Finding the right size saddle can be tedious, but is very important to you and your horse. An ill fitting saddle for a horse can cause sore backs and impede the horse's natural gait.
There are several signs that the saddle fits poorly. The gullet of the saddle that presses down on top of your horse's withers, causes the weight to sit directly on the horse's spine directly resulting in back pain. The bars should not pinch the shoulders, this causes the horse restriction in their range of motion. For gaited horses in particular bars that flare aid in allowing the full range of motion in the ambling gaits. The ends of the bars and skirt should not hit hip bones or lie over them, this causes pressure on the loins of a horse. That is why the gaited saddle is designed for shorter backs and usually has a rounded skirt. Uneven sweat marks after riding can indicate that a saddle is placing more pressure in certain areas and less in others, this can indicate pinching and pressure points. Your saddle should not cause rubbing of the hair that results in white hairs. This is most commonly found on back and withers. This is caused by excess pressure over time. Behavior signs of an ill fitting saddle may include, balking, rearing, bucking, and tail-swishing.
So there are several steps you can take to make sure that your saddle fits your horse well. Carefully consider the tree and gullet of your saddle. A gaited horse typically has wide and long shoulders and high withers. Look for a gaited saddle that is built in a more “A” shape. This shape will allow for wither clearance and accommodate a wider shoulder, thus not impeding any natural gaiting. A good way to check this is to slide your fingers under the saddle along the horse, this way you can feel any places may pinch or impede motion.
The next feature you should carefully consider is the bars of the saddle. While flex bars are nice, even they can be too long for your gaited horse and place pressure on top of the loin. Consider gaited bars, which are ¾ the length of normal bars and more flexible. These bars will take in account the typically shorter backed gaited horse and the added flexibility need to not hinder the ambling gaits.
The third saddle feature that you should look at closely is the skirt design. This concern is directly related to western saddles and not necessarily as much of a concern with English and Aussie saddles. Typically the western pleasure saddle has a squared shaped skirt.. This shape can cause the saddle to be too long thus creating pressure points on the hip points and loins. When looking at a saddle for your gaited horse look for skirt designs that are more rounded.
The final feature of the saddle that you should consider is the seat. Make sure the seat of the saddle sits on the strongest part of the horse's back, just behind the withers. Weight of the rider should be placed correctly to avoid a sore backed horse. The saddle seat comes in a variety of sizes; make sure that not only does the saddle seat work for the horse but for you as well. The basic “rule of thumb” for saddle seat sizing is as follows:
90-130 Pounds 15"
90 - Pounds 15"
While seat sizing is based a lot on personal preference, the above chart is a good place to start. For additional information on saddle seat measuring refer to SaddleOnline's YouTube Channel.
So when looking to size a saddle for your gaited horse take all these features into consideration. Your horse will thank you for a proper fitting saddle. Especially gaited horses, consider the gaited saddle designs, they may just be the perfect fit you've been looking for. For additional information on gaited saddles refer to article “What is a Gaited Saddle?”.