fitting fills me with horror! I am in the situation where I need a saddle for a horse, in a country where there are no saddle fitters (that I have found) and tack shops are few and far between. The saddle I use at the moment is basically the last saddle that is left in the tack room.
    I was looking at a synthetic saddle with an adjustable gullet as an option. I also have to contend with riding in the rainy season so leather is not a practical option.
    After reading this thread I am even more anxious about finding a saddle to fit.
    Any advice?

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