BALANCE Saddle 'Fitting'

In order to determine which BALANCE saddle model, width, style and length is most suitable for a horse and rider we consider the following:

  • What the horse and rider are currently using for a saddle
  • Whether the horse is in good physical health and muscle development (in which case a 'Maintenance Saddling' approach is OK), or whether the horse is underdeveloped/muscle wasted (and therefore needs a 'Remedial Saddling' approach).
  • The age, breed, size and shape of the horse.
  • The rider’s dimensions and any physical limitations they may have.
  • The way the rider rides and what they want to do with the horse.
  • How well trained the horse is and the way the horse moves, because this can make a difference to the length of saddle/tree that it can comfortably wear.
  • Preferences exhibited/reported by the horse and rider when comparing their current saddle and then a BALANCE saddle(s).

This is all done either by having a session with a BALANCE registered Team Member who will visit you and your horse with a selection of BALANCE saddles and pads for you to try, or via a Distant Consultation method, followed by a Saddle Sampling arrangement where available.

We do not use standard terminology when describing the BALANCE saddle widths and lengths because to do so could mislead people.  For example, people usually describe a saddle’s length by the length of the seat, but the shape of the cantle can affect that measurement, and also, because the BALANCE saddles are wide enough to accommodate the horse’s natural healthy width, they often feel shorter to ride in than conventional saddles.  Similarly, if you are trying to gauge the width of a tree, people will often measure the distance between the ends of the points of the tree or the distance between the D-rings at the front, but there is no standard when it comes to the length of points (in fact some of our saddles have had the points removed in line with the rails of the tree), so again this would affect the measurement, and there’s no standard for the positioning of D-rings, buttons or pins either, so it gives no accurate information.  Finally, the tree shape also affects how a saddle sits on the horse (this is why we use different codes to depict width in different models within the BALANCE range, because they sit differently on the horse).

All of this means that, unfortunately, we cannot put enough information on this website to help you to work out for yourself which BALANCE model, style, width and length should be most suitable for you and your horse. We want the very best for you and your horse, so we would always recommend that you work with a BALANCE registered team member who has had enough specialist training and experience to help you.

A lot of people tend to think that if they do, or compete in, Dressage, they need a Dressage Style saddle. It has also been said by some that a General Purpose saddle means it's not really fit for any purpose. However, both assumptions are actually incorrect.

We determine which BALANCE Style of saddle is best for a rider by:

  • Observing what the horse and rider are currently using for a saddle.
  • Looking at the dimensions of the rider (the hip-to-knee length is particularly important).
  • Looking at the way the rider likes to ride, including things such as preferred stirrup length, jumping style, flat-work style, schooling methods and so on.
  • Finding out what the rider wants to do with the horse.
  • Taking into account the rider's needs in terms of human bio-mechanics
  • Looking at the size and shape of the horse as this can affect the stirrup length the rider will need to ride at, as well as which model saddle the horse needs.
  • Noticing how well trained the horse is, because this can make a difference to the length of saddle/tree that it can comfortably wear. If we are limited with saddle length due to the horse's back, a more forward-cut saddle is sometimes helpful in accommodating the rider.
  • Observing the horse and rider in action in their current saddle and then in BALANCE saddle/s and asking for rider feedback.

This is all done either by having a BALANCE registered Team Member come to see you and your horse, or via a Distant Consultation method followed by a Saddle Sampling arrangement where available.

An impression pad, or Pressure Testing Pad, can provide useful information about what is going on under a saddle, but as with so many things, the interpretation of the information needs to be done with care and knowledge to avoid going off on a tangent.  Believe it or not, we have seen people trying to assess the way their BALANCE saddles are behaving with one of these pads, without using their BALANCE pad system, and of course the two are designed to go together!  Of course, they will get very strange patterns of pressure when they do this, that can look alarming, but actually have no relation to what the horse experiences when his BALANCE saddle and pads are used together correctly!

We have been asked in the past, "Have you used Pressure Testing Pads to cross-check saddle fit? I'm thinking that as my horses grow and develop their backs I would need to check if the saddle still fits on a regular basis, potentially at least once a year?"

Here's our answer...

Believe it or not, if you follow our advice, you will be checking how your saddle is working for your horse each and every time you ride!  We will give you the tools (knowledge) to check the saddle every time you use it, so that any fine-tuning of the pads can be done as soon as it is required. That way the saddle is always in balance and padded to provide optimum comfort for your horse. 

We’ll also explain what to look for in terms of feedback from the horses (using wither tracings, photos and assessments of their way of going/demeanour etc.), so that they can show you their preferences, both initially and as time goes on. Learning to recognise and understand the feedback from the horse moment-to-moment is far more valuable than using a pressure pad. 

It is important to understand that we are not looking for perfect ‘fit’, we are looking for optimum comfort for the horse, and only the horse can give you accurate feedback about that. 

In order to give the width measurement of a saddle in centimetres, you need to measure the distance between the ends of the points of the saddle tree.  The problem is that the length of the points can vary greatly from saddle to saddle (in fact the BALANCE Matrix saddle has no points at all below the rails of the tree), and the length of the points affects the width measurement.  So, it's not actually very accurate at all to compare saddle widths in this way.

Some people measure between the D-rings at the front of the saddle, but again, there is no standard place for these to be attached, so it's not possible to get any sort of standard in order to compare the widths of different makes of saddle, or even the different BALANCE models.

The best way to establish which width of BALANCE saddle you need is to have a Consultation with a BALANCE registered Team Member, or to have a Distance Consultation with the BALANCE Office. You are very welcome to do this regardless whether you are looking for a new saddle, or plan to look for a second-hand BALANCE Saddle once you know exactly which to look out for.

There are a few reasons why the width suggested for a BALANCE Jump saddle is usually narrower than the suggested BALANCE Dressage saddle width:

  1. The panels on a Dressage saddle run more vertically downwards, directly underneath the pommel of the saddle and over a wider part of the horse’s body – in this way the panels support the pommel and make it sit higher in front than a Jump saddle, because the panels on a Jump saddle come much further forwards and lie over a narrower part of the horse’s body. 
  2. The panels are also often more shallow on the Jump style than on the Dressage style of the same model, so again the Jump saddle will sit wider on the horse than the Dressage of the same width.
  3. When jumping, you ride more of the time with your weight concentrated in the stirrups – this concentrates your weight at the front of the saddle, so it is important not to go too wide with a Jump saddle otherwise you risk pressure over the withers. 
  4. Having a Jump saddle too wide can affect the horse's comfort and confidence when jumping. This is because a wider saddle needs more pads under it and this increased padding can cause a very tiny delay between the moment when the horse's own weight lands over a fence and when the rider's weight in the saddle comes down onto the horse. It's only the tiniest split second, but it can matter to the horse, and many horses feel more confident with a slightly narrower saddle and minimal padding when jumping.

We have a list of guidelines we follow when working to establish the most suitable width of BALANCE Saddle for a horse, and we consider many things when making an assessment, such as:

  • The breed and build of the horse
  • The condition of the horse/any muscle damage (and therefore, is a Remedial approach to saddling, required, or is a Maintenance approach more appropriate?)
  • The horse's current posture
  • The horse's stage of training
  • The riding style/experience of the rider
  • What the rider intends to do with the horse
  • Whether or not the rider is willing and able to help the horse to recover any muscle damage or postural compensations
  • The age of the horse
  • Which model of saddle the horse has chosen

However, the most important thing (after safety) is the preference of the horse.

BALANCE registered Test Ride Facilitators and Saddle Consultants aim to offer the horse choices and then they pay very close attention (along with the rider) to the many different forms of feedback from the horse, so that he is empowered to show us what helps him best. Those too far away for a face-to-face Consultation can have a Distance Consultation with the BALANCE Office. Following this, wherever possible (in USA, UK or EU), we offer a 30-day sampling period, to make sure that both horse and rider are happy with our suggestions.

This is a hot topic for saddle fitters, riders, physiotherapists and veterinarians, but there is a lot of confusion about it. Click on the PDFs below for a better understanding of the issues:

The conventional way to measure the length of a saddle is to stretch a tape measure from the centre of the head nail to the centre of the cantle; this gives a measurement in inches.

However, early in the history of BALANCE saddles, we recognised that riders sometimes have a pre-conceived idea of what seat/tree length they should be riding in which proves to be inappropriate to their needs when they try our saddles.   

Many people have only ever ridden in saddles that have been made/fitted with a focus on what riders like and without much reference to the needs and the healthy shape of a horse’s body!  These saddles tend to be narrow in width.

BALANCE trees and saddles are made and fitted in ways that focus very much on the needs and comfort of the horse, to avoid restriction and damage.  This means that they have to be horse shaped and horses are big animals with wide backs (when they are healthy and well enough muscled to carry a rider).

We discovered that when you increase the width of the tree/saddle to give the horse the comfort and room to use its body naturally, it increases the width for the rider as well.  For some reason, this makes the seat feel smaller to the rider than an equivalent measurable length in a narrower width.   In other words, a 17-inch saddle in a narrow width will feel more generous in the seat than a 17-inch saddle in a wide fit. 

When riding in a BALANCE saddle, it's important to keep a good degree of angle (bend) in the hip joint, especially when riding horses that are particularly broad through the ribs and back and need one of the wider BALANCE saddles, otherwise the rider risks strain to the hips and lower back.  For this reason, some riders need a slightly more forward-cut flap or slightly longer seat than they might expect, to allow for slightly shorter stirrups than they are used to riding with in a narrower, conventionally fitted saddle.

The letters A-E refer to 'Saddle Lengths’ not ‘Seat-Sizes’.  This is because some of the BALANCE saddle models are available with different cantle options, some of which provide the rider with a longer seat, but the 'Saddle Length' (e.g. 'C-Length') refers to the horse’s side, not the seat on the rider’s side.

Saddle lengths vary sometimes between BALANCE models, for example a C-length Nexus saddle rides shorter than a C-length Zenith saddle.

We found that if riders were fixated on the idea that they needed a 17 ½ inch tree, because that is what they were used to, and in a BALANCE saddle we could see that they would need an 18” tree, they would sometimes be offended!  In their minds, only very large riders used 18” saddles! 

It is also worth noting that if you take 20 different makes and models of saddle in the same width and that all measure 17 ½ inches from the centre of the cantle to the middle of the head-nail, they will all be different in terms of how big or small they feel to the rider, depending on the shape of the seat and the shape and height of the cantle, so it is a very  unreliable way to ‘describe’ the size of the saddle.  

So, we would always recommend that you work directly with the BALANCE Office or with a BALANCE registered Saddle Consultant/Test Ride Facilitator in order to establish which saddle length you and your horse need.  We are very happy to assist even if you are looking to purchase a used/second-hand BALANCE saddle. 

This is why we decided to let go of describing the size of our saddles in terms of inches and use our own classification.

We determine the appropriate tree length by:

  • Looking at the size and shape of the horse.
  • Assessing how well the horse is trained, because this can make a difference to the length of saddle/tree that he/she can comfortably wear.  
  • Observing what the horse and rider are currently using for a saddle.
  • Looking at the shape of the rider and the way they ride.
  • Knowing what the rider wants to do with the horse.
  • Observing the horse and rider in action in their current saddle and then comparing with a BALANCE saddle/s.