Saddle trees come in narrow, medium, or wide, but did you know that those designations can refer both to the WIDTH of the tree and to the ANGLE of the tree? If a saddle fitter tells you that your saddle is a “wide narrow,” you have a saddle with a wide tree width and a narrow tree angle.
When a horse moves, his shoulder blades rotate upward and backward. Try this: mark the shoulder blade with a piece of chalk then have a friend stretch your horse’s front leg forward. See how much farther back the shoulder blade is now positioned?
It is crucial that the saddle stay behind the horse’s shoulder. If it does not, the tree points of the saddle will drive into the horse’s shoulders, first producing a buildup of scar tissue on his scapula, and then chipping away cartilage and bone. This is irreversible long-term damage, and can lead to persistent unsoundness.
To avoid this kind of damage, it is critical that the angle of the tree be adjusted to match the angle of the horse’s shoulder. Think of two sliding doors. If they are properly aligned, one will slide freely past the other; if they are not, one will jam into the other. If your saddle’s tree angle does not match the angle of your horse’s shoulder, his shoulders will be unable to rotate freely under the saddle, compromising his movement, sometimes severely. At the very least, a saddle with a tree angle that is not correctly adjusted is extremely uncomfortable for your horse.
A saddle fitter may match the tree angle of your saddle to the angle of your horse’s shoulder using a Sprenger gauge. To determine if the tree angle on your saddle is correct for your horse, put the saddle on your horse without a saddle pad, then check if the angle of the piping on the saddle matches the angle of your horse’s shoulder.
If the tree angle is too wide, there may be clearance on the top of your horse’s withers, but the saddle will pinch the sides of his withers. It will also hit the reflex point (cranial nerve 11) that restricts movement in his shoulders and makes him unwilling or unable to move freely forward. Your horse will raise his head or hollow his back, or exhibit other forms of resistance until the reflex point/nerve becomes numb. It is important to understand that your horse doesn’t want to be bad, but if the saddle keeps hitting that reflex point, he almost has no choice: he cannot engage the muscles you’re asking him to engage. One of the most common ‘excuses’ we hear is that “I have to ride him for a while and warm him up before he’ll listen”. What is really happening here is the horse is being ridden until he becomes numb to the pain!
Even though a saddle may look like it fits while the horse is standing still, the angle may actually change when he begins to move.
Learn more at www.saddlefit4life.com