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Saddle Placement
By: Jay McGarry On April 30, 2013

Saddle placement really seems to flummox people! I can’t tell you how many times, when evaluating saddle fit photos, I see the saddle girthed in the wrong spot. It is by far the most common mistake and it can really throw off the balance of a saddle.



Many riders have been told to place the saddle forward and then move it until it settles into a “spot”. That is a good general rule of thumb but a horse’s conformation plays a big role in placement as well. I’m not going to discuss what to do with saddles that slip forward, sideways and so on as that can be for another article. I will explain how to know if your saddle is placed properly and what you should do if your horse has a forward girth spot or long withers that make placement a challenge.



By far, the most common mistake is placing the saddle too far forward. The tree points of the saddle must be behind the scapula. They are rigid and if the scapula rotates into the tree point, the horse will not only feel discomfort but it can be damaging as well. Moreover, it will interfere with your horse’s gaits, not allowing freedom of movement. Some horses are stoic but some are not. If you have trouble telling where the scapula ends, pick up the front leg or have someone do it and feel the back of the shoulder blade and the rotation of the shoulder. An inch behind is enough. It is okay if the flap extends beyond the scapula. It is said that the scapula rotates about fifteen degrees so as long as there is the ability of the shoulder to rotate, the horse should be fine.



Tree point exposed: left.    Tree point in point pocket: right. This will help you identify the  tree point that should be placed behind the scapula.




Another problem that can occur from a too far forward saddle placement is bridging or an uphill pommel/downhill cantle situation putting the rider in a chair seat and too much pressure behind. Often, moving the saddle into the correct place will alleviate this if the saddle is the correct width, length and tree/panel shape to begin with. If the saddle is still pommel high or is bridging then it is too narrow.


When the saddle is moved back to where it should be, some other issues may crop up. You may find that the billet straps of the saddle line up much further back than the girth groove. If this happens you might want to try an anatomic girth. This girth allows the billet straps to hang straight down while the girth curves forward and rests in the girth spot. With a conventional girth, the billet straps might angle forward and pull the saddle forward or put uncomfortable pressure against horse’s withers.



Some other things to consider are billet placement. For some horses, point and balance billets work well, stabilizing the saddle while some work better with center billet placement. That is generally determined by your horse’s conformation.



In conclusion; one to two fingers behind the scapula for the tree points to allow freedom for the scapula to rotate. Other soft parts of the saddle that extend beyond are fine although there may be a a few horses that are sensitive to that and you will have to be the judge of that. Never, allow the tree points to be in front of or on the scapula.



Scapula...tree placement should be second line back from the head of the horse.



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