This week I want to write about saddles (again!) – specifically how the tree design of the saddle fundamentally affects the fit.

Each saddle maker has their own tree designs that are specific to that company. Not every tree will fit every horse correctly and while it’s quite easy to spot a tight tree (even to the untrained eye) it is more difficult to spot more subtle signs of the imbalance over the horse’s back that a tree may produce.
Sometimes the springs of the saddle tree can be very close in towards the gullet. Some trees are banana shaped and others too flat or too thin over the withers area. Some designs have panels in the wrong place for the horse’s shoulders or panels that are too close in towards the horse’s spinous processors. The worst ones are those that do not fit correctly and are stuffed tight as rolling pins, allowing no ‘give’ at all.

Long story short: if the tree and the panel layout are the wrong shape/design for your horse, the saddle will cause at least a degree of discomfort for the horse, which will affect its performance; and in the worst cases a poorly-fitting saddle can produce a chronic condition or even injury as the horse changes its way of moving to minimise the discomfort.

This is why it is worth having an independent saddle fitter come to see you, rather than using one particular company.

It’s easy to get sucked into purchasing a saddle because of smart marketing by the manufacturer. “After all,” we think, “if I’m paying thousands of pounds for a saddle, surely it will fit!” Sadly this is not necessarily true. Every horse is a different shape and if the manufacturer’s standard tree does not match your horse’s shape, the saddle is never going to fit properly – no matter how many shims or numnahs are put under it. AND of course if the saddle is bespoke, you should not need to do this in the first place!

I am writing this because too many times over the last few weeks I have had to send reports to owners to forward to saddle companies, describing how the saddle does not fit and the damage it is doing to the horse. I may not be a qualified saddle fitter but after over twenty years of doing this job I do know a whole lot about horses’ backs and how their musculature can be damaged by a tree that is not correct. That is the reason I work with an independent saddle fitter. She will come to see you with a selection of trees and decide which one is the best shape for your horse’s back. The finished saddle may not be the most flashy on the market, but you can be certain that it will fit your horse properly. So your horse will be comfortable, happy and healthy.