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How wide is my saddle? Part 1

We all use the terms “wide”, “medium”, “narrow” and variants of those to describe the saddle. But what do they mean, and how do you know if you need a wider or a narrower saddle? I see a lot of confusion about this.

First let’s look at the part of the saddle that is directly referred to here. If you’ve ever changed the gullet plate on a Bates or a Wintec or similar, you’ll have seen the different gullet plate widths:

Here you can see the white, “extra wide” gullet, all the way down to the much narrower yellow gullet. This shape describes the angle at the front of the saddle.

What would be best on your horse? People often tell me about their horse, “he’s a 17.3 sporthorse, if that tells you anything” … it doesn’t! You can have an XW tall horse, or a really narrow tall horse. Likewise, the widest horse I ever fit was a 13 hand pony. At this point it would be nice to insert a beautiful professional diagram. However, what you’re getting is a rough drawing on the back of an old receipt pad, hastily made on the ‘dining table’ at the tiny house in FL:

Here, we’ve sliced through the horse just behind the wither, as if he were a loaf of bread, to show his cross-section.

What I want, is to put a wide tree on the wide horse, and a narrow tree on the narrow horse. You can see above how the wide, obtuse angle of the wide tree sits on the wide horse, matches the angle of the horse quite well where it starts to touch, and gives some clearance at the wither. Same with the much narrower, more acute angle of the narrow tree on the narrow horse. When it’s right, it’s right, and you should be able to see it’s right because the saddle passes all the various checks and balances that you’ve learned to apply – it has wither clearance, the panels sit flat on his back, there’s no bridging underneath, the saddle doesn’t rock, it stays in place, etc etc etc.

But what about when it’s wrong? How to tell which direction you should go… narrower, or wider?

Let’s investigate by swapping the two saddles over. Let’s put the wide saddle on the narrow horse, and the narrow saddle on the wide horse:

What do you see?

Obviously saddle fitting gets significantly more technical than this, but you’d be surprised at the number of people I see who would have a lot more confidence in their ability to check their own saddles even if they only saw this one simple thing: the narrow saddle has Too Much Clearance at the wither, and the wide saddle has Too Little Clearance.

The narrow saddle is sitting HIGH at the front, and the wide saddle is sitting LOW at the front.

There are several immediate corollaries to this, which I will demonstrate in part 2. But right now I have to go to part 7 of emergency dental surgery… 😩

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