Your saddle is, naturally, one of the most important parts of your riding tack. Your horse’s back is highly sensitive and additionally, the spine and vital organs are positioned directly under where the saddle sits on the horse. It is critical to your horse’s comfort and safety, that the saddle be designed for proper fit. You must also check the saddle regularly to insure that it has not become damaged, potentially putting your horse at risk for injury. A damaged or poorly designed saddle can be extremely uncomfortable, making it difficult to ride accurately and also difficult to get your horse in a proper frame of mind.
The tree is the central piece of your saddle – the backbone of the saddle – which the rest of the seat is built around. If the tree is twisted, this will cause the saddle to become completely warped and instead of sitting straight, the saddle will move from side to side in a twisting manner. Not only is this uncomfortable but will put uneven and potentially dangerous pressure on the horse’s back. The tree can twist in any saddle, even an extremely good quality saddle, if it is damaged. Dropping saddles from a height or stressing them unduly during a fall, can cause a saddle tree to twist or break.
The easiest way to check if your saddle tree is twisted, is to start by standing behind the saddle, looking down its center. If the nail heads and piping do not line up evenly on each side of the saddle, this will mean the tree is twisted. Some damaged trees can be replaced, but in most cases, the saddle will probably be beyond repair. You should never attempt to repair the saddle yourself or to ride in a saddle with a unrepairable tree.
In some cases, the tree can break completely. Generally speaking, saddle trees are fairly solid structures and are designed to hold up under tremendous pressure. Unlike what you’ll observe with a twisted tree, when the saddle’s tree is actually broken, you may notice the saddle shape is drooping towards the front (the pommel) and the saddle may appear to be sitting directly on the withers. When riding, you may also feel movement in the saddle. Your saddler may be able to mend the break but in the majority of cases, purchasing a new saddle may necessary.
The saddle’s panels are situated on either side of the horse’s back and are flush with his sides. To ensure a good fit, the panels should be stuffed to accommodate and mold themselves to the horse’s shape. Over time, flocking can settle, move and clump, which can cause lumps, uneven pressure on the back and pressure on the sides. You may notice signs in your horse such as localized swelling on the back and either side of the withers as well as patches of white hair which are indicators of pain.
As a preventative measure, it is recommended that you have your saddle reflocked by a professional saddler every two years. If you notice that there are any areas of concern, contact your saddler to assess the flocking and if required, replace and reflock the panels. The type of filling used to flock the saddle can also cause issues if not suitable or, if the saddle is poorly stuffed. If the material is unsuitable and is too lumpy or firm, it can cause uneven pressure throughout the panel. It is a good idea to check that your saddler uses a high quality fiber wool and does not mix types of filling.
The leather straps used to “cinch” the girth should be kept in great condition and any damage should be fixed immediately. A worn-through leather girth strap can snap during riding, putting the rider in harm’s way should the saddle fly off of the horse. It is very important to regularly clean and oil the leather to keep these straps supple and to prevent cracking, splitting or stretching. If any damage is found, the straps should be replaced or fixed immediately. Should the straps snap while the rider is in the saddle, a serious accident could occur, in addition to damaging the horse when the saddle slips and moves from the correct position. Checking your saddle for early signs of damage such as cracking, stretching, splitting, and buckle hole stretching to help prevent an accident from happening
The “stirrup bars” are fasteners that sit in place under the saddle flap, holding the stirrup leathers in place. If they become bent or wear out, they must be replaced immediately. If a stirrup leather becomes loose or breaks during riding, (particularly when jumping around a course.) it can result in a serious accident. (Which is why working without stirrups as much as you can possibly stand could be a life-saver!) Regularly checking the stirrup bar fasteners and keeping the area clean and free from debris, oil and mold, can help prevent an accident.
Keeping your saddle in good condition and understanding what faults to look for in a saddle can help prevent accidents and ensure the comfort of your horse. When choosing a second hand saddle for your horse, be sure to have the fit checked by a professional saddle fitter. For repairs, selecting a qualified saddler, can improve the longevity of your tack.
*Image courtesy of Dollar Photo Club
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