This was a topic at my saddle fittings in Carmel Valley this last weekend and it inspired me to put some pictures together to explain different girth/cinch positions depending on your horse’s conformation. Also saddle moving backwards or forwards on a horse’s back is my second most common saddle fit issue that I run across and worth exploring.
I often get an odd look when I try to stress to someone how important the rigging or billets are in your English or Western saddle. But this is how the saddle attaches to the horse and therefore it is crucial that it is aligned correctly and you have an appropriate cinch or girth for your horse. In this post I am going to discuss girth placement. I am going to follow it up with a rundown of my 5 favorite girths/cinches to help with tricky conformation.
Here are some rigging options I will be talking about today:
Depending on your horse’s breed there are some typical “girth areas” or “girth grooves”. I have chosen three shapes that I see quite often to illustrate my point here. Every horse is different so this is not the absolute authority on any one breed but merely a guideline to give you an idea of where your horse might fall on the girth/cinch area spectrum.
Thoroughbred (Quarter Horses, Paints, Appaloosas, TBxWarmblood, and larger Warmbloods also fall into this category)
The horses with this conformation tend to have a longer flatter girthing area well back from their elbow and are easier to fit. Because of this their saddles don’t tend to shift backwards or forwards. Also there barrels flare out from the girth area and so the girth stays securely in this spot.
As you can see above several different types of girth/cinch attachments fall within the flat area behind the elbow and so all of these are acceptable riggings or billets for this conformation.
Friesians (Friesian crosses, Tennessee Walkers, and Saddlebreds often have this shape too)
With this conformation type my most common question is why the saddle is consistently moving or shifting back from the shoulder. When this happens the saddle will feel low in front and bounce or float on the back, making it feel very insecure.
With this type of horse a billet off the point or rigging that is placed further back in the saddle really helps to keep the saddle in place and prevent shifting. The barrel on this conformation type narrows toward the back vs widening. So the girth spot is usually further back.
Arabians (I used and Arabian as an example here but this is also true for: Lusitanos, Andalusians, Morgans, Smaller Warmbloods and ANY type of Arabian Cross)
This is my saddle sliding forward horse! This can lead to a host of other problems, one highlighted in a previous blog post about adipose tissue damage, and a lot of discomfort for horse and rider. Because of their very round barrel and extremely forward girthing area they have to have a forward rigging or forward billets on their saddles. They often need an ergonomic girth as well! (Here is a link to one of my favorite girths for this body type).
As you can see here they require a more forward girth or cinch position in order to sit in the girth pocket that is so close behind, or sometimes even under, their elbow.
Remember that when you tighten a strap around an object it will always go to the narrowest spot. Therefore you want it to lay in that narrowest spot naturally before tightening the girth or cinch. These pictures here are very general and the saddles I chose as examples were only chosen because of the rigging that particular saddle has. No brand only offers one type of rigging but it is something you would want to assess when buying a saddle and also if you are having issues with your saddle shifting forward or back on your horse!
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