Regular saddle fitting is vital to ensure the comfort of the equine athlete – not only to check the flocking (padding), but also to ensure that work-related changes to your horse’s musculature are accommodated. Modern saddles all have adjustable gullets, but is that enough? HQ spoke to Roberto Rasia from Erreplus Saddlery, based in Italy, about saddle fitting for the modern sport horse.
Sport horse breeders are committed to producing progeny who will excel in their various disciplines at the highest levels. A stallion and mare are carefully selected to produce a horse who has a good temperament, athletic potential and conformational correctness. This vigilant breeding over the years has led to anatomical changes within the modern athlete, especially among the Warmblood breeds.
“Modern Warmblood horses have indeed changed recently,” says Roberto. “They are much more short-coupled, yet bigger in the front (more broad-shouldered) compared to the older generations. This breeding is to make horses faster-moving and more careful for modern showjumping courses, as well as more powerful, flexible and brilliant for dressage movements.” He explains that the shoulder has evolved considerably. The shoulder blade is much bigger, is positioned slightly higher and has rotated slightly clockwise. Breeders believe this is to assist performance and impact absorption for high-level showjumping and dressage.
The rider matters
When fitting a saddle, it’s important to keep the rider in mind as well. Saddles need to fit the rider as well as the horse. A common problem that crops up is that riders want close-contact saddles that are long and comfortable to sit in, whereas horses appear to prefer a shorter and wider saddle. Saddle fitters are tasked with finding the perfect compromise that suits both horse and rider.
Evolution of the saddle
With all these anatomical changes happening in the modern sport horse, saddle makers have had to change their saddle designs to best accommodate body shape. Erreplus Saddlery manufactures saddles that are some of the most technologically advanced available on the market. “It is very important to always respect the T16-T18 vertebrae; for instance, our saddles are five degrees larger in front, and they can be placed slightly more forward than the traditional saddles,” says Roberto. “Erreplus saddles have so-called ‘French’ flocked panels, ending just under the cantle of the saddle, giving maximum freedom and respect to the lumbar region of the horse,” he adds.
Saddles should also be kept as short as possible for the horse, but not too short for the rider. If you’re a smaller rider and your horse has a long back, go for a shorter saddle size that still fits you. Saddles need to allow the front legs total freedom of movement by making space for the scapula to pivot without restriction.
The Erreplus team kept the significant change in the shoulder in mind when they designed their saddle range. “Thanks to its unique ‘U’-form, the Erreplus tree gives much more space to the shoulders and the trapezius muscles of modern horses, who unfortunately often have their shoulders pinched and blocked by the traditional ‘V’-form trees,” says Roberto. “Moreover, Erreplus has developed a new type of short panel, called the Spalla Libera (shoulder free) panel, which is made for horses with big asymmetrical shoulders and big muscles.”
A saddle for any ridden horse should be fitted by a qualified professional. Horses who are being competed at higher levels often require more specialised attention. A saddle that is even the slightest bit ill-fitting can hinder a horse’s movement. When you’re at the top of your game, you don’t want the fit of your saddle to come between you and a clear round or the perfect dressage test.
Roberto tells HQ that the first step of a proper saddle fitting is for the fitter to assess the condition of the horse’s back and then create a template. The template will be used to help the fitter adjust the saddle so that it fits the horse’s back perfectly. Roberto adds that the fitter should also measure the shoulders, wither and back level in order to correctly determine which panels will be most suitable for the horse. “Then we have a dynamic test with the rider on the horse’s back to see the horse’s movement. We also look at the balance of the saddle, and rider aspects such as height, weight, riding position and comfort, so that we can find the right model for the rider,” says Roberto.
Roberto believes that it is very important for riders to get the saddle fitter out twice a year, especially because horses change shape depending on their work. “It is extremely important for riders to check their saddle every six months, so that it can be adapted to the changing structure of the horse, and even more often for younger horses,” he tells HQ.
“I can’t afford an expensive saddle”
Although the equestrian community is fortunate to have a variety of high-quality saddles available, the reality of things is that not everyone can afford to buy their horse an expensive saddle. Even if these saddles are not in your budget, it’s still very important that any saddle you choose to ride in fits your horse perfectly. Saddle fitters can bring you a variety of options to try, and some saddles can be adjusted where possible. “The consulting of a professional saddle fitter can help a lot with improving and correcting poor-fitting saddles,” says Roberto. “Saddles with flocked panels can be fitted and adjusted much more easily than saddles with latex panels, where only the use of correction pads can be applied.”
If you have a young horse, or a horse who is prone to changing shape, it is a worthwhile investment to buy a saddle that is highly adjustable, because it will save you the trouble of having to replace saddle after saddle in the future.
Erreplus saddles are available through Tack ‘n Togs @ Midfeeds, where they also have qualified saddle fitters who can assist with the assessment and correct fitting of your horse. Special thanks to the team at Tack ‘n Togs for their co-operation with this article.
Text: Charlotte Bastiaanse