New and inexperienced horse owners make many mistakes. This is normal and part of the process through which they gain experience and become better horse owners. However, one extremely common mistake that you can easily avoid involves the saddling your horse. Many horse owners, new or experienced, believe that girthing up the horse real hard will tighten the saddle so that it won’t slip. Well, this is not true. The proper thing to do is to actually position the saddle correctly and simply secure it. Keep it comfortable and never too tight. The saddle will not slip and the horse will feel much more comfortable.
Tightly girthed horses feel an extreme discomfort. Try to picture a scenario where you are forced to wear a corset one or 2 sizes too small. You will never feel comfortable in it and won’t be able to perform to the best of your ability. You won’t be able to breathe freely or move freely, so imaging having to jump, run or do fancy steps and be expected to perform well.
In fact, horses experiencing such discomfort might try to reach around and bite you while you do the girth up, hold their breath or even go down on their knees. Some horses are capable of enduring much physical pain until they can’t stand it any more and decide to get rid of you and the saddle at the same time! Make it a point to simply keep the saddle positioned properly and snugly.
In addition to the above stated points, the saddle should also be resting solidly on the back of the horse and level with it. Do note that this is not always as easy to accomplish as it sounds with the various ways a horse’s back can be shaped. In any case, do try to ensure that you do it to the best of your ability. The saddle should be positioned on the rider’s centre of balance – just behind the horse’s natural balance point at a standstill. Keep both the horse and rider in balance by making certain that as the horse moves, he is able to flex forward and round his back up.
The horse’s shoulders need to have room to move and when a saddle is too tight or positioned too forward on the withers, the shoulders are restricted. This can then create pressure on the nerves and produce permanent damage
As a simple guide, try to put your saddle pad or blanket over the withers and well forward. Next, lay the saddle over the withers and proceed to glide the saddle and pad toward the back until they rest into a natural position, just after the withers and level on the back. The points of the saddle should rest about 2 fingers behind the horse’s shoulders. For some, this might appear like the saddle is placed too far back, it is actually in perfect position to keep the rider in balance while maximizing comfort for the animal.
The back of the saddle should not pass the last rib of your horse so it doesn’t rest on his loins and kidneys . If it does, then the saddle is too long for the horse.
Before doing the girth up, lift your saddle pad at the withers so it does not rest on them.
The girth should not be placed directly behind the elbow but instead, quite a few inches from the elbow.
Saddles that are placed too far forward, with the girth straight behind the elbow, severely restrict the movements of the horse. The strides and lateral actions are vastly affected and this should be obvious enough to an experienced observer.
Correctly fitting saddles that are positioned well on the horse never need to be too tightly cinched as a snug cinching is already enough to keep it in place.
Once the girth is up, you should be able to put one finger between the girth and your horse. The girth may not be so tight that you need to push your finger hard between girth and skin. It should be a firm push. Then move your finger up and down. This should be easy and you shouldn’t feel like the girth is cutting your finger.
Finally, there are now on the market some really good girths with elastic parts in them. These girths allow the horse to breathe and move freely. When you think of it, girths for horse racing are all elastics, so why not use the same technology for all other disciplines? If you own one of these girths like I do, make sure that you don’t tend to girth too tight either. Because of the elastics in it, it is easy to think it is not tight enough.
Before mounting and for a last check, rock the saddle sideways to see if the pad and the saddle slip. If they do, then obviously, there is something wrong. It is either too loose or the saddle doesn’t fit. Unsaddle and start over!