Ask Carmi

Everything you ever wanted to know about all aspects of fitting! RP President and expert saddle fitter Carmi Weininger answers your questions.

 

Q. How much weight is safe for a horse to carry, and how important is the weight of the saddle?

A. The saddle’s weight is important to the person who has to lug it around and put it on the horse; it is only important to the horse when you consider the total weight you are asking the horse to carry. A well-known guideline is that a horse can carry approximately 20% of its body weight. Like all truisms, this needs to be evaluated for each horse and rider. Let's take a closer look..

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Q. What are the "red flags" to look for in my horse that would indicate a sore back is due to the saddle?

A. Because horses compensate so frequently, to use your words, pain in the system is astonishingly often a “red flag” for an origin someplace else in the body. For this reason, I like to have at least two solid pieces of evidence that point to the same conclusion (and I am even more pleased if there are three).

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Q. What are your recommended best practices for checking saddle fit after the initial fitting?

A. The reason to address the fit of your saddle is because something has changed bringing the saddle out of balance. This could be your horse, your saddle, or – yourself. It is a good practice to assess your saddle fit at regular intervals. This means that you need to check your saddle and also your horse for any signs of change, or of changing fit.

There are two things you can do to make this easy. You can chart your horse’s shape, and you can pressure-test your saddle. Let’s go into each.

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Q. There are a few well known saddle brands that claim their saddles will fit every horse. How is this possible when horses are shaped differently, different sized withers and backs, etc?

A. I’m so glad you asked! I wish advertisements for one-size-fits-all saddles would be made illegal as they are certainly unethical. Not only can nothing be farther from the truth, but these advertisements are actually dangerous to horses whose owners buy the saddles believing the claims. My short succinct answer to this is: if someone tells you one size fits all, or promises to fit your horse perfectly without actually trying, hang up the phone and keep looking. There is no saddle - ReactorPanel included - which fits all horses all the time, and the reason we insist on a minimum two-week trial is to wring out problems BEFORE a purchase, not after.

Now, let’s talk about adjustable gullets.

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Q. How do we manage saddle fit as our horse ages and/or progresses with training? Their body shape changes, so what’s the best way to monitor that and make sure the saddle is still fitting properly?

A. The best recommendation I can give you is to assess your saddle fit at regular intervals. This means that you need to check your saddle and also your horse. I recommend making it a habit to chart your horse's shape. Because even significant changes happen gradually, it is a really good idea to have a visual reference. The simplest (and cheapest!) way to do this is using a flexible curve and sheets of paper. Take the following measurements:

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Q. Do saddle pads help the fit of the saddle and make it more comfortable for the horse? With all the different saddle pads on the market, such as gel filled, air filled, foam pads, etc., how to do we determine which ones would benefit our horse?

A. It used to be that the only purpose of the saddle pad was to absorb sweat and protect the leather, but now there are therapeutic and user-adjustable pads on the market which may help a saddle fit better. Of course, sometimes adding pads makes the fit WORSE. And we must not overlook saddles which fit so badly that no pad will make a difference (imagine trying to put a size 10 foot into a size 6 shoe).

First, you must identify the root cause of your problems.

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Q. Are any of these pads are necessary if the saddle is fitted correctly?

A. Almost certainly not – but most horses today are wearing saddles that do not fit at all, and I can back this up easily with pressure testing data that shows most saddles don’t fit (and most riders don’t know there is a problem – but that’s another topic).

There are two types of pads: pads and shims that are designed by or under the approval of a saddle manufacturer to work with a specific saddle, which could even be construed as an integral part of the saddle system. These are usually not only good, but necessary for a given system, and give it the ability to fit a changing horse.

 

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Q. What about the rider?

A. A poorly-balanced rider can do quite a bit of damage, though sometimes it becomes difficult to ascertain whether an asymmetry began in the rider and was subsequently embedded in the horse, or vice versa. Can pads help the rider? Yes, but I would only recommend them in extreme cases (for instance, someone we helped recently who has pins in one hip; she will never sit “normally” in the center of a horse). Usually I would recommend physical therapy for the rider combined with stretching and suppling exercises both on and off the horse.

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Q. What are saddle pads to avoid?

A. Stay away from Keyhole pads, most gel pads and almost always, rear lift pads. While they improve rider balance, usually the rear of the saddle is too low because the tree is too narrow and is pinching the horse in front. If you use a lift pad in the back, you may feel more balanced, but you have probably INCREASED the pressure in the area of the wither.

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