SADDLE FIT EVALUATIONS

By Nicole from NHS

We’re often asked about how to determine what size saddle you and your horse need and how to custom fit our saddle system to your individual horse. Introducing our DIGITAL SADDLE FIT EVALUATION.
The information we collect is not only useful when purchasing or test riding, but it also helps you find out more about your horse’s needs and challenges when it comes to saddle fit. 
As a progressive global company, we have successfully fitted saddles with this method to many horses all over the world – together with their owners. 

Does doing a saddle fit evaluation and fitting your horse sound a bit scary?

Good preparation is the key to making this process easy.
Make sure you’ve read through the instructions on our saddle fit evaluation page first.
Definitely check out the video links. It helps a lot to watch some of the steps and see how it’s done!
And in this blog post we’ve curated a few helpful tips and tricks, together with some information on common pitfalls, so don’t miss out on all of those.

Here is what you need to have at hand:

  • Your Horse
  • Your saddle equipment
  • Measurement tape / ruler
  • Flexicurve ruler or thick wire
  • Camera or smartphone
  • Three sheets of paper – These will need to be quite large ‘butchers’ paper or the like
  • Pencil or thin line marker
  • A friend to help

Get started

Give your horse a quick brush, so we can see all parts of him well and he’s ready for you to put your saddle equipment on later.
Look for a spot with even ground (not sloping) and ideally a calm background with good contrast, so we’re able to see your horse’s topline profile clearly.
If you have a darker colored horse, a white wall is always great, for a light horse, wood or even just green grass works well as a background.
Position your saddle, pad and other items you might need (like a bridle and your riding helmet) within easy reach. 

Take the pictures

Ask your friend to either hold your horse or take the pictures for you.
Set the camera up at a 90° angle in the middle of your horse and ensure we see ALL of your horse – Fill your screen as much as you can. 
(We are looking for a ‘LANDSCAPE’ pic as the photo pros call it)
The angle is important, as the pictures might be deceiving if it is too far away or not exactly straight.

Start with the naked horse (no saddle/pad) profile picture so you get a feeling for the right angle and position.

Make sure your horse’s head is straight (horse looking forward) and not too low nor too high.

The horse’s legs should ideally be squared up, but it’s not critical if they are a bit open.

Make sure that on all the pictures we see your horse in entirety.  From ear tips to hooves, from nose to tail.

It is very important for our assessment that we see all the parts of your horse.

You can see here the ‘angle’ you are to be to your horse to take the picture. Also note how Letitia is ‘squatting’ a little to ensure her photo is perpendicular to Flash

Most of the pictures are really easy and you’ll understand what to do by looking at our picture guideline scattered throughout.

There is ONE picture some people have trouble with. 
The BELLY TICKLE… It is an important one for us as it shows your horses back strength and how much they will lift in motion, so please be sure to persevere.

Showing what happens when you stimulate the abdominal muscles with a 'tummy tickle' or a 'belly lift'
Look at the difference in the back shape!

The difference between your horse’s topline at a standstill and his topline when the belly muscles contract and the back comes up shows us how his back will change once he starts moving and therefore what shim support he needs.

Look at your pictures to double-check that the background has enough contrast, the angle is good and what we see on the pictures looks similar to what you see when you look at your horse.

It’s helpful to check for yourself if the horse’s withers or croup is higher and compare if the same tendency shows on the pictures.

Does the neck or body look longer? Does the topline have the same slope on the picture as on the real horse?

Checking those things doesn’t only ensure we get the right picture(s), it also helps you to understand your horse’s prerequisites. 

Take the measurements

This is the trickier part of the evaluation, as it needs a bit of finesse to transfer the wire or flexicurve ruler from your horses back to a piece of paper, without losing the exact shape.

If you are not 100% sure you got it right, take each measurement more than once, so you know if the outcome is approximately the same.  If it looks completely different every time you will need to rethink your technique. TIP – If that happens, and you use a piece of wire, you should consider using a stiffer wire that keeps its shape better.

Once you have checked out the areas we need you to take measurements of and you know your tool works well, it’s not a big deal at all. Press/mold the wire/flexicurve to your horse’s shape, transfer to your piece of paper, follow the underside shape with a pencil and go on to the next one.

Where to place your flexicurve ruler
See our Saddle Fit Evaluation to have examples of each photo we need and where to measure.

When you have all three measurements, take out your ruler, find the position where the bars of the shape you have drawn span exactly 14″ and draw a straight line horizontally across there. Then measure from this line up to the very top of your horse’s “shape”. (This is all illustrated in the Saddle Fit Evaluation Form so don’t worry if it sounds complicated!) 

If you compare your measurements to the information on the form,  you’ll already get an idea of what tree we will most likely recommend for your horse.

Fill in the questionnaire

Keep in mind – we want to know everything about you and your horse!!

Ok well, we might not need to know what you fed your horse for lunch yesterday or who’s your horses best friend, but everything that could provide any valuable insight into saddle fit, how your horse moves, what challenges or restrictions any of you have, what disciplines you ride and how much time you spend in the saddle…

Whatever comes to your mind that could be helpful, put it in!

Please don’t be shy about being honest when it comes to your skill level or your horse’s fitness.

We don’t care at all if you’re a beginner or a Grand Prix rider.

All that matters to us is that you want your horse and yourself to be comfortable and we’d like to help with that.

If we know that your experience is limited, we’ll recommend a saddle model that gives you more safety and confidence, just as if we learn you are big on training in a specific discipline, we’ll try to equip you with the most suitable model for that purpose. You’ll see, by answering all of our questions and writing down the additional info, you’ll start learning even about yourself!

Pitfalls

Cropped out pictures, showing only half of the horse, with angles all over the place. 

While we appreciate you additionally showing us a particularly special area on your horses back, an area where he had troubles with his old saddle or shows uneven muscles, we REALLY do need those overview pictures where we can see ALL of your horse and the camera is on a 90° angle. Any picture that doesn’t show the full horse in the right angle is just side information and doesn’t give us enough comparable insight to give a good recommendation on saddle fit.

Measuring the wrong line

Please keep in mind that, after you traced your horse’s shape on a piece of paper, we need the VERTICAL measurement. The horizontal one is always 14″ / 35.5 cm because that’s exactly where you should draw your first line. What is of interest for us, is the distance between the peak of your curve and that line.

The nose on the ground does NOT mean your horse lifts his back

Tickling the belly (and by tickling we actually mean scratching firmly with your fingernails) is a great exercise for the horse’s topline, recommended by many bodyworkers. It’s a bit tricky to catch that exact moment on camera, but with a little bit of practice, it’s not too hard.

Just because your horse stretches his head down or lifts a front foot, does not mean he lifts his back and therefore that’s not the information we need to provide a good evaluation.

Describing your shim picture:

If you are already using one of our pads and shims, please always show your shim pattern sitting on the outside of the pad, exactly in position as it would sit inside the pad’s shim pocket.

We really have to see how and where exactly the shims sit in the pad.

Explaining it to us in words or as we often hear “the shims are in the pad as shown in your illustration” doesn’t give us enough information.

Please let us see how you have set it up, as even an inch or two sometimes can make an important difference.

Half-empty questionnaires

Even if some of the questions might sound funny or unnecessary to you – we do ask them for a reason. Please help us help you, by providing all the info we need. We’re not judging you and we don’t have any preferences to e.g. if your horse is barefoot or shot or what breed it is. But it helps us put together the right recommendations.  These parameters tell us about composure, stride length and other points that are important to saddle fit.

Our team comes in all sizes and shapes – literally – and we’re all happy riders.

We don’t care what you weigh, but we do care that you are comfortable in your saddle, for your own and your horse’s benefit.

So… please be honest with us and give us those insights, so our saddle system can perform at its best for you.

Too much, not enough or the wrong info

We are proud to offer the saddle fit evaluation for free and for everyone.

No matter if you want to get yourself a new saddle, you have one of our saddles and want to check the fit, would like to improve the fit of your existing saddle from another brand with our pad and shims or you’re just curious. The saddle fit evaluation and our customer service team are always available for you without any charge.

What does slow us down though; millions of pictures that don’t show what we need to see, charts from other saddle fitters that don’t relate the info we need, your size of jeans instead of your inseam length or generally only half the info we ask for. That means we have to sort through it all and often go back and ask more questions, ask for other pictures, etc…

Of course, we don’t bite at all, if you misunderstood something and we’re happy to clear things up for you and help you to get us what we need.  But by going carefully through the information we provide upfront, most issues could be eliminated before the evaluation is handed in.

Even answering a question beforehand is so much easier for us than working through the evaluation, only to find key aspects missing or having to sort out 50 pictures to find the 6 we actually need. 

Doing the saddle fit evaluation might seem like a lot of effort to you, but really what you do is getting familiar with your horse’s body from the perspective of a saddle fitter.

The information you gather for us means insights nobody can ever take away from you.

We’re helping with our expertise and knowledge – but the main purpose of the evaluation is to school your eyes, hands, and attentiveness, so together we can find the best setup for you and your horse in the process. 

Our goal is to use the innovative system we’ve designed via 20 years of research to empower you to be your own saddle fitter for the rest of your life, if you’d like to be. That’s a big leg up in comfort for your horse as well as yourself…and a nice chunk of $ savings over time!

A screenshot of the NHS Saddle Fit Evaluation download

TO DOWNLOAD THE PDF VERSION SADDLE FIT EVALUATION FORM – CLICK HERE!
This will start a download for an ‘editable’ PDF.  
You will then need to SAVE this to your computer/device – 
Open the saved document, FILL IN, [SAVE your results] and then EMAIL to saddles@naturalhorsemansaddles.com with your images as attachments.

Visit naturalhorsemansaddles.com for a more information on our saddle models, accessory range and shims. Or feel free to email saddles@naturalhorsemansaddles.com

On Social Media? Be sure to follow us and get the latest news, information on saddle models, and plenty of learning! Follow these links to discover our social world… FACEBOOK, INSTAGRAM, PINTEREST

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