The internet is chock full of information, but sometimes it can be frustrating not knowing what is true and what is not. Myths abound in the area of saddle fitting, and we sort through these myths with our customers on a daily basis. These myths can cause frustration as well as cost you money, so beware of the following:
MYTH 1: ONE SIZE FITS ALL
Quite a few times per week we find ourselves explaining that one size saddle does not fit all horses. This seems like basic information, but for a first-time horse owner, it can be baffling to find that not only do saddles come with different seat sizes for you, but they also come with different tree sizes for your horse. We tried to make a simple way for customers to measure their horses to find out what size bar they need and came up with our handy, printable gullet templates. Regardless of how much your horse weighs or how wide you think his back is, measuring just to make sure can save you the headache of returning an ill-fitting saddle.
MYTH 2: I’LL BE ABLE TO BUY A SADDLE THAT FITS TWO DIFFERENT HORSES
There is a rare exception to this myth, and that’s if you have two horses that are extremely similar in weight, back width, back length, and wither shape. But a mere 25 pounds in the wrong spot, a 3 inch shorter back, or a slightly higher wither can mean a saddle fitting one horse and hurting another. If you’re shopping for two horses, we recommend focusing on one horse at a time instead of trying to come up with a compromise between the two. Compromising saddle fit is, quite frankly, compromising your horse’s comfort and therefore, his behavior as well.
MYTH 3: A GOOD SADDLE PAD WILL SOLVE MY SADDLE FITTING PROBLEMS
Many horse owners think that putting a good saddle pad under an ill-fitting saddle will alleviate pinching, slipping, or uneven pressure. Good saddle pads can cause the saddle to fit better. There is much technology in the pad industry to help a saddle fit better and you should take advantage of that technology. Padding-up to help eliminate sores from a poor fitting saddle is not a good choice. For example, if a saddle is too narrow, padding up to buffer the pressure will make the horse wider which will cause more pressure.
MYTH 4: ALL SADDLES THAT CLAIM TO BE SEMI-QUARTER HORSE HAVE THE SAME GULLET WIDTH
There are many variations to this myth. The truth is that the saddle industry uses terms loosely. Semi-quarter horse bars are often referred to as quarter horse bars, but others use the term quarter horse bars to describe wide bars, so the same saddle can be given different terms. This is very confusing to someone buying their first saddle. We’ve tried to wrestle this myth to the ground in our shop by standardizing our terms. We apply the term medium to regular, narrow, or semi-quarter horse bars and the term full to wide, full quarter horse bars.
MYTH 5: THERE ARE STANDARD MEASUREMENTS IN THE SADDLE INDUSTRY
It’s surprising to find out that manufacturers do not have a standardized way to measure gullet width. Billy Cook may do it differently than Crates, so that if each company were to measure the same gullet, a different number might be the result. At the shop we built our own little tool to measure gullets. We measure each saddle by hand so that a standard of comparison between our saddles is achieved, no matter what manufacturer produced it. Most online saddle shops simply use the statistics that the manufacturers provide with each saddle, leaving you to guess how the numbers actually stack up.
MYTH 6: I CAN’T ORDER A SADDLE ONLINE BECAUSE I NEED TO TRY IT ON FIRST
There’s no denying that the best way to see if a saddle will fit is to try it on your horse. Yet thankfully saddle fitting is not rocket science, and our customers have successfully fit thousands of “hard to fit” horses simply by using our downloadable templates and discussing the horse’s particular needs with a saddle expert. We’ve dealt with all sorts of conformations, from sway backed to high withered, and unless your horse has multiple unique issues, there’s no reason to think you can’t make a great choice online and save money over your local tack shop.
MYTH 7: I HAVE TO BE AN EXPERT TO TELL IF MY SADDLE FITS PROPERLY
With all the helpful articles on saddle fitting on the web today, it can feel like you have to know a textbook full of information to be able to select a well-fitting saddle. Many customers call feeling exasperated wondering, “Is it really THAT hard?” No, it isn’t. All you have to be sure of is your horse and your saddle needs---no one can be an expert on those two areas but you! We have several tips regarding this frustration. First, if you’re having a specific problem, like white hairs on your horse or saddle slippage, troubleshoot those areas first. Secondly, if you know your horse’s build and figure out what size tree will fit, half of your work is done. Most saddle fitting problems arise from a saddle that…doesn’t fit!
MYTH 8: YOU HAVE TO SPEND A LOT OF MONEY OR GET A CUSTOM-MADE SADDLE TO FIND ONE THAT FITS PROPERLY
If you went to Wal-Mart and were unable to find any clothes that fit, would you walk out convinced that you should pay exorbitant prices for custom-made designer clothes? Probably not. It’s the same with your horse. If you have a hard-to-fit horse and are having trouble finding a saddle that fits, it doesn’t mean you need to dish out more money. Have you thoroughly researched your horse’s specific needs? If you know exactly what you need but haven’t found it yet, give us a call. Not only do we have extensive experience fitting horses, but we also have the ability to tell you what can and can’t be done and at what price. We’re proud to be partnered with Dakota Saddlery, a quality company that does custom work for our shop. Dakota has always been willing to work with our customers and fit their specific needs at a low price.
MYTH 9: FLEX TREES CAN WARP OR CAVE IN AFTER YOU USE THEM
We don’t know where this myth came from, but quite frankly, it’s preposterous. Flex trees are relatively new to the equine industry (in comparison with the age old wooden tree), and we suppose that if someone only heard the term “flexible tree” without knowing what it is, this myth would be easily spawned. Many people hear the term and assume that a flex tree is bendable like a piece of plastic or rubber. In reality, flex trees only “flex” about a centimeter in either direction, and only under pounds of pressure. You would probably find it hard to even see a flex tree “flexing.” This centimeter of movement, however, is what makes the flex tree more comfortable for the horse and allows the saddle to conform better to his movement. We’re not going to recommend flex trees for roping or ranch work, but we’re willing to say that under trail and pleasure conditions, there’s no way a flex tree is going to warp or cave in.
MYTH 10: I CAN GET A CLOSE CONTACT, NARROW TWIST SADDLE FOR A VERY WIDE HORSE
Can you get a high-fashion, well-fitting, sport coat for a very wide man? Nope. In the same way, a very wide horse is going to have to unfortunately admit he’s in the minority. Extra wide saddles are not impossible to come by, but you have a much more narrow selection. We recommend checking out Tucker trail saddles if you need an extra wide tree. The terms close contact and narrow twist refer to how you feel on the saddle. A close contact saddle with a narrow twist has less bulk and won’t spread the rider’s legs far apart. But a horse that is extra wide is not going to allow a close contact feel because of his broad back.