Many factors affect the fit of a saddle. Saddle trees are made to fit average horses, but horses come in all shapes and sizes and their body shape changes drastically throughout their lives (sadly, ours do too). We try our best to find the saddle and tree size that fits our horse the best, but it may not be perfect, due to your horse’s non-average build. Often, the right padding can help fill in the gaps (pun intended) and turn an average saddle fit into an awesome fit for your horse.
Whether a horse is short-backed, long-backed, hip high, sway backed, thin of flesh or prominent of withers, it can affect saddle fit. Conformation, age, health, body condition and fitness level all affect how well the average saddle tree fits a horse.
These bridge pads, made by Circle Y, come in three different shapes, in both ¾” and 1” thickness, to fit a wide range of shapes and sizes of horses. The pads are made of memory foam which shapes and contours to the body in a delicious way, providing support where it is needed. NOTE: the stiffness of the foam is affected by temperature. During cold weather, give the pad time to warm-up on your horse’s back before mounting.
‘Bridging’ occurs when there is weight at the front and back of the tree but not in the middle of the horse’s back, which means the tree is not doing its job of fully distributing the weight of the rider. Bridging can be a problem in young and old horses, athletic or not, any breed; it has more to do with back conformation, age and condition.
Depending on the length and shape of the horse’s back, the bridge pad, shoulder bridge pad, or long shoulder bridge pad may help improve saddle fit. The more dip in the horse’s back, generally the shorter the pad you want. The more exaggerated the issue, the more thickness you want. Most horses will use a ¾” thickness, but if your horse is very thin or very low in the back, get the 1”.
Other common problems that the right pad may help are the horse with prominent withers and/or a horse that is lean, fit or in poor flesh. The long should bridge pad can help lift the saddle and pad the back and is useful for long-backed horses; the shoulder bridge pad will also lift the saddle off the withers and pad the back and is more useful in a short-backed horse or a horse with more dip in his back.
This is a very typical 14 year old AQHA gelding, standing on a level surface. He is 14.2 hands and is short-backed and hip-high, as you can see from the railing in the background. You can see the white hairs that are developing front and back where the tree is bridging.
Here you can see the Bridge Pad in place and how it fills in the gaps between the points of pressure. This pad is 12” long. The dip in his back is significant enough to need a 1” thick Bridge Pad.
Here is where the pad sits in relationship to the saddle pad. The Bridge Pad can be used next to the horse’s back or on top of the saddle pad. We find it easier to place correctly on top of the pad and it seems to give a smoother surface over the horse’s skin.