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Proper Saddling: Fit, Adjustment, and Placement, by Ken McNabb



McNabbSaddle fit is important and affects your horse’s comfort and your safety.   This month, we will cover saddling tips including safety, adjustments, fit, and  position.

I’ll start by talking about how I like to leave my saddle when I take it off.   I think it’s important to leave the saddle with the cinches and breast collar  buckled up neatly on the off side, everything out of the way and not dragging  on the ground.   Not only is this neat, but it  keeps your equipment clean since your  cinches are not going to be dragging in  the dirt when you pick up the saddle, and  it keeps the cinches from flying around  and hitting your friends or your horse when  you swing the saddle up onto your horse’s  back.

When you are getting ready to saddle  your horse, you will want to be sure that you  have brushed him to remove any loose hair  or dirt from the saddle and cinch area.   I like  to put the lead rope in the crook of my arm  nearest the horse, and run my hand gently  but firmly over both sides of his back and  cinch area to check for soreness.   Also, I like to roach my horse’s mane just over his  withers, to keep the hair from pulling under  the pad.

When you are placing your saddle  pad, make sure it is well forward over the withers to protect them.   There  should be a little pad behind the saddle, but it is more important to have  ample padding in front.   The pad is likely to slide back slightly as you ride, but  a pad won’t work its way forward!

Saddling will be much easier if you allow momentum to work in your  favor as you swing the saddle up on your horse’s back.   Hold the saddle  by the back of the seat with your right hand, with the fleece towards you.   Stand with your left hip at your horse’s left shoulder, facing towards his tail.   Use your left hand on the front of the saddle to guide, not to lift.   Now, in one  smooth motion, lift as if you are bringing the knuckles of your right hand up  towards your nose as you rotate your body and swing the saddle up onto  your horse’s back, settling it gently into place.   This may take practice, but  you will be surprised at how easy it is once you get the hang of it.

Once your saddle is in position, grab the center of your pad at the front  and back of the saddle, and lift it up into the gullet.   This sets the saddle  nicely and also creates a pocket for airflow along the horse’s spine.   I like  natural fiber pads and cinches, and I usually use a wool pad and a mohair  cinch.

Saddle fit is important.   If you look at the front edge of your saddle  as it sits on your horse’s back, it should fall flush along the horse’s body.   If you see a pinch point, the saddle is either too narrow or too wide.   If it is  too narrow, you will see the pinch point low.   If it is too wide, the pinch point  will be high.   A saddle that is too wide is not a big deal.   You can always  add padding to make it fit correctly.   However, a narrow saddle is not good.   There is nothing you can do to help that, it’s like a shoe that is too small.   So,  I prefer to go wide and pad to correct any fit problems when I am selecting  a saddle for my horse.

When you are ready to cinch up your horse, let your cinches down and  check for length.   Your front cinch should fall to the middle of the cannon  bone on your horse’s front leg.   If it does, it will be about the right length when  you go to take it up on the other side.   Start with the front cinch, wrapping  the latigo as many times as you need to.   I believe everyone should know  how to tie a latigo knot, but that said, I usually use the buckle to fasten my  cinch.   Tighten the cinch until it is snug but not too tight, and then pull the  latigo loops straight out towards you to snug up the buckle.   Your back cinch  should be snug, too.   Many people let their back cinch hang loose, but that is  a safety hazard.   I have seen horses going through brush with a loose back  cinch, and you can get sticks stuck through the back cinch and jab your  horse.   There is no reason for a loose back cinch, and I do not recommend  it.   The back cinch needs to keep the back of the saddle down if there is  pressure on the horn (if you are roping and dally up to the horn) and it also  keeps the back of the saddle down when  you are going down a steep hill.   It does  its job much better if it is snug.   The breast  collar should be snug, as well.   It should not  be so tight that it chokes your horse, but it is  important to have it snug enough that it can  do its job.   It is especially important to have  the strap that runs to the cinch between the  horse’s front legs adjusted correctly.   If it is  too loose, your breast collar can ride up and  interfere with your horse’s windpipe.

Finally, take your time saddling.   Be  careful, and follow the same step by step  saddling process every time.   Make sure  your pad is always square and even under  your saddle.   Your horse will be much more  comfortable if you take your time when  saddling him and make sure everything is  adjusted correctly before getting on to ride.

Enjoy your horses, and until next time,  may God bless the trails you ride.   For more information on Ken McNabb’s programs call us at 307-645-  3149 or go to

[published in Performance Horse Digest, Volume 4, Issue 11.]


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