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Proper saddle fit

Hello Franklin,

My name is Sue; I am the barn manager for [our] County Sheriff's Office Mounted Unit. I have a question for you and hopefully you are able to help us. We are trying to decide whether to change from English to Western saddles. We constantly have problems with sore backs. Some of our deputies are 200 plus pounds, they sit and/or ride for long periods of time. We have been told that using a Western saddle would distribute the weight better than an English saddle. A suggestion was made to try the Wade saddle because they felt that it would fit most backs. Can you please advise us on this and tell us your opinion whether the Wade saddle is the way to go or something else? This would be greatly appreciated and I wait on your reply so that I may forward it to my supervisor so that we may make a sound decision

Sincerely, Sue

Hello Sue,

I wish all the questions I got were this easy. First off, I definately would not continue to use the English saddles. While some of them may actually fit your horses, the majority are probably too narrow for the horse's backs. Also, their seats may be too small for the size of the riders. Trained English riders may actually sit in a more proper way (legs and feet underneath the rider as opposed to a 'chair seat' with legs thrust out in front of them, which is the way most men and many women ride who have not had extensive equestrian training in English riding). For 'big guys' in particular, unless they have had this sort of formal training in centered balanced riding, you want the saddle to assist in the distribution of the weight more evenly on the horses back. A bigger and broader saddle will assist this happening. The vast majority of your riders will probably be more stable in a western style saddle as well. The western saddles will most likely offer the officers more versatility too.

The 'wade' style of saddle is considered a 'working ranch' type of saddle. They tend to be a bit heavy, but very stable on the horse. The have a broad, flat horn that can be very useful when dealing with a rope as well as hanging on in a difficult situation. They may have 'bucking rolls' on either side of the pummel which actually help hold the rider in the saddle during times when the horse may be moving erractically.

Different saddle trees (the wooden core of the saddle that the leather is fastened to) are made in different widths. The may be sized for very broad backed horses (full quarter horse bars, the bars being the strips of wood that sit on either side of the horse's spine and bare the weight), medium backed horses (semi-quarter horse bars for more narrow backed, higher withered horses and regular quarter horse bars for a very high withered and an even more narrow backed horse). English saddles were mainly made for narrow backed, high withered, thoroughbred type of horses. Today's modern quarter horses tend to be much broader backed. I am assuming many of your horses are quarter horse types.

To have a look at various types of western saddles, simply Google 'western saddle design.' Specifically Google 'wade western style saddles.'

It would be most helpful to your horses to have their backs palpated (examined) by a veterinarian. I would bet money at least some of the horses do have sore backs. A chiropractic adjustment can help this a lot and is very common for horses now. After that, determining which size of saddle tree is best for each horse should be determined (as described above). Next is to determing the size of the saddle seat (for big guys a 16 or 17 inch seat is suggested).

A 'wade' style of saddle should do the job nicely for your officers. But most any properly fitted western saddle would be an improvement. Most city, mounted units did use either McCellan (calvary) type or English saddles. The mounted units today rarely use these saddles anymore having learned that a properly fitted western style saddle will offer their officers more stability, security and versatility.

One more thing is that in order to make certain a saddle fits a horse properly, the saddle should be placed on the horse's back without a pad underneath it. Rock the saddle from side-to-side a bit so the saddle settles in the appropriate place (not too far forward or back on the horse). Take your hand and put it under the saddle where the saddle tree contacts the horse's back and feel from front to back sliding your hand under the saddle along where that saddle contacts the horse's back. If you can feel gaps where you can get your hand further up under the tree, the saddle does not fit the horse. The contact with the horses back should be uniform from the front to the back of the saddle tree. You can feel the front and back parameters of the saddle tree easily as it is the hardest (wood) part of the bottom of the saddle. Usually there is sheepskin or fleece attached to the entire bottom of the saddle. Also, the withers and the underside of the pummel should not touch when there is weight in the saddle. There should be several inches of room at least. As these horses are probably ridden a lot, proper saddle fit will insure the well-being of the horse's back and thus the horse can do it's job without back pain. That's a very good thing.

Thanks a lot for your question and please let me know if I can be of additional assistance. I do train horses to handle the various and often dangerous and scary situations that may come up for a mounted law enforcement patrol.

Sincerely yours, Franklin

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