Trees – More tricks to the trade!
The tree of the saddle, as it crosses the withers, must fit the horse without the use of pads. Why? Because a bare tree with no leather needs to conform to the horse's back without pads. If the tree is too narrow for the withers, pressure points or sores will be created and the pommel will sit up too high, unbalancing the rider. In this situation if a rider placed pads (keyhole and bounce pads) under the back of the saddle to raise it, more pressure would be placed on the withers. If the saddle is too wide across the withers the rider will be tipped forward and the saddle will make contact with the withers.
Did you know that many saddles are poorly designed through the withers area and have pressure points built in? Or that on many western saddles the bar is grooved too deeply for the stirrup leathers, leaving a pressure point at the base of the fork? English close-contact saddles often have an outward flare to the tree along the withers. This causes a very small and painful pressure point since the horse’s withers are flat in shape at this point.
Remember your horse cannot tell you, “that hurts” and where it hurts. As a result most horses do not tolerate this pressure well, and will shorten their stride and hollow their back as a means of protecting themselves from the pressure created by a poorly fitted saddle.
Other saddles especially some of the dressage and a few western/endurance saddles have pressure points underneath the stirrup bars or attachments. In the dressage saddles pressure points sometimes occur under the stirrup bars because the manufacturers try to design the saddle wide through the front of the tree to clear the shoulder blades, leaving the saddle tight near the area of the stirrup bar. Remember, manufactures are not necessarily designing with the horse in mind.
Pressure Points – I thought saddles protected the horse!
Know the pressure points of your horse and you will have a better chance of managing potential problems.
- If white hairs appear under the saddle look for a pressure point above them.
- On a Western saddle the sheepskin covering of the panels will become worn down over the pressure points.
- Another way to locate pressure points is to ride with a thin, clean, white saddle pad. Where there are dark spots after 15 or 20 minutes there will generally be pressure points.
- Light areas or areas with no sweat are generally from a lack of pressure, but, be careful; these can also be caused by excess pressure which decreases the amount of sweat produced.
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