Saddle Balance…Perhaps the Most Important and Most Ignored Aspect of Saddle Fitting

I just returned from a barn where I expected to be dropping panels to do some major flocking adjustments. The comments from the riders that led to this barn call were dire. One saddle was sliding forward and the the other rider was being launched from her saddle in the canter. I scheduled about two hours to work through these problems because I anticipated extensive work.

Both riders were riding in used English saddles that I had seen before and that worked well for them and their horses with the aid of shimmed correction pads. When I had recently last seen them, we had agreed on how many shims needed to be placed in the prescribed pockets. I left one with an option based on what she felt when she rode. And here is the most important part of this blog!

If you are having difficulty with the posting trot and you feel as if you a falling into a hole, your saddle is probably too low at the cantle. If you feel as if you are being pushed out of your seat in the sitting trot or the canter, your saddle is probably too low at the pommel.

And while I am at it, if you think your saddle fits and your trainer is always telling you to move your feet either forward or back all the time, your saddle is most likely not fitting either you or your horse. It may be as simple as adjusting the balance… but call a saddle fitter before you make that determination because it could also be bad fit for the horse.

Saddle balance is, for some reason, the ugly stepchild of saddle fitting! Western saddle fitters ignore it completely and many English fitters haven’t fully grasped the concept. I do most of my adjustments for the horse and the rider never may feel a change other than in horse movement and performance. Where the rider REALLY notices the difference is when I change the front to back balance for them.  They are amazed and sometimes this is the only change that is needed.

Changing balance of a saddle is not difficult to determine and change for the short term. Get a bath towel and fold it in quarters then drape it under the front half or rear half of the saddle (and over your normal saddle pad), finish tacking up (allowing the girth to accommodate the extra material), and ride. If this begins to solve the problems from the bolded section above, you have a saddle balance problem and need to call a saddle fitter to figure out if it is a problem that is impacting your horse in a negative way too.

The reasons for saddle imbalance are too many to list. Some are very harmful to the horse and can do long term damage. Even if the saddle fits in every way other than balance, this will impact the horse by carrying an unbalanced load that is either behind his movement or too forward. I have countless clients who say that they are not as concerned for their own comfort. Please understand that if you are fighting a saddle, that tension, discomfort, and imbalance is felt by your horse.

The upshot of my long appointment was that shims had been misplaced. The difference of about 1/8th of an inch change with each rider fixed the problem.

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