Saddles/Saddle Fitting

Saddle Fitting at Dragonfly Saddlery
Saddles For Sale
Saddle Fitting Advice

Saddle Fitting at Dragonfly Saddlery

Based in Devon we offer our saddle fitting throughout the South West of England including such areas as Exeter, Tiverton, Barnstaple, Taunton and Honiton. Having moved from West Sussex we also loyally service clients in East and West Sussex.
We (Richard & Sue) have been saddle fitting since 1982 & are pleased to offer a complete service to fit your horse or pony whether you need a first saddle for small pony or a saddle to allow your competition horse to work to his maximum potential. As members of the Society of Master Saddlers, you can be confident of good unbiased advice to help you find the right saddle for you.



 

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Saddles For Sale

Don't forget to check out our Secondhand selection also.

Pessoa - Designed with some of the top names in competitive riding these saddles have perfect balance & style & will assist every rider to achieve their maximum potential.

They also do an excellent range of accessories to match

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Thorowgood - The leading synthetic saddle manufacturer in the UK today. Thorowgood offer an unrivalled selection of competitively priced saddles to suit all horses & ponies. Their Pony Club Approved range has been extremely popular. They also offer a superb range of accessories

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GFS – GFS are probably the most comprehensive saddle range available today. Whether you are looking for a value for money pony saddle or a good quality general purpose saddle for a horse, Fieldhouse will almost certainly have a saddle to suit you, they also a superb range of accessories & bridlework to match their saddles

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IDEAL SADDLES – Creating the IDEAL saddle takes time and each one progresses through several stages of manufacture. Every detail of your order is assessed by a qualified fitter, before a craftsman is selected. The finest materials are used, from handmade saddle-trees made here in Walsall, to the highest quality leathers.

Ideal are members of the Society of Master Saddlers, and their saddles are guaranteed. Each one will provide a lifetime of high performance.

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LOVATT & RICKETTS – L&R Saddle company have been making hand-crafted, high-quality saddles for over 30 years in Walsall, England.

Their craftsmen adhere to the highest standards, using traditional methods and only the finest quality materials available and have experience creating saddles for a wide range of equestrian activities.

Each saddle they make comes to you with a 3 year written guarantee. A Lovatt & Ricketts® saddle is designed to give the proud owner many years of pleasurable riding.

Their craftsmen are members of the Society of Master Saddlers

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BLACK COUNTRY SADDLES – With more than 60 years of combined experience as Master Saddlers, Rob Cullen and John Hartley have made the name of Black Country Saddles, synonymous with innovation and quality throughout the equestrian world.

Extensive knowledge and understanding of saddle manufacture allow them to produce a range that can be fitted to all types of horses. Their saddlemakers work closely with our saddle fitter to ensure the best possible combination of fit for both horse and rider.

They are committed to providing you with the best possible product available & have declined the mass production demands and instead continued to use traditional methods and source quality British materials, from the initial stages of the Wood laminated Spring Trees to 100% wool flocking, English leathers and qualified craftsmanship.

Saddle size guide
Finding the perfect saddle for your horse or pony is easy once you know his shape. We supply saddles from many manufacturers . This Thorowgood saddle guide is perfect for Thorowgood saddles and is a very handy guide to help you choose saddles from other manufacturers. Contact us with any queries.

A quick guide to choosing the right saddle is to refer to these pictures below.

A more accurate method is to download and print out the size guide and then measure your horse by following the step by step instructions. Please note the download may take around four minutes to download.

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Big and Broad
Very wide and flat-backed, eg cob-types, Arabs, bigger native breeds and young horses with undefined withers.

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Fine and slender
Very narrow and high-withered, eg Thoroughbred-types, ex-racehorses and older horses developing a prominent spine

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In between
Neither big and broad nor fine and slender - more Mr Average in build, eg middleweight hunter-types and some warmbloods.

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Pony Club
Any type of horse or pony used for Pony Club activities, ranging from the 11hh roly-poly type to the Pony Club event horse.

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For Younger Riders
An affordable range of saddles for tiny Shetlands or miniatures right up to small horses ridden by teenagers or petite adults.

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Saddle Fitting Advice

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

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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 www.dragonflysaddlery.co.uk

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3. Saddle Fitting for a healthy back.

The saddle is one of the most important pieces of equipment we can buy for our horse or pony. To do its job correctly, it needs not only to fit the horse, but also fit the rider.

The work of the saddle fitter is made comparatively easy when both horse and rider are a good match physically, both fit for their job and have a reasonable budget.

A saddle can make or break a horse depending on the fit. The saddle fitter will start by assessing the horse in front of them. It should be stood up on level ground for the preliminary inspection then walked and trotted in hand both away and toward and past so the saddler can assess the natural movement. The saddle or saddles selected for trying should conform to the horses morphology taking into account the current make and shape of the horse.
The base of any saddle is the tree. This can be made of laminated beech wood, a synthetic polymer, or, more unusually, leather. The aim of the tree is to support the weight of the rider and allow the horse to carry the rider with ease and without hindrance.

The first consideration will be the width of the horse. The angles and shape of the head at the front of the tree need to match the profile of the horses wither. A fit thoroughbred will have a very different angle than the fit cob. The wrong choice here will cause endless problems which cannot be solved with shims or flocking. After this, the height and angles of the rails need to be chosen. Again thinking of the more sloping profile of the thoroughbred, compared to the broader back of the cob. This can be altered to suit the horse at the tree manufacturers when the saddle template is sent in, if the tree is a laminated beech wood tree. Polymer trees are made in a mould. They have the advantage of lightness, but the disadvantage that they are not so easily altered to fit a particular requirement. Leather trees are much more unusual and being more flexible, can take the shape of the horse more easily when in use. To my mind, I am not certain they offer the same support for the horses back.
Attached to the trees are steel arches to provide stability. Also the stirrup bars must be riveted in place and on spring tree saddles, they will have thin flexible steel bars running either side of the tree from front to back, allowing movement of the horse back to be transmitted to the riders seat.

The tree provides the support for the rider, but we need to add a cushion
underneath for the horses comfort.
This cushion is the panel. Again there are many varieties of panel available to the saddle maker. The style will vary, the depth of the panel will also vary, it may have front gussets, an upswept panel behind. A drop panel for horse with muscle atrophy. Again the wrong panel design can cause a horse serious discomfort and may result in serious muscle tension, bruising as well as atrophy. Panels can also have a variety of fillings. Cheaper synthetic fibres which pack down very quickly and can collect into solid lumps, or long fibre wool which is much better to work with when reflocking and provides excellent cushioning properties for the horses back. There are foam panels, frequently seen in competition saddles. These were designed to not need maintenance as the foam stays smooth on the horses back and allows the rider to feel much closer to their horse. The major disadvantage of foam is that it is much harder, if not impossible, to adapt the saddle if the horse should gain or lose weight in the course of a seasons work.

Girth strap placement can also affect the fit of a saddle. Traditionally there were three girth straps placed on webs across the saddle seat. They would have been adjacent to each other. This works reasonably well, except that on horses that are rounder they don't provide huge stability and some saddles come fitted with a point strap which comes off the front tree point of a saddle. This has the effect of anchoring the front of the saddle by pulling the front down. Another popular place for an extra strap is towards the back of the saddle panel. Often called a balance strap ( as seen on a side saddle) this can be useful if the saddle lifts at the back as , again, it can help to anchor the saddle in place. If a saddle slips to one side, just one can be used to help stabilise the saddles movement. When the saddler places the saddle on the horses back, behind the scapular, they will look at where the perpendicular girth straps lie. They should allow the girth to sit in the horses natural girth groove. If the horse has a fairly laid back shoulder, as an example, the girth may sit on the broader part of the belly. When the horse starts to move, the girth will often slide forward to sit in the narrower, natural girth groove. This will destabilize the saddle and pull the front of the saddle into the horses shoulder. This is turn causes discomfort and can interfere with free, forward movement. One solution, which I find very useful is a shaped, anatomical girth. This works by keeping the girth straps perpendicular to the ground where they can balance the saddle, as they were designed to, but the central area of the girth sits forward in the natural girth groove.

The other issue is does the saddle fit the rider? The saddle needs to provide a balanced and stable seat for the rider to hold themselves in good balance to as not to hinder the horses development. Seat size needs to be carefully considered. The larger rider on the weight carrying, but smaller cob
presents its own issues. The saddle fitter can ask for a more “open” seat when the saddle is being made, they can also have a smaller panel fitted to the larger seat. The upswept panel is particularly useful here as it leaves the horses back slightly earlier than a traditional panel with gussets. The length of the riders leg also needs to be accommodated and we can have longer/shorter saddle flaps fitted, or, have the flaps swung forward to help balance the riders leg.

If we, the saddle fitters, can get all the above points right for the horse and rider, we are halfway towards helping the horse maintain his healthy back. Some horses will present with issues possible caused by conformation problems, previous ill fitting saddles, poorly maintained saddles, or health issues that make the job of selecting the right components of the saddle much trickier.

All horses display some degree of asymmetry. This can begin when the foal is in the womb, when it begins to graze and favours the same leg forward to enable it to eat grass. Such asymmetry can be addressed by an educated rider who will make sure to work the horse accordingly to attempt to even up the muscle development. Some horses who may be owned by less knowledgeable riders, who say they only hack, possibly don't understand the value of changing diagonals in trot when hacking out or noting, when cantering, if the horse prefers one strike off leg to another. These simply allow the asymmetry to continue unchecked. Very often this will manifest itself by the saddle always moving over to one side. No matter how hard they try to stay central, the saddle will be pushed over repeatedly and then the flocking will also settle asymmetrically which will compound the problem. This can be addressed by regular saddle checks and a good saddle fitter will always ask if the rider understands the importance of riding in good balance and ensuring that the horse is encouraged to move as evenly as possible.
Some horse will have had poorly fitted saddles at some point in their lives and this can leave a legacy of imbalance in their way of going, or can affect how they carry themselves. A good saddle fitter will always be happy to work alongside vets and physios to help improve things.

Finally good saddle fitting can be extremely important in cases of injury or illness. Hind leg lameness has been found to cause saddle slip in a number of horses. In fact, it could be that saddle slip could be seen as an early warning sign of incipient leg problems.
Kissing spines is another issue which appears to be on the increase. Again a good saddle fitter who understands both horse locomotion and saddle construction can be an invaluable member of the team who are working towards getting the horse back to working at full capacity.

A good saddle fitter is an invaluable member of the team, alongside the vets, farriers, trainers, nutritionalists and body workers, we can all bring very necessary skills to the table to keep both horse and rider functioning at their optimal level.
 

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