Saddle Fitting Advice

1. If a saddle fits should it need a numnah?
2. Saddle up and don’t horse around

1. If a saddle fits should it need a numnah?

Yes and no!!

Clearly a well fitting saddle will follow the shape of the horse's back, so why add another layer? You wouldn't pad out a pair of shoes with cotton wool to improve the fit would you?

And yet, most people use a numnah and for many reasons. First off they absorb sweat from the horse's back. This keeps the saddle clean and the leather soft.

On a thin-skinned horse, a numnah provides a layer of soft comfort against the saddle, still cold from the tack room.

Also, even a well fitting saddle will move a little and the numnah will absorb some of this. When the horse is jumping it acts as a shock absorber... That's why show jumpers use riser pads.

These days manufacturers design different numnahs to take in the contrasting shape of horses' backs, e.g. fine thoroughbreds and broad cobs, which we stock in our saddlery.

Owners of native ponies are delighted to discover a “sticky” numnah for Thelwell types that previously needed a crupper to stop the saddle from sliding up the neck! This is also useful for the opposite reason on a lean ex-racehorse where a breastplate is often needed to prevent it moving backwards. We're happy to advise which numnah would suit your horse or pony in the saddlery.

It is not unusual, particularly during the winter months, for a horse to lose a bit of condition. The numnah here will provide a useful stop-gap until it fills out again in spring. Because numnahs come in different thickness this gives a degree of flexibility.

The thicker polypad type is not universally approved of but riding schools like them when their more ungainly customers bounce up and down on their poor horses' backs.

Clearly the numnah should be the right size. If the back of the saddle is resting on the binding it may cause rubbing. Never wash it with a biological washing powder and remember even sheepskin and pure wool numnahs are machine washable these days. We stock special detergent to treat wool in our saddlery.

Lastly, let's not forget the pretty colours they come in these days that give pleasure, particularly to young riders!

So no, a numnah is not needed if the saddle fits and should not be used as a long term fix, but yes it does have its place!!

And we have the place to see a great range of numnahs at our saddlery at Dragonfly Saddlery


2. Saddle up and don’t horse around

So your new horse has arrived........the question is ..... 'will your old saddle fit’? Or maybe someone on your yard has a saddle for sale that will do the job. Perhaps you should buy that bargain on ebay, it's such a tempting price after all.

Of course in an ideal world you would pay a professional saddle fitter to come out, but the cost of the new horse has wiped you out financially so you decide to go it alone.

While this may not be the most sensible option lets consider what you should look for when trying a saddle. Most people know about the three finger rule which is the amount of clearance under the front of the saddle above the horses wither. This means there is a safe distance between the saddle and the horses back. But don't forget to look behind the saddle too. Here the gap doesn't need to be as much but it is essential there is no contact between the saddle and the horses spine.. But the final decision can't be made until the saddle is girthed up and the rider’s weight is in the saddle.

The effect of the riders weight can make a big difference to the final clearance so that a saddle that seemed ok is now too low. Having determined that there is a reasonable clearance under the saddle lets look at other important criteria.

The back of the saddle (cantle} should be a little higher than the front (pommel), and the centre of the seat should be horizontal. If you have a spirit level fine, but the human eye is quite a good judge.

Now look at the front of the saddle on the sides.You don't want the saddle to interfere with the action of the horse’s shoulder. There should be an imaginary parallel line running down the front so the saddle is not digging in. This would suggest that the tree (“skeleton”) of the saddle is not wide enough wide enough or maybe points forward too much. This is less of a problem with a straight cut dressage saddle which sits at a straighter angle but clearly a narrower tree on a wider horse will be uncomfortable.

Take a good look at the saddle.

Are the girth straps too narrow (normally they are about an inch wide) because they have stretched?

Does the underneath (panel) look lumpy and uneven?

Is there a good clearance in the channel between each side of the panel. If not it could pinch the horses spine.

Now take a peek under the middle of the saddle to see if a good contact is made with the horse. On some "dippy" horses the saddle only touches horses back at the front and back of the saddle causing “bridging”. Remember we are looking for a good contact on every part of the panel to ensure even weight distribution.

All being well it is time to try sitting on the saddle. No, its not safe to do so without bridle etc and yes you do need a riding hat! This is a good time to have a friend on the ground to help with observations. It is a useful rule of thumb that there should be a hand’s width clearance between your posterior (bum) and the end of the cantle. It is fairly easy to see if you have enough leg room but don't forget you might shorten your stirrup leathers for a jumping position. Your knee should ideally be central on the knee grip.

Now get your friend to watch you ride.

In rising trot watch that that the saddle doesn't lift up and down at the back. Check the girth again before cantering. Now look to see if the saddle has moved forward (especially on wider ponies) or backward (leaner thoroughbreds). It might even slip to one side.

Some of these saddle problems can be remedied by changing the girthing arrangement i.e point and balance straps or altering the flock in the panel but this requires the skills of the saddler.

Even if you are not in the market for a new saddle it is worth spending a few moments checking your existing saddle. Does your horse move freely under the saddle?

How is his body language when you tack him up e.g. ears back and tail swishing?

Of course there may be other reasons for this but its best not to be complacent.

Equally many horses will be long suffering and show no signs.

Eventually there will be some white hairs or rub marks will appear and the problem must be addressed. If it is simply the saddle slipping back then a breastplate will help. When the saddle is sitting too low and the horse has lost some condition then a thick numnah may be a temporary solution. Equally, the saddle may be due for a reflock. At this point you are going to have to make a call to the saddler.

For more help and advice about your saddle contact us at Dragonfly Saddlery where we master saddlers are keen to advise and provide all your equestrian supply needs.

Richard Paine Dragonfly Saddlery and Pets


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