Saddle Fitting for the Wider Flat Backed Horse

saddle fitting example with horse and saddle fitter

Saddle fitting woes for a wider-backed horse? Then read on to find out more about these type of horses.

Without a doubt, certain types of horses and ponies are by nature harder to fit a saddle to. For those horses with less wither and wider, flatter backs, it can prove more difficult when it comes to saddle fitting. Whether it be the saddle slipping on either side, to pinching or not sitting correctly, these are all very real problems horse owners have to work with when owning a larger framed horse.

If you’re having problems with your horse’s weight, this may be adding to the issue. However, you’ll want a saddle to be able to get on and exercise your horse to try and loose those extra kgs, right?

As a standard, whether choosing a new or second-hand saddle for any shaped horse, you will need to consider various points before selecting the best type. Points to consider include:

  • Activities you are undertaking with your horse or pony
  • Shape
  • Breed
  • Development
  • Age
  • Fitness

Common problems with a wide backed horse

A common problem with a wider, flat-backed horse may be the saddle slipping back, forward or around the horse when saddled. A saddle that does this will impact the horse’s way of going, whether the rider is on board or not. It will also affect the rider’s balance and position in the seat.

Typically a wider horse will not necessarily suffer with sufficient room over the wither (pommel), but more so with the fit around the shoulder area. This not only causes the saddle to move, but it can hinder the horse’s shoulder movement (freedom). However, a badly fitted too broad of a saddle could not only hinder the shoulder but sit too close over the wither too.

In any case, no matter what the shape of the horse, the saddle must be comfortable and, in the case of the younger rider, make them feel secure to help build confidence, but it is equally important that the horse or pony is also comfortable.

It is essential that the tree of the saddle is suitable and correct for the horse and rider. Too narrow a seat on a broad-backed horse may not sit securely into the back, causing the saddle to tip and rock, whilst the rider may feel perched rather than sat in the saddle.

Saddle Search

Many saddlers will now visit and measure a horse for a hand-made saddle. This not only deals with all the issues raised here, but it also means if your horse does lose weight, or change shape after buying the saddle, you can take it back for reasonable adjustments to be made. Those saddles flocked with good quality wool will allow for better adjustments.


Alternatively, many saddle brands now cater for ‘native’ breeds, or horse that require extra space – including the cob. These types of saddles are often built on a slightly flatter tree shape that allows for a broader fitting over the back and wider panels for better clearance. A fourth girth strap can be used to help anchor the saddle should movement be an issue.

Kent & Masters, Black Country Saddles, JFS and Jeffries all offer a wider fitting saddle shape to help those horses with wider backs. With any wide horse, look for a saddle with more depth in the saddle to help deepen the seat and offer more comfort to the rider.

Saddle fitting points to take-away

  • It is imperative that the width of the saddle at the front is correct, as well as the shape of the tree, the overall length and the placement around the shoulder. A wide backed horse’s shape may not only interfere with the fit of the saddle over the back, but it may be difficult to fit over fat pockets that form on the shoulder area.
  • Too wide, and the saddle will tip forward, causing considerable pressure and discomfort in the area behind the horse’s shoulders. The back of the saddle will lift and bounce, which will also cause discomfort.
  • Too narrow a tree can tip the saddle backwards, causing pressure under the back of the saddle. Also, the saddle may well ‘run forward’ on to the neck.
  • Part of the tree called the side rails (the bit that narrows under your leg before broadening out into the seat) must also be of a suitable angle and have a suitable width between them.  Too close together and angled and the saddle will rock, too far apart and the saddle might come onto the spine.
  • If the saddle has a flocked panel, a good saddler can ‘fine tune’ the fit so that the saddle is in perfect balance. The flocking should be of good quality wool and be quite soft, not hard or lumpy.
  • The best way of avoiding a saddle that rolls to one side, rides up the neck or bridges is to use, whenever possible, the services of a Society of Master Saddlers’ Qualified Saddle Fitter. They will know, by assessing the horse and rider, the style, shape and size that will work best for horse and rider.


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Author: Suzanne Ashton Founder, Everything Horse Ba Hons Marketing Management email:

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