Does your trail-riding saddle ensure comfort for both you and your horse? The most important thing to look for when you are in the market for a trail saddle is to remember that trail riding requires a comfortable, well fitting saddle. You are looking for harmony between horse and rider.
Trail-riding’s reputation has historically included attitudes like “he’s just a trail horse” or “I just trail ride.” Horsemen need to start thinking of their trail horses as performance horses so the horses get the respect they deserve, including proper nutrition and physical and emotional care.
Many trail riders buy inexpensive saddles at auctions or tack shops without ever trying it on their horse or even sitting in it themselves. Then they wonder why their horse is not cooperating when it’s time to ride. Often, “emotional” issues are actually poor saddle fit issues, so look there first when you encounter a training roadblock.
Western saddles tend to be made to sit over the horse’s shoulder; this is not ideal because it constricts the shoulder and can, over time, create a sore back and lameness. Your saddle should allow clearance for your horse’s shoulder when the front legs are in motion. To assess this, gently lift your horse’s leg forward and feel under the saddle at the same time. A little flare-out of the skirt helps so your horse’s shoulder does not hit a straight edge. In addition, be sure the saddle’s pommel does not touch your horse’s withers. Does the gullet provide clearance even while you’re sitting in the saddle?
Have someone check your horse’s shoulders again once you’re mounted. Be sure not to lean forward during this assessment or you’ll add pressure. Check the back of your saddle to ensure it is not digging in. A nice upward flare in the leather is typically more comfortable for your horse.
Next, check your seat. Does the saddle allow you to be on your balance point, not forcing you forward or backward? A simple test is to place a round pencil on the seat. It should settle behind the center line of the saddle.
If your stirrup leathers are not pre-twisted, have that done to avoid stress on your knees. Braced legs with heels jammed down can create knee pain on the trail.
Typically the Cordura type saddles don’t have quite the stability of a good leather saddle, but their lightness is an advantage. Remember, your horse has to carry you and that saddle over rugged terrain, so don’t buy a super heavy saddle just because it’s cheap. Your horse’s comfort comes first and then yours (but both are important).
Take your time when looking for a saddle. Buy from a place where you are allowed to try it out or try all of your friends’ saddles until you find one that works, then buy that kind. Also consider that you may not need a new saddle; you may be able to help yours fit a little better by raising it slightly to provide shoulder clearance. Riser pads, western pads with a center riser, or elaborate pads that allow you to change shims can accommodate your horse’s back today and as it changes once it has its new-found freedom.
Check with a saddle fit specialist if you have questions or concerns.
Angie Ferrell and Jenny Lance work together under the name "Live To Ride." Ferrell breeds and raises American Quarter Horses and participates in extreme trail riding, ranch versatility, reining and cow working disciplines out of her farm in Lexington, TN. Lance participates in dressage, some cow working, and trail riding from Athens, OH. They focus mainly on helping you create a Performance Trail Horse. For more information on Live To Ride, visit www.LiveToRideHorses.com
Holistic Horse magazine is your guide to natural horse health. www.holistichorse.com