It is a well-known fact that horses change shape

Or maybe it is not –

A horse can feel a fly land – so obviously changes in the rider’s weight distribution are going to affect the horse. I suspect we just do not appreciate how little change is needed to alter the way the saddle sits, and when the saddle fit changes so to does the comfort and performance of your horse.

In a previous life I carried heavy back packs long distances: too frequently, over hill and dale, sand dune and rocky desert.  I empathise with the horse.  Ill fitting and poorly balanced backpacks were a misery – detracting severely from my agility, wellbeing and good humour. I don’t think I would be happy carrying a poorly balanced rider very far!

It does not matter if your horse is a novice or a Grand Prix dressage horse the changes will happen – and quickly. Schooling your horse is the same as going to the gym – you are training to change shape. Exercise can create transient increases in dimensions of a horses back if the horse is working correctly on the bit (Greve at al 2015) .Other studies on horses monitored bi- monthly showed considerable variation over a year. (Greve and Dyson 2015).

While we all live incredibly busy lives, time is at a premium and dollars a scarce – a few minutes looking at our saddles while sitting on the horse will be well worth the effort for the horses comfort and performance, and your peace of mind.

Why do horses change shape?

Age, work, fitness, feed, spring grass, and stress are key factors of course.

  • Then there is the work. They have musculature change due to strength built up. Even a visit by a therapist will change and relax the musculature. This is why you should have a saddle adjusted after a therapist visit, not before.
  • They get fat, or thin. Saddles that are out of balance front to back due to be being too narrow or too wide at the front, create uneven force distribution. Over time this causes back pain and a reduction of performance due to the horses’ discomfort.
  • Saddle changes cause changes.  When you fit a new saddle, or have an old one adjusted, the horse is going to work differently. When it works differently it will build different muscles and relax others. The horse changes shape as a result – often in days. That one reason why our saddle fitters return a month or so after having provided a new saddle.

After riding if you run your hand across the horses back the musculature should be soft and not hard. The horse should not cringe away from pressure when brushing the saddle area. Horse discomfort is an indicator of a saddle fit problem.

How often should I adjust my saddle?

It has been a common view that a yearly check was sufficient. In recent years there has been considerably more research into saddle fitting. There is the anecdotal evidence from saddle fitters worldwide but if you seek something more substantial look up Dr Sue Dyson. She is a leading authority on the subject based at the Animal Health Trust UK with numerous papers published. They are available on the internet.

The general opinion seems to be that every 3 months is sensible for competition horses.  Our sponsored riders often refit every six weeks or more during the competition season. But we think you should just check regularly and often.

If your horse is developing and improving in their work, then you should check the saddle fit either yourself or using a saddle fitter more often. If the horse is not working hard or effectively then longer intervals between checks will be fine.

I don’t want to spend money on Saddle checks

The knock-on effects of ignoring discomfort for the horse can cause lasting damage and can be expensive.

In any case no one wants uncomfortable horses, not only for the horse’s sake but because they never work well when unhappy in their tack. The welfare and performance of the horse is the rider and owner’s responsibility.

It costs, and we know that is an impediment. We suggest you keep a spare head plate or two on hand and you can monitor changes when you groom.  See the videos on head plates on how to use them.

We will be running some online courses in the near future so you can make minor adjustments yourself. Register here and we will let you know when they are on.