She’s had her second article published
in the PATH Intl. eNews!
PATH Intl. eNews Tip for July 17, 2012
From Equine Welfare Committee
Tack Fitting (Bridles and Saddles)
By Marcie Ehrman & Cathy Languerand
In an ideal world, each horse would have a “wardrobe” of his/her own tack, and that tack would change over time as the horse’s weight and muscling fluctuate. In the real world, however, it’s the rare EAAT Center that has that luxury, and most of us do our best to fit the tack we already own to the horses in our program. There are many factors in the selection of tack for the therapy horse, including what is available, what fits the horse, appropriateness for the abilities and limitations of the rider, and suitability for the lesson plan. In this article, we will address fitting a basic English style bridle and a saddle. Subsequent “Tips” article will discuss addition points about tack options and tack-fitting. Please share your thoughts, ideas and experience regarding tack fitting as well!!
FITTING AN ENGLISH BRIDLE
Assuming that you already own a bridle and bit that are appropriate for your horse, here are a few tips to assure a correct fit. The crownpiece (the part that sits behind the horses’ ears) should lie flat, far enough behind the horse’s ears so as not to touch or rub the sensitive base of his ears. A well-trimmed bridle path will help assure this fit. The brow band should rest comfortably below the front of the horses’ ears, and should be long enough that the cheek pieces fall well beyond the outside edge of the horse’s eyes. The regular cavesson type noseband should fall about 2 fingers below the horse’s cheekbones, and should allow space enough for 1 to 2 fingers inserted between it and the horses face when fastened correctly. When properly fastened, the throatlatch should have space for 4 fingers to be inserted horizontally between it and the horse’s jawbone, allowing enough room for the horse to flex at the poll comfortably. There are too many varieties of bits to go into each one here, but a few important considerations are placement and fit with regard to the size and shape of the horse’s mouth and lips, and the height of his palate inside his mouth. The bit should rest on the bars (the area without teeth) of the horse’s lower jaw, which usually means that about 2 wrinkles are visible at the corners of his mouth. It is extremely important that the horse’s lips not be pinched when pressure is put on the bit with the reins, and that a jointed snaffle type bit does not hurt the horse’s palate when rein pressure is applied. If the horse has flaccid skin at the corners of his mouth, it is necessary to make sure that skin is not pinched where the ring of a loose ring snaffle passes through the mouth piece. Care should be taken so that the bridle fits equally on both sides of the horse.
Good quality, properly fitted, and well maintained saddle will have a positive affect on both the horse and rider. Things to consider: material, craftsmanship, use, fit to the horse, fit to the rider, maintenance, and cost. Saddle fit with your horse standing square, on a level surface. A saddle needs to sit well balanced on the horse and help the rider to be balanced. When a saddle is placed on a horse’s back without padding, the saddle should sit level with about 2 or3 fingers of clearance between the gullet and the horse’s withers. The clearance and level should not change with tightening the girth or weight of the rider.
The deepest point of the saddle should be in the center of the seat, parallel to the ground, with the stirrups hanging under the seat. Stirrup bars should be recessed and placed back from the pommel for the riders comfort and balance. Stirrup bars should always be in the open position. The best solution to a saddle that does not fit is to find another saddle.
Tack needs to be cleaned and conditioned on a regular schedule. All stitching must be in good repair and all leather free of dirt and dry rot. Check the saddles tree by flexing it to check for a broken tree. Remember that stirrup leathers can stretch, becoming thin and worn. Replace them. Stirrup size should be 1” larger than the riders boot.
The goal of saddle fitting is to create even pressure over the entire contact surface of the saddle on the horse’s back. Uneven pressure can be indicated by finding spots sore to groom, lumpy or hard to the touch, or a dry spot surrounded by an otherwise sweaty contact surface. The points or bars of the tree should rest behind the shoulder blades and not inhibit freedom of movement. The width of the tree is vey important. Too wide will put pressure on the withers or spine, too narrow will force the points of the tree down into the horse’s back, causing a pressure point. The saddle will also roll back and forth on top of the horse’s back. The correct size tree will have bars that match the slant of the horse’s back. The gullet should be large enough to keep the saddle from touching the spine. The panels are filled with wool, synthetic material or even air panels. They can be checked by slowly running your hand, palm side up, under the front of the saddle, feeling the contact between the horse and the panel all the way to the cantle.
When tacking, place the saddle in the “right spot” on the horse’s back, set it directly behind the withers, still allowing freedom of the shoulder blades. This should place the girth just slightly back from the horse’s elbow. Saddle pads should be clean and slightly larger than your saddle to avoid creating a pressure point. Tucking them up into the gullet takes pressure off the spine. When attaching the girth to the billets, depending on the shape and type of girth, we use the first and third billet. The proper size girth will allow for at least two holes above and at least one below the buckle when tightened. All parts of the girth must be in sound condition including the leather, elastic, buckles and stitching with no cracks, dirt, or rough areas that could break or rub. Girths for English saddles come in all types. Most common are leather, fleece, and synthetic girths. Dressage saddles have a different type of billet and you will need to use a dressage girth. Some girths have elastic at both ends, some only at one end. Putting the elastic end on the near side of the horse makes it easy to mount and adjust the girth on the same side. Remember that horses are oval and not round so checking the girth between the front legs gives you a better feel for the tightness of the girth. When attaching the girth to the billets make sure that they are at the same height on both sides of the saddle, not low on one and high on the other. Be careful when tightening a girth with elastic at both ends that it is not too tight! Tighten your girth slowly so that the experience to the horse is less invasive, checking the girth several times both before and