O Horse Facts and Information > Fitting a Dressage Saddle

Fitting a Dressage Saddle

The first point to consider when fitting a dressage saddle is the tree, which commonly comes in three widths: narrow, medium, and broad. The tree must be the correct width or it will cause pain to the horse. Too narrow a tree will cause the points of the tree to pinch either side of the withers, and too broad a tree will cause the fore arch to press on the withers. As a general rule, with a rider in the saddle, you should be able to fit three fingers between the fore arch and the withers. You should also be able to see daylight if you look down the channel of the saddle from the rear.

The panels on either side of the channel should lie free of the horse's spine and rest evenly on the horse's back. If the panels' contact with the horse's back is broken anywhere from the front edge of the tree to the back edge, this is called bridging. Bridging is generally caused when the seat bones of the rider compact the panel stuffing right under the lowest part of the seat, and it will cause the weight of the rider to fall on the four corners of the tree. If this is the case, the saddle needs to be re-stuffed. (Bridging due to compacted stuffing should not be confused with a tree whose sides do not conform well to the horse's back.) Stuffing that is uneven in any way or twisted trees (lay the saddle out on a flat surface to determine) will cause imbalance in the rider and often causes soreness in the horse's back.

The flap of the dressage saddle should be cut fairly straight to encourage a long leg, and the point of the saddle tree should not interfere with movement in the shoulder. Rather, the point of the tree should lie behind the shoulder. The lowest part of the seat should be halfway between the pommel and cantle, and is generally deeper in dressage saddles than other saddle types. The girth should lie about four inches behind the horse's elbow.

The length of the saddle depends on both the length of the horse's back and the size of the rider. The rise at the front of the saddle shouldn't cause undue pressure against the rider's body, and the rider should be able to slide a hand between his/her buttocks and the cantle. The saddle must be large enough to spread out the weight of the rider comfortably over the horse's back.

by Heidi Hesterman
former Certified CHA Instructor
Minor in Equestrian Studies, Houghton College, NY

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