Ina’s Helpful Hints on Horsekeeping 8 – Saddles! Girths! Pads!, by Ina M. Ish

This will not be a long hint, as much has been written and much   info is available but some few things to consider about saddles.

To begin, young horses outgrow saddles like little kids outgrow  shoes!  So unless you have gobs of money don't spend a huge amount on  your first few saddles.  Buy quality tack, but not top of the line  saddles until the horse is fully grown.

I have been through a small slew of saddles, of different brands  and found that saddle fitting for both horse and rider is one of  those arcane things that you learn by experience.  If you have access  to a professional saddle maker all the better, but they are few and  far between so here are a few simple guidelines.

One measures a saddle for people fit-  by putting your fingers  on the pommel of the saddle – that's the front- and laying you arm  down so your elbow is on the cantle- that's the back of the saddle.   If  your arm lies so that fingers and elbows fit on the pommel and  cantle, chances are you fit the saddle. If you want an actual  measurement- put your tape where your hand and arm were.  Folks under   125 lbs. and fit, often find a 16" saddle to be best for them, for  folks over 125 lbs., a 17" saddle frequently works.  Men usually take  an 18" saddle.  I am not talking about saddleseat style saddles or  Western saddles but rather all-purpose English style saddles.   Dressage saddles and jumping saddles also fit into this realm.

That's the people part- it pays to talk to a reputable saddler  and you will find that many of them have Demo programs- many good  tack sellers do as well.  This is invaluable- so use the service  where possible.  Many of these demo saddles are sold or can be bought  at considerably less money than retail!

O.k Horse/saddle fit.  This is a lot trickier than people fit  really.   The saddle must be wide enough in the tree and gullet so it  does not impair the movement of the horse's shoulder.  For this  reason many of the new treeless saddles are very intriguing.  I  always wanted on- sort of like using a bare-back pad but with more  support and less tendency to slide like climbing a greased pole!

So how do you determine the tree width and fit?  For one thing,  after placing the saddle on the horse, and girthing it, place the  flat of your hand in front of the saddle at the horse's shoulder  level, and see if you can slide it under the the saddle flap.  If you  can't the saddle is too small or too tight.   If you can great!  Stand  behind the horse when it is saddled and look down the channel of the  saddle, above the saddle pad- you should be able to see clear through  from back to front- if you can't- it is not the right saddle for that   horse.  There must be air-passage under the saddle or you will cause   galls and sores!  The saddle should sit level on the horse's back- not lower at one end  or higher at the other!   You should put two fingers or three under  the pommel of the saddle and check to see it is not pinching at the   wither!

Those are just a few hints on how to fit a saddle.  If you have  another person handy, have them sit in the saddle while on the horse  and do those checks- if you don't or have not been able to 'try'  various saddles on- make a mold of the horse's back using material  that is flexible but will hold it's shape and take that mold to either a saddle fitter or a good saddle shop and put it under any  saddle you are considering to see if it is a match.

A saddle must not have a cracked or twisted tree, all the  billets must be sound, and all the billet holes should be clean and  not stretched all out of shape.   Long billets are neat to use on  dressage saddles, but for a youngster not a good idea cause one  cannot adjust the girth from the horse's back!  Short billets with  long girths are much more amenable to adjustment from the horse's back.{mospagebreak}

I personally like a deep seat on a saddle, but not all folks do,  not all saddles have a 'twist' that accommodates all sexes of people.   Some saddles are made for women, and a man finds them horrible to  ride in.  That 'twist' refers to the width of the top of the saddle,  not the bottom.

Synthetic saddles are great to use as schooling saddles, easy to  clean, almost unbreakable and light weight.  Only drawback I ever  found with them was the tree was too narrow for my horses!  A wide enough tree is essential – and how can you tell if it all works for  your horse?  Check the saddle pad after a work out.   The pad should  be uniformly wet or dirty in a pattern that matches the underside of  the saddle.  Any dry spots are indications that the saddle is too tight for the horse in that area- pinches the horse in other words.

Before I forget!  The wider the horse usually speaking the wider  the saddle tree should be.  A Thoroughbred with a good wither can  usually carry a medium treed saddle, but an old style Quarter horse,  a Morgan, or an Arab- tends to have less wither and a deeper  shoulder, more widely spring ribs- they are what I call the wide- bodied bunch and a wide treed saddle fits them best- as it does for   Warmbloods. Wider is better than too narrow.  You can fill out under  a saddle with pads, but you can't make a narrow one wide enough!

What about girths?  Well, I favor the double sided elastic girths  Why, having put on some weight myself I have come to the point where  all my pants are elastic waisted!  And what a difference it makes in  terms of my breathing.   If it has that effect on a people, imagine  what it must feel like to a horse- to be able to expand lungs and not  have to take short , shallow breaths!   Besides the double sided  elastic girths seem to prevent girth sores- and speaking of which, I  used to use the five strand string girths- but found that they chafed  too frequently. The best girth I ever used was called a Eurogirth- it   was totally elastic and while it was on the stiff side to adjust when  first put on, it was a great girth- and totally washable as well. I  always used a girth pad as well- less chance of rubs.  Another reason  for my preference is that one could tighten an elastic girth more  than a leather one, and on the wide-bodied horses this is an advantage!

So why even talk about Saddle pads?  I have a pet peeve , and  must confess to being a bit of a fanatic but I never put an  used,  unwashed pad on a horse.   To me, it was like putting on yesterday's  underwear!  Besides, clean, freshly washed pads are far less likely  to carry bacteria that cause skin problems and they don't get that  stained, impossible to remove the stain quality!  My friends would  laugh at me for all the saddle pads I had, but none of my horses ever   got skin infections under the saddle!  And by the way, a generous   application of cheap hair spray to an especially stained with dirt  saddle pad will remove the stain – and if you do this as a matter of  course, the stain will be gone and the pad will look like new far  longer.  Be aware that on the quilted pads with the diamond shapes,  the filling can over time deteriorate and cause lumps- such pads are  best removed from active service and move into the store your saddle   on them category.

Gel pads are another thing worth mentioning.  I love em!  They  are indeed a good way to cushion a horse's back- especially a young  horse not used to carrying weight.  If used on an older horse being  ridden by a beginner they are like air cushions when that beginner  sits down with a hump instead of a controlled descent!  If you are  going to use a gel pad keep that in mind when selecting your saddle or you may have problems.

I did not like the lollipop pads or other quick fix devices  available to make a saddle fit the horse- nor did I like the fleece  on both sides saddle pads- they are too slippery!  If the horse is  lacking withers keeping a saddle in place is hard enough with adding  to the problem!

When you store your saddle, a rack of course is best, and this  is an excellent place to  use the lumpy saddle pads, but if you  cannot store the saddle on a rack or saw-horse or any horizontal  surface remember to set pommel down for storage- do not lay it flat  or on it's back or cantle down! Those practices over time will   distort the saddle tree!

That's about it for tack my friends, welcome to the wonderful,  never ending   and expensive world of horse and rider comfort!

Love, Ina

Ina M Ish
iish@earthlink.net