Important points about the Saddle Tree

Important points about the Saddle Tree

How many times in one minute do you think you could be poked in the shoulder before you started to get uncomfortable? Do you think you could concentrate on doing something else at the same time? How many minutes do you think you could go before you asked the person poking you to stop? How would you feel if they didn’t listen to you and they carried on poking you anyway? Why am I asking you these questions?!

Although it varies between individuals and the type of terrain, surface, etc, in just one minute, a trotting horse takes around 90 strides, at canter 110 and at gallop 140. Even at walk, a horse would take at least 2000 strides during an hour’s exercise. Every time the horse takes a stride, the saddle on it’s back has the potential to poke the horse in the shoulder, which could be thousands of times in just one ride. The saddle can do this either by being in the wrong place on the horse’s back, by the rider being lopsided or by the saddle not fitting properly- all of which are unfortunately a common occurrence but all can be rectified.

Correct saddle placement when tacking up is vital, yet often overlooked, with many people going by the old fashioned way of looking at the saddle in relation to the neck and mane after sliding it backwards. A much more accurate and effective method is to check the points of the tree in relation to the shoulder blades, ensuring that they sit behind the shoulder blades and not on top of them. You need to place the saddle by feel, not by sight, as going by just looking frequently means a saddle is placed too far forward. One shoulder can sometimes be bigger than the other, so always check both sides and place the saddle behind the bigger one to avoid it being pinched. It is much easier to find the shoulder blades of a Thoroughbred compared to a pony but ponies can take more strides than a horse per hour, so it’s just as important for them.

The other way that the tree points can bruise or damage the horse is by being the wrong width. A tree that is too wide at the tree points is just as bad as a tree that is too narrow- they both cause discomfort because they both don’t fit! You therefore cannot fit narrow to clear the withers or fit wide to build muscle; you may solve one problem with these fitting ideas but you create another. A tree that doesn’t fit cannot be made better with padding, it doesn’t work with our shoes and it doesn’t work with saddles either, it just transfers pressure to a different place or even makes it worse.

I would just like to explode a myth before I finish, which is the use of measuring from ‘D’ ring to ‘D’ ring to help when fitting a saddle. This measurement is the proverbial chocolate teapot- useless! D rings are not stitched on to every saddle at the same place and the panel depth beneath the ‘D’ ring can vary hugely. The ‘D’ to ‘D’ measurement also has nothing to do with the tree width, it is merely the distance between two attachments present for the carrying of hip flasks and something that means nothing to the horse. There are also numerous other factors that need to be considered other than the width but that’s a whole other article. Or ten!

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Natalie has owned horses for over 30 years and owned East Devon Riding Academy near Sidmouth. She has previously lectured in Equine Science to degree level and produced research for preparing Great Britains' equestrian teams for the Olympics. Natalie provides consultations in all aspects of Equine Science, and has fitted saddles for competitors at Badminton International Horse Trials.

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