(FULL LENGTH) 5 Rules to Saddle Fit
Rule One: Room over the wither. You know this is the wither. This is the pommel. And you need enough room over the wither. So, I like about four inches, about a hands worth. If it's sitting too much higher or lower than that it's not sitting on the horse properly. Especially important that it doesn't sit too low because you never want a chance of the horse's wither getting rubbed by the pommel. So the first thing you ask is this: is there enough room there?
Make sure with the dressage saddle is behind the shoulder blade. So important. Run your hand down and find where the horse's shoulder blade ends. You're going to feel it right here. Make sure when you put the saddle on, it's sitting behind the shoulder blade. When you girth it down, it's going to snuggle up right behind the shoulder blade. And that's how you know if the saddle is in the right place.
Rule Two: the points. Are the points digging into the horse's shoulders. It's really important that the points aren't too tight and digging into the horse's shoulder. So, make sure you can run your hand down and it doesn't feel like it's pinching here.
Rule Three: Make sure the saddle doesn't rock. If it rocks then it's what we call "bridging" and it's going to put pressure on either the front or the back, and it's going to give your horse a sore back. So, make sure the saddle is sitting down well enough that it doesn't rock.
Rule Four: slip your hand underneath the center of the saddle and make sure that you can feel the pressure of the center of the saddle on the top of your hand. The idea is the whole under panel of the saddle needs to be sitting on the horse evenly. Otherwise you get pressure points and your horse gets a sore back. So, if you put your hand under here and you feel space above the back of your hand, it means that the saddle is sitting on him in the front and the back and it's not sitting on him in the middle. And you can also tell that by rocking. Does it rock?
Rule Five: you need to be able to see air through the gullet. The gullet is the middle part of the saddle, underneath. And it's a lot harder with a taller horse, sometimes you have to stand on something, but you have to make sure that you see daylight all the way through the gullet. Be careful behind your horses of course, but make sure that when you look through the gullet that you can see all the way through. The saddle is not allowed to make any sort of contact whatsoever along the gullet.
If you check those five things with your dressage saddle, your dressage saddle is probably fitting pretty darn nicely.
Let's just review those five rules one more time:
Five things: First: put the saddle on and you make sure that it's placed in the right place. Number 1, room over the wither.
Number 2, not pinching in the points.
Number 3, not rocking or "bridging."
Number 4, check to make sure that the paneling in the center is sitting on his back.
Number 5, look through the gullet and make sure you can see air all the way through the gullet and there's no contact being made between the saddle and the back.
Make sure everybody knows this: girth them up slow. It's so important that you girth them up slow. It keeps them from getting girthy, keeps them from getting cranky about being saddled up. When I first pull up the girth onto the billets, I'll make sure that the horse can't even feel the connection here with their stomach. And then very, very gradually girth them up a hole at a time. Second billet goes through, girth comes under. Make sure you pull it forward. You want a hands span behind the elbow. Don't forget: the Dressage Saddle has got to be behind the shoulder blade.
And there you have a saddle that fits this horse nicely. It's not custom fit to him, but it fits him nicely. It's not going to hurt his back. He's going to have freedom of movement. He's going to be comfortable.
One more thing: when you shorten the girth, don't yank on it. They don't like that. Don't yank. They don't like that feeling. Instead, pull towards you and lift. Feels way better to your horse. Don't yank the billets up. Instead, pull it towards you. Your horse will appreciate it so much more and be so much happier. It's a wonderful technique. Instead of yanking up which is more intrusive, pull towards you and lift. And it feels way, way more comfortable for the horse.
One more thing: If the saddle fits properly, when the stirrup is hanging down on the saddle, it's going to be exactly vertical. If it's hanging here or here (not vertical) then the saddle is not sitting balanced on the horse's back. If you drop the stirrup and it hangs perfectly vertical, then you know that the saddle is properly balanced.
Just really quickly, it's important to know these Basic Parts of the saddle:
This is the pommel. This is the cantle. This is the skirt. These are the panels (remember they have to sit flat on the horse's back, not curve up, see how that's sitting really nicely.) The points are here, that's where we make sure it's not pinching. These are the billet straps. This is the girth of course. These are the stirrup leathers and the stirrup irons. And there you go. Those are the only parts of the saddle that you guys actually need to know. Oh, this is the seat. Pommel, cantle, skirt, seat, panels, billets, stirrup leather, stirrup iron.
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