Depending on the type of saddle that is being fitted there are fitting rules that can be quite different. As an example: seat balance in an English saddle is typical forward whereas seat balance in a Western saddle is typical towards the rear. Because of this you need to understand the different disciplines and the type of horses that are involved in order to understand how these saddles fit. However, one point that stays the same regardless of discipline or style of saddle is tree angle. Tree angle is a factor in saddle fitting across every discipline and is something that needs to fit properly for the comfort of the horse.
In this blog so far I have had many illustrations of how English saddles fit and why tree angle is so important. Last week I had the opportunity to help a client in ordering a western saddle for the horse that she is riding. She wanted some feedback on how saddles should fit to help her determine the tree width that she needed to order for Velvet, a 9 year old quarter horse mare. When we looked at Velvet and the tree options that were available I realized this was a great opportunity to take some pictures and show the similarity in Western saddle and English saddle tree angles.
By comparing the two pictures we see that while the saddles are quite different the correct tree angle for both is evaluated in the same way. We were able to determine that Velvet needed a medium tree angle in the Circle Y saddle that her rider wished to purchase.
If we break these pictures down we can better illustrate why one fits and the other does not. Outlined here we see a white line to indicate the angle of the horse’s withers and a blue line to indicate the tree angle on this saddle. The lines intersect in a pressure point up in our horse’s withers that is very small and therefor a lot of pressure on not a lot of surface area. This is a spot where there are many sensitive nerved endings that can cause a trigger type response in the equine back to shorten and tighten causing the horse to invert and toss its head. In fact, this angle being off is the number one cause of girthiness in the horse as when the girth is tightened it tightens the saddle down on this spot. Also it will block the shoulder from being able to rotate up and back.
When the saddle is fitted correctly this pressure spot is now spread out over a much wider area. This also moves the pressure down to an area of the back that is not as sensitive and frees the shoulder to rotate up and back underneath the saddle. When we are fitting a saddle it is actually impossible to completely eliminate pressure points. We are putting a piece of equipment on top of the horse and therefore it will apply pressure on the back. The saddle fitters job is to make sure that pressure is dispersed over areas of the back that will not cause pain or discomfort.
I am happy to say that Velvet’s rider was able to order the saddle that she wanted in a tree width that suited her. This kept her from making a costly saddle mistake by purchasing a saddle first and then having it evaluated after!