The effect of a badly fitting saddle on your horse – and you

Saddles – such an important piece of equipment but sorely overlooked. Sorely being the operative word if they don’t fit properly.

Yesterday I asked you if your saddle really fitted properly, and promised that today I would show you the effect of a badly fitting saddle on your horse, in the hope that you all go straight out and check it. If you don’t know what to look for, it’s all there in An Introduction to Tack and Saddlery (find it at

You might think that the effect of a badly fitting saddle will cause back pain; well, of course you are right, but it’s so much more than that. Back pain can translate into lameness on any limb, uneven back muscle tone, choppy, stilted movement as well as rider back pain and crookedness. This last one comes as a surprise to a lot of riders, and explains why many feel discomfort when riding.

A poorly fitted saddle may result in saddle slip (ever seen a saddle from behind and it looks wonky?). If you watch from behind you may also notice uneven movement of the horse’s hips – this can also come from the saddle not fitting correctly. Your horse might also have a stiff canter, making it an uncomfortable ride.

If you are expecting your horse to perform well with a poor saddle, forget it. Just as you may struggle to bend down and pick something up when your back is in agony, your horse will find it difficult to stretch through his back properly and the way he moves will be different. And it’s all down to how you put your saddle on (some people are unknowingly putting their saddle on wrong), and the fit.

Your horse may start getting muscle wastage behind his withers (exacerbating the fitting problem even more).  He may start to come more upright in the shoulders to compensate with a hollow back, head up and on the forehand. Not good for him, and not good for you, his rider.

Living with constant pain, his behaviour may start to change. He may be grumpy when you tack him up, round his back or dip when you get on (cold backed), be resistant to being ridden, refusing to work well, refusing or running out at jumps, show signs of swished tail, head shaking, tense, grinding teeth, dislike being groomed, bucking or even bolting and rearing.

Saddle fitters say you should have your saddle checked at least once a year, preferably twice, and you should learn to recognise whether it fits or not to check it in-between time. Now, I am a bit paranoid, I constantly check mine. I have also recently changed a saddle due to pelvic issues which I am pretty sure stemmed from a saddle not fitting after the horse changed shape.

Perhaps I’ll start a new movement – the “Be Kind to your Horse; Check your Saddle Fit”. I’ll take everyone on a march up Downing Street.

Alternatively, I can just encourage you all to learn how to fit your saddles. Learn how to be better for your horse, and for yourself.

Take care


P.S. do you genuinely love learning more about horses? Do you enjoy studying from home, at your pace? Then check out our courses and let your learning journey start.

Learn2horse, the home of accessible equestrian learning.

4th February 2016

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