This blog is in response to a member request to address saddlefitting as regards her sway-backed Arab. She is presently able to use only a western saddle on her horse, which she states is the only one that apparently doesn’t bridge.
As in my other blogs, I am going to retain my level of honesty (and hopefully simplicity!) in addressing some of these issues, so please take what I say in the manner with which I present it – I want to honestly help as many riders and horses as possible achieve maximum comfort, protection and performance. (While recognizing that what I write may not necessarily be what you expect or want to hear!)
Firstly, it seems to me to be somewhat paradoxical to take what this member says at face value without question, because traditionally most western saddles are longer than English saddles, and are also some of the biggest culprits where ‘bridging’ occurs. There are of course exceptions; some western saddles are more ‘rounded’ (from front to back) than others, and some are also shorter than ‘normal’. But as a rule, I would question this statement – especially since it is difficult to even determine bridging visually with a western saddle.
Let’s step back for a minute and define what bridging is, so that we’re all on the same page. Bridging occurs when a saddle only has contact at the front and the back, with complete or partial hollowness in the middle area (which is the actual saddle support area of the horse!) I have seen horses that are not conformationally sway-backed; they are sway-backed because of literally years of hollowing their backs to escape the pain of a poorly fitting saddle
! This sway back literally can disappear before your eyes when a properly fitted saddle is used for a couple of rides (sometimes even occurs instantaneously!)
Decades of breeding have resulted in much shorter-backed horses – especially within the Arabs. The ideal saddle will have relatively short panels so as not to ‘overflow’ the saddle support area of the horse. You don’t want impingement on the kidneys, as pressure here on the reflex points (you can try it with your fingers) will immediately cause the ‘hollowing’ reaction. The ideal saddle will also have somewhat ‘banana-shaped’ panels which may make it seem that the saddle is not fitting properly when the horse is standing still. However, once the horse starts to move and the back comes up, the saddle will fit. The panels also need to be stuffed correctly so that the first ¾ of the saddle lays evenly from front to back when the horse is standing still – no bridging! That is why we have perfected the ability to make a saddle that is two sizes – the seat can be one size for the rider while the panels are the right size for the horse’s back.