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Saddle fit
Ten-step process can end client confusion, provide horse with important competitive edge; growing area for veterinarians' expertise


DVM360 MAGAZINE


Step 2-Angle of the points To find the points, lift the flap of the saddle and look for a leather pocket into which the wooden processes of the pommel are fitted. This is the point pocket and there is one on both sides of the pommel just under the saddle bars. (It becomes important to know the terms used in saddle making and the internal structure of a saddle.) These points should lie parallel to the withers and not contact the back musculature. If the angles are too narrow the points will dig into the horse's muscles and the middle of the saddle will not evenly contact the horse's back. If the angle is too wide the saddle will sit down in front and will put pressure on the withers. To assess the point angles, stand looking from the front of the saddle with the flap lifted. The points should be parallel with the musculature. Some points are concealed on certain saddles. In these cases, one must rely on the panel pressure procedure.

Step 3-Panel pressure & contact Panels are the wool-stuffed underside of the saddle that rest on the back of the horse. Place one hand in the center of the saddle and press down to secure the saddle in place. Put your other hand between the front of the panel and feel for any uneven pressure under the points. The front panel should not pinch the withers in any area. Run your hand, palm up, along the entire panel feeling for even pressure. You should raise the sweat flap and check that the panels fit snugly and evenly all along the back. Panels may be made of materials other than wool, such as foam. Wool is generally considered superior, though, because it can conform to the variations of contour in the horse's back better than foam and because it can be adjusted to correct for a multitude of balance and symmetry problems. Panels on whatever material cannot correct, however, for a poorly designed or incorrectly fitted tree.

Step 4- Pommel to cantle relationship Visualize a straight line parallel to the ground from the pommel to the cantle. (Photographs can be taken with a digital camera and lines drawn to more accurately evaluate this relationship.) In saddles with deep or moderately deep seats, the cantle should be between 2 to 3 inches higher than the pommel. In shallower seats, such as in close contact jumping saddles, the cantle may be only 1 to 2 inches higher than the pommel. In almost any saddle, however, if the cantle is level with or below the pommel then the saddle is not properly fitted.

Step 5-Level seat Visualize the same straight line parallel to the ground and look at the deepest part of the seat. This area should be level, in order to put the rider squarely on their pelvis (seat bones) and in balance. This shows the importance of evaluating rider balance. A proper fitting saddle will still result in uneven forces on the horse's back and potential problems if the rider is not correctly balanced.

Step 6- Wither clearance There should be adequate clearance between the pommel and the top of the horse's withers - approximately two to three fingers. If there are more than three fingers then the pommel may be too high and the tree too narrow. Less that two fingers clearance may mean that the pommel is too low and the tree too wide. Either condition can lead to performance issues and possible lameness. Wool-stuffed panels will settle a half inch or so and should be factored in. Some horses have flat round withers and may need more clearance under the pommel and one may need to rely more on cantle to pommel balance as an indicator of fit in these animals.

Step 7- Channel clearance/gullet width There should be adequate clearance over the spinal area and throughout the channel of the saddle. A narrow channel will restrict the horse's movement dramatically and may cause soreness. The channel of the saddle should completely clear the connective tissue of the horse's dorsal midline and rest instead on the musculature of the longissimus dorsi. Because the saddle will press downward and outward under the rider's weight, steps 6 and 7 should be repeated with the rider in the saddle. Adequate clearance over the withers and the spine should be observed with the rider mounted as well.


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Source: DVM360 MAGAZINE,
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