Saddle fitting: fundaments and uses

Saddle fitting: fundaments and uses

August 20, 2021 0 By Daphne Maujean

The saddle is the main element that links a rider to his horse. It allows for communication and cohesion between the two athletes. A saddle that is adapted to the horse’s morphology and to the rider’s functioning is necessary for an optimum practice of horse riding.

Discover the fundaments of saddle fitting and how our CWD saddle experts use this technique to provide you with perfectly adapted saddles.

What is saddle fitting?

Saddle fitting is an English expression, which could be simply translated into “the adaptation of the saddle”. Originating from England, it has been a widespread technique there for several decades.

The main source of this movement would come from the United States, following the publication by the veterinarian Joyce Harman of the book “The horse’s pain-free back and saddle-fit book“. The key idea of this technique is the necessity according to which a saddle must be the best possible fit for each horse.

Nowadays, the technique of saddle fitting is also developing in France. However, there are subtle differences between English, American and French saddle fitting; which can be confusing.

In England,

There is a difference between the saddle-fitter and the traditional saddle master. The first one is a professional who helps you find the proper saddle for you and your horse. Whereas the second one is the professional that makes repairs or modifications on your saddle.

As for the United States,

The job of a saddle-fitter has a broader meaning. Indeed, it includes the job of a saddle master in addition to the part dedicated to the fitting of the saddle. This difference with the English saddle-fitter can be explained by the fact that there are less training courses for these jobs in the USA.

In France,

There is yet another difference between the saddle-fitter, the traditional saddle master and the saddle expert. The saddle expert is someone who works as a salesperson for a saddler. However, he isn’t necessarily a salesman in the traditional sense. He can — and must, to be a good expert — have knowledge in both saddlery and saddle fitting.

The main difference in France is that a saddle-fitter can provide you with saddles from different brands. The saddle expert, however, can theoretically only offer you those of the saddler he works for — although in reality, it is not always the case, especially when selling pre-owned saddles.

And what about CWD?

Our saddle experts are, above all, passionates and former professionals of the equestrian world: teachers, riders, grooms, breeders!

They have excellent knowledge and solid basics. When joining CWD, they follow a very complete training — both theoretical and practical — in order to master all the aspects of their job: biomechanics of horse and rider, anatomy, fitting, leather work, saddle making.

Maxence Graves CWD saddle expert

Maxence Graves

CWD saddle expert

“We have had the chance to meet all the company’s different services: tannery, manufacture of the saddle trees, workshops… This is very important in order to understand the path from raw materials to the finished saddle.”

This training course is also coupled with a presentation by Pauline Martin, doctor in biomechanics. On one hand, it covers the anatomy and function of both rider and horse at the 3 gaits. And, on the other hand, the different pathologies that can be revealed by the use of a non-adapted saddle.

CWD saddle experts are trained to be able to address the horse’s problems (morphology, pathologies, …) as well as those of the rider (posture, riding, evolution, …). They thus know the needs and constraints of both athletes. And they can therefore accompany them in the best way possible towards performance; while still preserving their physical integrity and well-being.

Maxence Graves CWD saddle expert

Maxence Graves

CWD saddle expert

“We focus as much on the horse’s comfort than on the rider’s posture.”

The importance of saddle fitting for the comfort of the horse and rider pair.

The saddle is the main interface between the horse and the rider. Each athlete has a different morphology and way of riding. An adapted saddle makes it possible to respect each one’s physiognomical criteria.

An unfitting saddle constrains the horse in its movements, thus impacting its performances. But it can also have more important consequences on its health, physical aspect and even its behavior. Indeed, many pathologies tend to appear with the use of inadequate equipments: lameness, back pain, lumbago, and other muscular or ligament atrophies.

consequences of an inadequate equipment

In order to adapt the saddle to the horse, the saddle expert will of course analyze the horse’s overall morphology, but not only! He observes the horse when it is standing still, and then in motion in order to understand how it moves. He also tries to learn more about the horse :

Nicole Thiele CWD saddle expert

Nicole Thiele

CWD saddle expert

“From the very first contact with the client, there is a real search for information about his horse: its age, physical condition, training rhythm. We also try to learn more about its health, if he has pathologies and if he has an osteopath follow-up for example.”

This information is essential to understand the horse’s locomotion. It allows the saddle expert to offer the appropriate equipment, which respects the functioning and comfort of both horse and rider, regardless of the efforts made while riding.

Indeed, the horse’s back undergoes great morphological changes during efforts, especially when jumping. Here, saddle fitting ensure that the saddle correctly follows the horse’s movements, rather than hindering it. This is made possible by choosing the right saddle tree — shape, materials, … —, panels and padding, as well as on the balance and overall ergonomics of the saddle.

A saddle may seem to be suitable when placed on the horse’s back at standstill, but prove to be inadequate when being set in motion. For the most accurate saddle fitting possible, it is therefore necessary to carry out static as well as dynamic checks.

The control points checked by CWD saddle experts.

The control points during saddle fitting are numerous and vary according to the horse’s morphology, the saddle’s design or the panel’s characteristics.

Physiognomy of the withers, shoulders, back and general balance of the horse

Nicole Thiele CWD saddle expert

Nicole Thiele

CWD saddle expert

“At first, we observe the horse at standstill. We look at its global morphology and then in more details: the withers’ physiognomy, the shoulders, the muscles. We also analyze its back line to verify that he doesn’t have any discomfort spots or pain.”

Morphological aspects are very important indicators for saddle fitting. The aspects of the back line (taut or loosened) and of the withers (protruding or rather hidden into the body) are therefore elements to be taken into account.

Balance of the saddle

Here, the saddle should be placed bareback on the horse. It allows to check its overall balance, without the interference of a saddle pad and/or a shock absorber pad.

Maxence Graves CWD saddle expert

Maxence Graves

CWD saddle expert

“The pommel shouldn’t be over elevated or, on the contrary, completely sunken on the withers. On a balanced saddle, the pommel and cantle are aligned at the same level.”

Clearance of the withers

Maxence Graves CWD saddle expert

Maxence Graves

CWD saddle expert

“Then, we make sure that the withers are cleared. We must be able to put 3 fingers between the withers and the pomme when the saddle is placed bareback, and 2 fingers once it is girthed.”

The harmonious placing on the horse's back

Maxence Graves CWD saddle expert

Maxence Graves

CWD saddle expert

“We are looking for a uniform placing of the panels on the horse’s back, with maximum freedom on the supra-spinous ligament and the shoulders. To do so, we move our hand under the panel to ensure there are no lift gap.”

Thus, the saddle expert ensure that the saddle doesn’t hinder the horse’s freedom of movement and that pressures are distributed evenly so as not to create any discomfort zones.

Thanks to this information, the saddle expert can then judge if the saddle is adapted or not to the horse’s morphology and functioning. Of course, at CWD, our saddle experts are able to perfectly adjust the saddles thanks to numerous configurations, by playing on the thickness of materials in the different parts of the saddle, mainly the panels.

The panels, made of foams of different densities, allow a better distribution of pressure and the absorption of the rider’s movements.

It is essential that the saddle is adapted to the horse, but it must also be so for the rider. An ergonomic saddle for the rider must respect his posture and functioning but also his morphology, and above all, his sensations!

Nicole Thiele CWD saddle expert

Nicole Thiele

CWD saddle expert

“We ask the rider about himself: his morphology, functioning in the saddle, his problems and needs, but also his goals and preferences for a particular type of saddle or seat.”

Here are some of the control points that allows the saddle expert to provide you with a well-fitted saddle:

The length of the legs and the femur axis

Here, we are searching for the most suited size and shape of flaps for the rider. It depends on his morphology, but also the way he puts his stirrups on.

Maxence Graves CWD saddle expert

Maxence Graves

CWD saddle expert

“During testing, we always ask the rider to put his stirrups on as he usually do. If the rider distinguishes flat and jumping, we will ask him to put them at the shortest length. In all cases, the goal is for the knee roll to be parallel to the rider’s femur.”

Indeed, the good orientation of the femur ensures that the rider keeps some support without being blocked in his functioning.

For example, if the rider’s stirrups length is quite long, his femur axis will be more vertical and the angle between his femur and shin will be more open. The saddle expert will therefore advise you to use flaps that are longer and advanced from below.

The size of the seat

Maxence Graves CWD saddle expert

Maxence Graves

CWD saddle expert

“We make sure that the rider can function properly in the seat, moving backward and forward as needed.”

This ensures that the rider can function naturally with a free pelvis, allowing him to connect with his horse.

The rider’s sensations are also important when choosing the size and shape of the saddle seat. Some will prefer a flat seat, that offers great freedom of movement. Others will prefer a deeper seat, that allows for more engagement of the pelvis.

It is important for the saddle expert to be able to analyze the rider and horse pair in motion. It is what will allow him to verify that the saddle is well-fitted or that there are still adjustments to be made.

Nicole Thiele CWD saddle expert

Nicole Thiele

CWD saddle expert

“Our experience allow us to easily see if the saddle is adapted to both rider and horse. It’s by analyzing them in motion, on the flat as well as during jumps, that we can confirm that the saddle is adapted to the horse and that the problems expressed by the rider are addressed.”

A saddle that perfectly fits the horse’s morphology and the rider’s functioning is essential to practice horse riding in complete safety, and with respect for both athletes’ physical integrity. However, physical condition and appearance can evolve over time, depending on different parameters such as training, age, health, diet. It is therefore necessary to have your equipment checked frequently.

Contact your CWD saddle expert to make an appointment in order to confirm that your equipment is well-fitted. Of course, your saddle can be readjusted in our workshops if necessary.