Hestbak ehf. about the balance point of saddles:
To understand the balance of the saddle, its good to first think about why we are using saddles in the first place. The main function of the saddle, from the horse’s point of view, is to divide the weight of the rider evenly along the horse’s back. When the weight is spread over a longer area, it becomes much easier for the horse to carry the rider correctly. This is extremely important today, because we are asking our horses for very demanding things, such as high level of collection and extended gaits. If the horse can’t carry the rider correctly, this will put the horse in risk of suffering very serious injuries for example in the back or in the legs, because natural way of using the body is no longer possible.
The weight of the rider can only be evenly spread along the horse’s back if the saddle is in balance. And if we look at the riders point of view, the rider can only be balanced if the saddle is in balance. So how do we know the saddle is in balance on the horse’s back?
The best thing to do is to train your eye to see the balance:
Saddle 1 is too wide. Therefore, the balance of the saddle is too much forward.
Saddle 2 fits well and is in balance. The rider would be able to sit in balance.
Saddle 3 is too narrow. Therefore, the balance of the saddle is too far back.
The balance of the saddle also affects the rider a lot:
Photo 1: The saddle is too narrow for the horse and therefore out of balance. The rider falls into chair-seat and can’t use her seat or sit in balance.
Photo 2: This saddle is balanced on the horse and lets the rider sit correctly. Now she can sit straight and use her seat and legs correctly. She doesn’t need to lean on the cantle or use big knee blocks to find balance.
The rider is the same, so you can see how much a fitting saddle can do for the position of the rider.
So, what is then the result of having a saddle that is not in balance?
If you look at the photo where we have a saddle that is too wide, you see how the balance is too much forward. In saddles that have the deepest point built too far back for the rider, a saddle fitted like this will feel nice to the rider. For the horse, not so much. Too wide saddles fall to the front and put too much pressure right behind the shoulders of the horse. The scapula is no longer able to slide under the saddle tree, which needs to happen for the horse to be able to move freely in the shoulders. Notice here: a wider saddle does NOT always mean more shoulder freedom. Also, a too wide saddle often falls on the shoulders so much that it puts pressure around the sensitive withers and trapezius muscle. When this happens, the horse will instinctively want to hollow its back.
When the saddle is too narrow, we can see that the balance of the saddle is too much to the back. This means, that rider will sit too much to the back and most likely end up in chair-seat. This leads into countess problems already, because the rider cannot use their seat aids, find balance, follow the horse’s movement etc. But if we look at the saddle alone, the biggest problem is that the saddle puts way too much pressure on the back part. This means, the weight of the rider is not divided along the back anymore. Usually too narrow saddles are also saddled way too far back, because they tend to slide forwards on a horse. This means that the horse in now carrying all the weight close to/on the sensitive lumbar area, that is not meant to carry any weight at all. This will force the horse to hollow its back, which is again the opposite of what we want them to do.
All this information is just a small piece of everything we need to consider when fitting saddles. It is very important to train our own eyes and learn to read our horses in a way, that we know when there is a problem. Only then we are able to reach out to a professional to help us solve the problem before a bigger problem, such as injury has occurred.
Text & Images: Hestbak ehf.
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