Saddle Fitting Guide by Brian Carters
Levelness of Seat:
Most riders think that the lowest part of the seat should be in the middle of the saddle. However, that is not always the best advice. It depends on the model and design of the saddle, who is to say the lowest spot is always the middle?
The best way to gauge levelness of seat is to first determine how much of the seat is real, useable seat. A deep-seated saddle should sit higher in the back because of a bigger cantle which is not designed to be sat on. A saddle with a more shallow seat may sit more level from front to back.
Clearance through the gullet:
The gullet protects and maintains clearance along the horses spine. This clearance must be maintained when padding the saddle. In fact, we caution well-intentioned riders against eliminating the gullet, by mistake, with too much padding or the popular lollipop pads. The only fitting problem that can be helped by padding is to make the saddle narrower - often the opposite of what the rider hopes the extra padding will do!
This is the most important criterion. The goal is to make it as comfortable as possible for the horse to carry the riders weight, and for that, there must be even distribution of weight all the way through the panels. One way to test for even weight distribution is to put the saddle on the horse without a pad or girth after you rode in it and check for levelness of seat.
Push down on the saddle with one hand and with the other hand, palm side up, check to see if there is any area between the panel and the horse that does not make contact. The main offending area is usually in the center of the panel and loss of contact is frequently caused by too narrow a fit.
The saddle should sit behind the horses shoulder blades. If there is any question about finding the right spot, simply slide the saddle down the horses lower neck until it nestles behind the shoulder blades. When a rider complains that the saddle moves, it is often a sign that the saddle does not fit the horse. Very few saddles will move if they fit correctly, and 90 percent of those that do, do so because they do not fit.
Most Common Problems:
75 percent of fitting problems are the result of buying saddles that are too narrow. A too-narrow saddle will sit low behind, possibly appear to be sliding back, and will directly affect distribution of the riders weight as well as balance. Of the small percentage of saddles that do not fit because they are too wide (seeming to sit low in front and too high in back ), the problem can be corrected with pads. Whereas padding will only compound the problems created by a saddle that is too narrow. With this in mind, we suggest to riders who are planning to use one saddle on two or three horses to fit the saddle to the widest horse and use pads to make it narrower for the others.
Consideration for the Rider:
Overall, most of the attention around fitting a saddle goes to the horse, but fit to the rider is an equally important part of the equation. The two primary considerations for the rider are correct seat size and flap lenght. The saddle cannot interfere with the riders use of leg and seat. When fitting a dressage saddle, for example, the flap should allow 2/3 of the lower leg to be on the horse.