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Back Shape, Saddle Fitting and your Horses Changing Shape

Updated: Jun 5, 2023

When you have your saddle fitted one of the most important

aspects is the width of the headplate, that’s the solid metal part right under the pommel. In this article we are referring to the ‘angle’ of the width rather than tree width.

Correct headplate width (angle) is just one aspect of saddle fitting which needs to be achieved to protect your horse from saddle damage.

Many saddles nowadays have adjustable headplates which is great as it means we can adapt our saddle slightly as the horse changes shape throughout the year.

Horse change shape regularly, some more than others and often more quickly than many people realise.

When considering the headplate width a tiny change (we’re talking millimetres) can make all the difference to the fit of your saddle and the comfort of your horse. These small changes can be impossible to see with the naked eye so regular measuring of your horse can be useful.

As standard the difference between a medium and medium/wide is 5mm (measurement taken 7cms below apex of headplate). However, horses are often between sizes and therefore may be on the cusp on one or another. Your saddle fitter will select the most appropriate width on the day of the fitting and adjust the flocking or padding to suit your horse but if the horse gains or loses size (which in some cases can happen in a matter of weeks or even less!) the width, flocking or padding may need to be adjusted.

If your horse has changed shape and you suspect your saddle is no longer fitting; even after a very short time; you will need to contact your saddle fitter to make any necessary adjustments and should expect to be charged for their time and materials.

To put the rate of shape change into perspective take a look at these measurements taken over an 8 week period: *rehabilitation case

Over a relatively short period the horse changes shape in the headplate area drastically. This is a more extreme case of shape change and of course not all horses will alter this much but it shows that horses have the potential to change rapidly.

Below is an example of young horse with no health conditions over a 4 week period resulting in the need for a headplate width change:

When looking at the horse it was not obvious that it had changed shape drastically however when comparing the templates we can see that a significant change had occurred which was affecting the fit of the saddle.

As a horse owner it can be difficult to know when to have your saddle fit check outside of the standard 6 month intervals. However the following table can help you :

This is just a guide and your saddle fitter should prescribe a plan specifically for you and your horse.

You should expect to be charged for the appointment even if they are scheduled at regular intervals.

Regular saddle fitting appointments for horses in the 4-6 category are important as these horses are more likely to change shape quickly. By reviewing the saddle at regular intervals it will help to protect your horse from damage and enable the fitter to fine tune the fit of the saddle. If the saddle is looking good your fitter may be able to extend the duration between appointments.

Key Points:

- Relevant area: When considering width fittings we are only looking at the horses shape directly beneath the headplate area. In conventional fitting this is the area 2” behind the back edge of the shoulder blade and the point at which the panel makes contact with the horse (typically 7cm below the apex) to the end of the tree point but each horse will vary. Horses can change shape elsewhere and this can of course affect the fit of the saddle but it does not always mean a different width angle is required.

- Rate of change: Significant, rapid shape change in the relevant area can be the result of improved or decreased muscle function which has multiple causes such as onset or recovery from injury, rider ability, fit of the saddle, diet, change in work type, duration or frequency. Other factors which can cause rapid shape changes include underlying medical condition, rapid weight gain or loss or a sudden change to routine such as increased or decreased turn out.

- Weight gain does not always mean width change: Horses, just like humans will have a predisposition to lay down fat in different areas. Some can gain weight without laying any extra fat in the headplate area.

- Temporary shape changes: When working correctly the horse has the potential to increase in size in the saddle area due to increased blood flow to the muscles. This is called ‘muscle pump’, the pump will subside after training but can lead to muscle growth over time. Your saddle fitter should take these changes into account when fitting your saddle.

- Muscle growth vs muscle quality: Your horses muscles may improve in strength and quality without getting bigger. Many people expect their horse to get wider with increased work, however this is not always the case.

If you are at all concerned about the fit of your saddle please contact your saddle fitter. In addition to regular saddle fitting appointments you can help monitor your horses shape using a measuring device such as 'The Perfect Fit Kit'. These can be purchased from your saddle fitter or online here: PERFECT FIT KIT ORDER ONLINE

The International Academy of Saddle Fitters offer saddle fitting training for horse owners, therapists and coaches as well as full professional training for 'qualified saddle fitter' status. Take a look at our upcoming courses here .

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