Position – “What about it?”
Have you ever loaded a back pack with books, maybe a lap top, and other smaller items? What about camping gear? Well, if you put the pack to high up on your back you actually feel like falling forward. If you put it too low, your hips jut out and you take smaller steps trying to support the weight.
The proper position of the pack makes all the difference in the walker’s ability to effectively maneuver his or her body without causing stress, pressure, and injury. Similarly the position of the saddle on the back of a horse is the most critical aspect of saddle fit.
The most common mistake made is to place the saddle too far forward. This position places the rigid tree over the top of the shoulder blade, which significantly restricts the movement of the front legs. If the saddle is moved back to the correct position the stride will generally lengthen immediately.
When an English saddle is placed too far forward, the pommel is too high. This causes the seat to slope down towards the cantle and places the rider's legs too far forward in an unbalanced position. The rider then tries to level the seat with pads under the back of the saddle. This is a clear indicator that the saddle is not properly fitted. When a saddle is in the correct position the seat is level without extra padding.
If a western saddle is too far forward it exerts enormous pressure on the top of the scapula. The bars are too long and too straight for most horses’ backs. If you move the saddle back to the correct position, it frees the scapula, but it puts the rider and the saddle too far back on the horse’s back. When the saddle is moved off of the shoulders, the rider will often be tipped forward. Also, it is common for the fork to become too close to the withers after moving the saddle back. Saddles with shorter bars, such as those used in barrel racing and those designed for Arabians, can be easier to move back into the correct position due to the shorter bar. But many of the shorter bars are still too straight, so the bars dig into the horse’s back and do not distribute the rider’s weight more evenly. Barrel saddles are designed for a specific type of riding and can be more difficult to fit due to the bars being too straight.
A simple rule - if the saddle, no matter what type it is, does not fit, no change in the position will correct the problem.
Position and shape of the girth – “Is this really important?”
It’s very important. Some horses’ girth spots are just behind the elbows, while others are one to two hand-breaths behind the elbow. The girth will always end up in the narrowest point of the rib cage perpendicular to the ground. Because the girth is attached to the saddle, it is important that the girth drop naturally down into the narrowest part of the thorax or the saddle will move either forward or back as the girth finds its natural spot. Discomfort just behind the shoulders and elbows may be a result of short girths (both the western and the short dressage girth). The correct length to have the girth is so it ends just below the saddle. Keep it just out of the rider’s way and a long as possible for the horse. You may have a well fitting saddle but if the girth is attached incorrectly the saddle will not fit properly.
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