When Saddles are like Boring Boyfriends

when-saddles-featureSome people’s other halves just don’t mix very well.

We’ve all had one of those girlfriends who brings her long-term boyfriend along to a night out with the girls. It seems they’re joined at the hip, as she can’t go out without him. The guy is nice enough and was probably once a bit of a catch, but he isn’t now. In fact, he’s dull and you can’t help but wonder why your friend’s still with him at all.

Some riding friends are like that too. Ask them along to ride one of your horses and they don’t just come along, they turn up with their own saddle. And guess what? Their saddle is often past its best, being wrinkled, twisted and a bit rough round the edges.

Actually, make that very rough around the edges.

It’s amazing how people get attached to certain saddles. State of the art or luxury items, I can understand. But daggy old saddles that weren’t too great in the first place? I mean – why?

Take this elderly piece of leatherwork. When I came across it, the horse owner’s regular riding friend had been turning up with it. She’d managed to persuade the horse owner that it fitted this quarter horse mare just fine. She knew best, she understood fitting and knew beyond doubt that hers was a better saddle than the one that actually belonged to this horse and that had been recently fitted.

Get that? The horse already had its own new saddle that fitted just right.

Now don’t get me wrong: an old saddle can be a good saddle. They certainly fit some horses. But a lot of old saddles aren’t that great and the true extent of their faults only becomes clear when they’re used on horses they’ve never been fitted to.

I checked the horse’s back (that was why I’d been asked to visit) and found irregularities in the thoracic spine. Out of interest, I decided to see if the location corresponded with any particular point in the saddle.

Here’s the underside of that saddle. The panels are narrow but bulging, stuffed so hard with flocking that they’re like bumpy rolling pins. They’re uneven and the channel in the center veers to one side and is too narrow to boot. I’ve put chalk marks where it’s narrowest. Yuck. It’s a real spine-pincher. And I’ve not even started on the tree width, length or other aspects of fit.

Taking the narrow spot as a starting point, I traced the chalk line to the upper side of the saddle. I drew another line on the horse’s ribs, to show roughly where the back problem was. I then placed the saddle on the horse. And here’s the result.

The first thing you’ll probably notice is that I have a slight problem drawing a vertical line. But at least I’m consistent in that… certainly enough for you to see that the lines are pretty much, well, aligned.

Whew. It beggars belief that someone would be so desperate to use this on a horse. Why the attachment to it? I can only think that back in the day when it was bought, someone must have said it was high quality. The owner heard those words and believed them and held onto that belief… for ever.

Well, the news is that it was never very good.

The tree is fiberglass and the thick, heavy leather is fixed to it with tacks. Now, that wasn’t a good construction method, because while fiberglass weighs a ton, it’s brittle and cracks easily. What’s more, the cracks tend to travel very quickly between nail holes.

This saddle has a broken tree point, meaning that it’s very asymmetrical and collapsing sideways at the front. The rider may not notice, but the horse certainly would. No wonder this mare was tossing her head like billy-o whenever the offending item came near her back.

And the take home message?

Don’t let friends put their saddles on your horse, no matter how persuasive, confident, assertive or brilliant-in-their-own-imagination they are. Anyone who would suggest switching their saddle around on different horses knows diddly-squat, or they wouldn’t even dream of doing that. Even if you’re a quiet, confrontation-shy kind of person, just you stick to your guns and say ‘no’. You can say, ‘no thank you’ if you prefer. But it’s definitely got to be a ‘no’.


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Bodywork for Horses, Australia


  1. Great article

  2. Yep but if a friend wanted me to ride their nutter I’m using a saddle that I’m completely comfortable in be it my halfbreed or western as I would be more effective and I know enough if they are going to be a shocking fit. This is purely aimed at the section where your saying someone who switches saddles around knows diddly squat,

  3. You are soooo…. right. I totally agree with you.

    Sometime, could you address the importance of the horse being the correct size for the rider? We occasionally have people wanting a saddle to fit her/him (large, 19 1/2″ seat) and their favorite horse (a short backed Arab). It’s not doing the horse any favors to squeeze a large rear end into a too small saddle that will fit a short backed horse. Perhaps you can write about this.

    • It’s certainly a subject with some mileage in it! Yes, I’ll be doing that one sometime. It’s not whether the horse can manage the weight, it’s where the weight is placed and, as you say, how. “You can’t put a quart into a pint pot’!

  4. Terryanne ryan says:

    Thank my stars your are an expert on your backs and saddles,Thankyou again,a lucky find for me

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