Your saddle stays put, but you’re always on the lookout for signs of damage to your horse’s back and withers. Yes, there are all sorts of horses whose shapes make finding the right saddle difficult, and there’s a lot at stake.
A saddle that pinches a horse’s shoulders or presses on his withers can have all sorts of negative effects. Chances are, you’d wind up with painful blisters on your feet, and you might end up with a backache.
If the tree fits the contours of your horse’s back, everything else will fall into place. If the tree fits the contours of your horse’s back, everything else will fall into place.
It must distribute the rider’s weight evenly over the horse’s back, while keeping pressure off his spine. Fortunately, there are literally hundreds of variations in bar spread, flare, width, rock and length that can enable saddle trees to fit the contours of any equine back comfortably.
• Bars (rails on an English saddle) are the two strips that run parallel to your horse’s spine and are connected in front of the fork or pommel and in the back by the castle. If the bar angle and the twist are a perfect match for the horse’s back, chances are everything else will fit as well.
“You would never want to put a flat tree on a horse with a bit of a sway in its back or vice versa. Horses with broad backs and low withers often do best with saddles that have hoop-shaped trees.
Sometimes that broad back crops up in other types, like Baroque horses or gained breeds. “Some of my saddles, like the Fidelity dressage model, offer a more sloping pommel shape,” says Temple.
“You can be in a very wide Fidelity and be amazed at how comfortable it is.” Other ideas include suspending the tree slightly over the horse, but that can mean a loss of contact. Note that many round-barreled horses are also short in the back so consider round-skirted Western saddles over square skirts if that’s the case for yours.
To ensure a good fit the saddle features a changeable gullet system, movable blocks at the knee and calf, and four birthing options. • The Big Horn Harbinger Saddle, now made by American Saddlery, comes in leather and synthetic Western models, with 15 ½-inch and 16-inch seats.
The leather models feature short, rounded skirts for the short-backed horse. • Alleging Mountain Trail Saddles offers a fully customized fit, starting at around $1,350.
Models available include Western trail, Cascade Wade, renegade endurance and plantation trail, with different design choices including leather color, skirting style, rigging options and tooling. Many Thoroughbreds and their crosses, Appendix Quarter Horses and other athletic riding types sport high, sharp---“shark”---withers that make saddle fitting tough.
Many of these horses have withers that taper into a broad, athletic back with a well-sprung rib cage. On the other hand, says Temple, “Many in the natural horsemanship community, as well as other fitters and veterinarians, feel that fitting a horse with a too-wide saddle and using shims to lift the front is actually advantageous.
The use of front shims to lift the saddle balances the rider, while the extra width in the tree gives the horse great comfort and freedom of movement.” “A more angular horse with hollows behind the shoulder does better in a tree with a longer point,” says Anderson.
High-withered horses will benefit from models with thicker gussets and trapezium or K panels, which fill in hollow areas behind the shoulders. • Collegiate Saddles offers hand-crafted leather saddles for a variety of English disciplines---including dressage, evening and jumping---all with the Easy-Change Gullet System, which allows you to select a gullet bar that best fits your horse.
• Barrel racing or gained saddles, available from many makers, tend to offer ample clearance at the withers. “The key to high withers is finding a saddle with sufficient clearance,” says Anderson.
“The two- to three-finger rule isn’t an accurate measure.” Instead, Anderson suggests riding in the saddle for about 20 minutes. Then check that the saddle is not resting on top of the withers, both at the gullet area and toward the stirrup attachment or bar.
He looks like a bulldog from the front, with a concave pocket behind his shoulders and a fair average back. There is so much variation in this group that you’ll want to consult a certified saddle fitter or speak with a few manufacturer representatives to be sure.
“All riders know that their horse changes shape due to changes in diet, work program and maturity, and naturally they get frustrated when they discover their saddle no longer fits their horse perfectly,” says Ron Bates. • The Cashed Trail Saddle, made by Martin Saddlery, is built on the Axis saddle tree, which features bars that curve away from the horse’s shoulder to avoid interference and stirrup leather cutouts along the bars to allow for even pressure along the back.
The Western-style trail saddle weighs just 24.5 pounds and has a soft, double-padded seat for rider comfort; it sells for $1,695. And often traits that seem to go together naturally---tall and narrow, round and short, and the like---don’t when it comes to equine withers and backs.
But if you take the time to analyze how your horse is put together and what a “good fit” means for him, you’re more likely to choose a saddle that will make you both happy. A better understanding of how to achieve a perfect fit will pay off in a quiet and focused ride.
The trend toward short-nosed performance saddles, which originated with riders looking to optimize soft-tissue comfort while leaning forward on aero bars, is now reaching the mainstream. Reducing the saddle length up front means you can ride the drop portion of your bar for longer periods.
But the newest saddles aren’t just short; they’re also wider up front, allowing riders to shift forward without compromising power. And good news for riders who never plan on racing: Everyday bike seats are becoming more comfortable, lighter, and more able to withstand the weather.
Saddles come in various widths, and most manufacturers say that the right size supports a rider’s sit bones, the bony part of the pelvis where your butt and your leg join. “Every saddle manufacturer has a tool to measure sit bone width,” says Jeff Serve, head of marketing and customer experience at Argon.
The saddles that made this list were researched and recommended by staffers, and backed up by a majority of positive online reviews. An extremely affordable comfort saddle with firm foam padding and a pronounced relief channel, Planet Bike’s A.R.S.
Comfort saddle is an upgrade for many budget bikes, one that keeps riders’ sit bones from feeling bruised and gives the nether regions plenty of breathing room. The cover doesn’t feel as nice as those on saddles that are four times the price, but it does have abrasion-resistant patches to prevent excessive wear.
This is the cheapest (and heaviest) version, but if you’re a weight weenie we suggest checking out the Antares Versus Eve 00 Adaptive, a flyweight saddle with carbon seat rails and bed that tips the scales at a scant 163 grams. The claim is this shape enhances blood flow and relieves pressure on sensitive areas.
We couldn’t test blood flow to determine the veracity of that claim, but our testers did find the saddle to be comfortable for everything from mountain biking to road and gravel riding. The padding is minimal and provided a firm pedaling platform that felt extremely efficient but not uncomfortable.
The strong, durable steel rails help dampen road vibrations, and the wide rear and narrow nose offer the right dimensions for well-supported, unencumbered pedaling. Specialized filled the Power’s cutout with a flexible thermoplastic elastomer (CPU) “hammock” to prevent tissues from pushing through the opening and swelling (a painful problem for some women).
It also incorporated three different foam densities: firm under the sit bones, memory cushion down the center, and soft on the nose, to provide better pressure distribution. The Power Mimic also features an updated shape with tapered wings to minimize thigh rubbing.
After putting the saddle to the test for many miles over mixed terrain, it’s noticeably more comfortable than traditional designs. The PL 1.0 takes a bit longer to set up and has a different position than traditional designs, but it’s worth trying if you’re experiencing saddle discomfort.
The durable high-performance race saddle is all-day comfortable, even when that day includes the Dirty Kana double century gravel ride. Though it doesn’t feature the dramatic pressure relief channel of other saddles, riders praised its comfort on town line sprints and cross-state tours.
It features a full cutaway and, in keeping with today’s market trends, is offered in two sizes, curiously dubbed “Large” and “Medium.” The Starbucks approach to product description aside, this is a solid piece that offers modern tech at a surprisingly reasonable price. Argon’s take on a women’s MTB saddle offers the severe and considered contours of an Games chair or mid-century-modern couch, but there’s comfort to match the style.
Available in two sizes, the SM Sport Gel isn’t particularly light at 275 grams, but it is durable, which on a mountain bike is often a much greater concern than an extra ounce or two. This all-around off-road saddle is definitely that, but it’s also designed to be supportive when you’re seated, making it a good choice for gravel grinding as well as single track shredding.