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February Horses Mouth – Saddle Fit Pain

Saddle Fit Withers

How does your saddle fit?

Its awesome to bring that new saddle home, (even a great new second hand one).

We proudly place it on our horses back, do up the girth, take a short walk around to make sure he’s comfortable, then we mount up and off we go.

It’s sooo good to sit in, comfortable under your butt, your legs sit just right. So good, that first ride out lasts an hour and you get home still feeling good. But how does your horse feel? How does the new saddle fit him?

A new saddle can feel to him much like a new pair of shoes can feel to us. It might rub, pinch or create pressure points. You might also find that your quiet, easy going horse starts to act differently. He might be tripping over his feet when you’re riding, or start laying back his ears when you saddle up or even avoid being caught.

So if our new shoes pinch, rub a blister, or squish our toes until they ache, we can put on some different socks, add some packing or ‘run them in’ by only wearing them the first few times until we get sore.

But what about our horse? It’s up to us to learn to know when he’s uncomfortable and to learn how to fix it.

No.1 Pain Point – The Withers

The most common saddle fit issues we treat is at the withers. One of the first physical signs you will see are disturbances either side of the wither.
This can range from roughed up hair due to friction (movement of the saddle) to oedema (fluid swelling under the skin). If it’s been a long ride and he is very irritated, these areas will feel hot and be painful to touch. At first they may disappear soon after but will be easily aggravated next time and may remain between rides.


If your saddle is too narrow, it can put pinching pressure along the sides of the wither. If your saddle is too wide, it can sit low and put pressure on the top of the withers and allow movement that creates friction either side of the withers. In a short time, these points can become quite painful. The areas of pressure can be affected to the point of pigment loss; white patches of hair we commonly see around where the front of the saddle sits.

What to do

Have a reputable saddler fitter come and check your saddle. Many saddles these days have adjustable gullets, padding and even girth points to get as close as possible to a perfect saddle fit. Pay attention to what you put between the saddle and the horse. A saddle cloth that is too thick can allow too much movement causing friction and even if your saddle is a pretty good fit, a thick saddle cloth may actually cause pressure points.

End of the saddle fit problem?

Not yet. If those rubs have turned into blisters, it will pay to clean the area thoroughly and apply some ointment to help it heal. Saddle pressure here can damage not only the skin, but also the fascia (causing the fluid swelling), and can compromise a whole group of muscles your horse uses to maintain balance, strength and ease of movement through his forequarter. This generally won’t go away on its own and if you don’t know how to do it yourself, it’s important to have your horse assessed and treated by a qualified muscle therapist to ease pain and discomfort in this area.


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