Why does my saddle slide forward over the shoulder?

One of the issues that come up a lot in fitting saddles, and more specifically dressage saddles, is saddles sliding forward. This is not a new problem. There are many products that have been designed to fix this problem: cruppers, foregirths curved girths and non-slip pads are just a few. The problem is that none of thesefixes” address the actual problem of why a saddle slides forward. In this blog post I want to explore that and offer some insight into this fit issue.

I worked with a horse last week that has been having saddle sliding forward issues since starting training as a 3 year old and is now 6 and is still fighting this saddle-sliding problem. Whenever an owner, trainer or rider brings this subject to my attention there are three places on the horse I look: the shoulder, the girth area and the back length.

With this specific horse back length was not an issue with the length of the back and saddle size as she is a larger mare with a very petite rider so I will address back length in a different post, however, both shoulders and girth area were definitely points to look at with this horse.

The younger the horse is the narrower the chest and shoulders tend to be. As I talked about in a previous article Uneven Shoulders horses don’t have collarbones and therefore their shoulders change depending on age and fitness level. Young horses don’t have a lot of muscle behind their shoulders and their front legs tend to be very close together. As the horse grows and strengthens the chest and shoulders get broader and the shoulder becomes more defined. Because a young horse tends to have a very shallow shoulder hole the saddle can slip up over the shoulder very easily. Also horses that have a more mutton withered build combat this issue.

When we have horses that are built like this the shoudler to girthnext consideration becomes very, very important: where is the horse’s girth area? So what is girth area? It is the narrowest spot on the horse’s barrel behind the elbow where the girth will lie. Regardless of where you girth your horse up when you tighten the girth and the horse moves forward the girth will rest in this narrow spot. When this narrow spot lines up with the shoulder, or as is the case with many horses, sits ahead of the shoulder how the billets come out of your saddle becomes very important.

Slide forward girth lineOn this horse the shoulder and girth area line up. So this means that when the saddle was sitting behind the shoulder the billets were falling behind the girth area. As shown in the after the ride picture the girth is in the girth area and the billets are falling straight down but the saddle has slid quite a bit up the shoulder. The saddle was placed behind the shoulder when the horse was tacked up but was pulled into this forward position by billets that were not angled correctly.

Sometimes the billets can be out of alignment because shoulder anglethe saddle is not balanced on the horse and a lot of the time the saddle not being balanced on the horse is because the tree is too wide or too narrow. On this horse the tree angle was too wide and so that needed to be addressed as well. But even after I adjusted the tree and got the angles correct (see this video on Payton and Ollie help explain tree angle!) the billets were still sitting behind the girth area for this horse and the saddle still wanted to slide a bit forward.

I readjusted the saddle again this time adjusting how the billets attached to the saddle so they then pointed into this horse’s girth area. Once this adjustment had been made I asked the rider to do another test ride so I could see where the saddle sat. The first chalk line is the front of the saddle after the first ride and the second chalk line is the position of the saddle after the second ride. You can see that with the tree and billets adjusted the saddle stayed off of the shoulder of the horse!

chalk line

Riders are often surprised that billet placement on their saddle can have such a huge effect but if you think about it, it is how our saddle attaches to the horse and is therefore extremely important and can affect how your saddle moves or doesn’t move during your ride!

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5 Responses

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  3. […] Saddle Tree Angle (click here for Article) Western Saddle […]

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