A revolution is happening in the saddle fitting industry.
“Horses are changing and saddles are trying catch up,” said Jonathan Field, a horse trainer, equine educator and saddle designer.
Based in Abbotsford, B.C., and the James Creek Ranch near Merritt, B.C., Field spends a good part of his year travelling to horse events in North America to conduct equine clinics.
He told a seminar at the Feb. 14-16 Equine Expo in Saskatoon that the saddle fitting industry is quickly changing as it adapts to meet the physical purpose-bred evolution occurring in horses.
“There is a change happening in horses,” he said.
“They are getting better bred and getting bred specifically for what you’re asking of them. Their backs are getting wider and they’re stronger muscularly.”
Also fueling the revolution has been a mind shift across the horse industry that is putting the comfort of the horse on par and even ahead of the rider.
“We’re going through a very unique time where people are starting to shift their thinking about horsemanship,” Field said.
“Before it might have been, ‘it doesn’t fit my horse but I don’t care. I never even thought about it.’ Now people are caring enough because look at the industry today: it’s people who are recreationally based. They don’t want to go out and hurt their horse. If they see white hairs on their horse, they care.… They don’t want it (saddle) to be poor fitting, like a bad fitting (horse)shoe.”
The saddle tree is the biggest area affecting horse comfort, and it is also seeing the most change and growth as horses’ backs broaden.
Measurement, angles and material all go into making a quality tree. It usually doesn’t fit because it is too narrow in the front, which pinches the horse’s shoulders.
The ground seat is important to the rider’s comfort, and how it’s built up determines how narrow it is. This in turn affects knee position and the spread of the legs.
Another design issue is twisted stirrups, which help minimize a rider’s knee pain.
Before buying a saddle, it’s vital to first determine the kind of riding that will be done and then research the saddle designs that are created for different riding functions.
Saddle buyers should consider several key questions:
- What is the purpose of the saddle?
- Does it fit my horse?
- Does it fit me?
- What is the design and quality of this saddle?
Fields said most saddle buyers look at the list in reverse.
“They just get to question No. 4 first and they don’t go past. ‘How does it look? Looks good, Oh, it’s western, awesome,’ ” he said.
Field said saddle buyers often sacrifice themselves and their horses’ comfort for the least functional element.
“It’s like buying a pair of bad fitting boots. You only do that until the boots start to hurt long enough and you’re like, ‘I’d put anything on right now. I don’t care how they look.’ Then eventually you go, ‘how does this help my feet long term and how does this help my horse’ and then finally you go to the look of it.”
Field said he’s also learned the hard way and has gone through a few saddles over the years.
“I want all my worlds,” he said.
“I want it to fit my horse, fit me, look good and have quality.”