The Big Saddle Check: Does My Saddle Still Fit?

One of the most important issues for you as a rider is the right saddle for your horse. Not only is it an important link between you and your horse, if it doesn’t fit, but it can also really cause problems.


If your horse pushes its back away while cleaning or big ears while saddling, this could be an indication of an unsuitable saddle. In some horses you can also see that the muscles are impaired by a saddle that is too tight: The muscles then shrink, the horse can get real hollows in the back muscles.

But also grinding your teeth when saddling or riding or lameness can indicate an unsuitable saddle. If your horse does not swing easily over the back or does not reach right through from back to front at a gallop, then the saddle may be pinching. These tips are always a reason to check the saddle – even if the last saddle check may not have been long ago. The horse’s back changes really quickly with increased training, grazing, or growth!

Health Consequences

A suitable saddle is not only important so that your horse can properly understand your seating aids, it is also a basic requirement for keeping your horse healthy! An unsuitable saddle can lead to back pain and make your horse unrideable.

The Saddle Check

There are a few points where you can tell whether your saddle still fits.

To do this, you put your saddle on your horse without a saddlecloth. Really put it on like you would strap it on. Now you can put your hand under the saddle pad, i.e. between the contact surface of the saddle and your horse: Let your hand slide carefully over the horse’s back and check whether the pressure of the saddle is even. Sometimes it happens that the saddle, for example, only rests on the front and back, forming a bridge between them, so to speak. Of course, that shouldn’t be and shows that the saddle doesn’t fit.

Now take hold of the front edge of the saddle: Does the saddle hit your horse’s shoulder blade there or can the shoulder move freely? There are of course differences between English and Western saddles. The English saddle is usually behind the shoulder, the western or some hiking saddle is sometimes also over the shoulder. There it is cut so wide that the horse’s shoulder blade can still move freely. Why don’t you check out how your horse’s shoulder moves when you stretch one front leg forward. Can you see the rotation of the shoulder blade? Then you can see how much space such a horse’s shoulder needs in front of or under the saddle. If you now move the front leg forward while the saddle of your horse is on it, you can see whether it can move its shoulder freely. Also, test this with a belted saddle.

Next, you check whether your horse’s spine remains sufficiently free. Can you look under the saddle from front to back? The saddle must really never press on the sensitive spinous processes of the spine. If the saddle rests here, it doesn’t fit so well that you really shouldn’t use it.

Finally, take a look from behind at the saddle cushions ¬ or, in the case of western saddles, at the swing of the saddle. Does the angle match the angle of the horse’s back? A saddle that is too steep can be sensitive to the muscles of your horse!

Of course, these are only hints that you can look for yourself, if in doubt, please always consult a professional.

The Professional

If you suspect that your saddle does not fit or you are unsure whether everything is still okay, ask your trainer to take a look at the saddle. A physiotherapist or an osteopath can also help with the saddle check. If your saddle is not ideal, you always need a saddler. An additional pad or a thick blanket usually does not solve the problem, a suitable saddle does not need thick pads! Look for a trained equestrian saddler who will adjust the saddle correctly for you and your horse.

Mary Allen

Written by Mary Allen

Hello, I'm Mary! I've cared for many pet species including dogs, cats, guinea pigs, fish, and bearded dragons. I also have ten pets of my own currently. I've written many topics in this space including how-tos, informational articles, care guides, breed guides, and more.

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