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When you saddle your horse, secure your horse saddle’s points of attachment in the proper order to keep the saddle in place. If your horse takes a step when the saddle isn’t properly secured, he may feel a shift or roll, and spook.
If your horse becomes entangled in the saddle, he may develop a fear of saddling and even risk breaking a leg.
To keep the saddle in place as you tack up, first attach the front cinch, then the back cinch, and lastly, the breastcollar and/or crupper. (Tip: Connect the front and back cinches with a string or lariat so the back cinch doesn’t slide back and irritate your horse’s inner thighs.) To remove the saddle, reverse the order: Undo the breastcollar/crupper, then the back cinch, and finally, the front cinch.
They aren’t a foot rest.
How to Stay Comfortable in the Saddle—No Aches or Pains
Julie, I have a question about how to be more comfortable during my long rides. What causes my knees to hurt after about an hour riding at a walk? What can I do to stay comfortable in the saddle?
Being comfortable in the saddle is crucial for long rides. Joint pain is a complaint I hear about often. I’ll share some tips about proper alignment then help you consider the tack and riding gear that can help or hinder your comfort as you ride.
Line it Up
I hear riders ask about their feet falling asleep or of constant knee pain when they ride. When you sit on a horse, your legs are being spread apart and the unnatural alignment causes pain over time.
When you’re sitting on your horse, your alignment changes from the posture you use to stand upright. Your legs are wrapping around the horse’s barrel instead of hanging straight down. To get the picture, imagine sitting on the long side of an oil barrel with your legs wrapped around. Because of your position, your joints come together at angles instead of in their usual straight alignment. Your knee and ankle joints now have uneven pressure and that causes pain.
The solution is pronation (rotational movement of a joint). With this move, you’ll bring your ankles back toward your midline. When you’re sitting with your legs spread around the horse without pronating, your ankles roll to the outside and also impact your knees. To correct that alignment with pronation, flex your foot so that your weight rolls toward your big toe. This simple move realigns the bones that comprise the knee and ankle joints. It reduces the pressure and the pain after a long ride.
You can try this while you’re sitting in a chair, too. Roll your foot toward your pinky toe and press your weight down to your feet. You can feel the strain on your ankles and knees. That’s what it feels like without pronation. Then roll your foot toward your big toe. Notice that it’s easier to hold this pronated position.
If you were taught to ride with your toes straight ahead and your heels pushed far down, it’s time to reconsider your alignment. Keeping your toes straight ahead isn’t helpful for ergonomic riding. In this position, you can’t pronate your ankles and you don’t have your lower leg available for cueing your horse. No matter what your riding instructor said when you were young, it’s fine to have your toes pointed out a little. To feel better in the saddle, you need to allow yourself to turn your feet out slightly. I’m not talking about pointing your toes directly east and west—just relax enough to allow your legs to hang more naturally.
You’re only in balance when your skeletal system is in alignment. When you’re sitting on your horse, you should have a straight line running down from your shoulder, through your hip and down to the back of your heel. Your saddle can help or hinder this position.
While you may think all saddles should help you be in a balanced position, it’s just not true. If your stirrups hang far forward, you can be pulled out of alignment. Stirrups that hang forward put you in a “chair” position that may seem comfortable at first, but can cause you to push down or reach for your stirrups and stiffen your legs. If your stirrups hang straight down from the saddle’s seat when you evaluate it on a saddle rack, your saddle will help you be in a balanced position throughout your long ride. If your stirrups hang far forward, consider shopping around.
If you find your seat bones hurt after a long ride, your saddle may have too wide of a twist—the part of the saddle just in front of the seat that rises toward the pommel. If the twist is wide, it will push your legs farther apart and causes pressure onto your seat bones. Your entire body weight then pushes down onto your seat bones in that spread position. That doesn’t feel good after a long ride. Look for a saddle with a narrow twist to avoid sore seat bones.
Dress the Part
While your clothing might not directly impact your joints, it does impact your overall comfort on the trail. If you ride in jeans, make sure that the inside seams aren’t bulky. If you shop for jeans made for riding, you’ll notice that the bulkiest seams are on your outer leg—not inside. If there’s too much fabric inside, you can get sores at your knees from rubbing against that extra fabric.
If you’re riding for long days and it’s not too hot out, try wearing silk long johns under your jeans. The light layer can help with chaffing and can help you avoid saddle sores. If you’re going to be riding for several days, you need to make sure your joints and your skin stay in the best shape possible.
To keep my skin in good shape, I make sure to carry big Band-Aids and Cortisone cream. Cortisone will help with chaffing and will help you ride without changing your posture to avoid further rubbing your saddle sore. You won’t ride correctly if you have a saddle sore on the inside of your knee so taking care of your skin can help your overall posture and alignment, too.
Saddle Trees Fit and Riggings
I’m often asked about saddle fit and tack— what’s the best type of saddle tree for my horse? How do I know if my saddle fits? And how should I rig the saddle so that my horse is comfortable? The variety of trees and saddles on the market can be overwhelming. It’s a big job to find out what will fit your horse well. Once you purchase a saddle, you’ll need to know which rigging (many new saddles have more than one way to “cinch up” your saddle) to use to keep the saddle safely in place and comfortable for your horse’s conformation.
Here, I’ll help you understand the types of saddle trees (the tree is the inner structure of the saddle and what balances the rider’s weight over the horse’s back), understand how a saddle should fit, then help you know how to cinch up your saddle to make sure your horse is comfortable as you ride.
The purpose of the saddle tree is to distribute the weight of the rider over a larger area of the horse’s back. A simple way to understand this distribution of pressure is to poke someone in the arm with the point of one finger versus pushing on their arm with the flat of your hand. In my experience starting young horses under saddle, horses will buck more with an English saddle than with a western one. This is often because the tree of the western saddle covers a larger area and distributes weight more evenly.
In general, you have three choices when it comes to a saddle: a rigid tree (usually wood), a flexible tree (synthetic) or treeless. The rigid tree would give the greatest distribution of weight but may be more difficult to fit. The flexible tree gives good weight distribution and because of the slight flex, it will fit a greater variety of horses. The treeless saddle causes the weight of the rider to be focalized in one spot under the rider’s seat bones but for horses that are very difficult to fit in a treed saddle, it may be more comfortable for the horse.
In addition to the fit issues of the horses, there are several other considerations in determining what is the right type of saddle for you and your horse. First, the size of the rider: a horse that carries a heavy rider will need more weight distribution from a bigger sized saddle seat. A 17″ saddle has more weight distribution than a 14″.
Also you must consider the type of riding that will be done and the rider’s skill level. For very arduous sports like cutting and roping, the horse needs a rigid tree for his own protection. The more skilled a rider is, the better balanced, the less important the tree becomes. A beginner rider that is very off-balance can be hard on the horse’s back. The proof of the pudding is how the horse responds. For instance, my horse is mildly difficult to fit because of his far set-back withers (a good trait, it just makes saddle fit trickier). He works infinitely better in a flexible tree than he does in a rigid tree; the difference is distinctive. I’ve seen horses that love the treeless saddle and others that absolutely hate it. Sometimes that is because of what the horse is used to, other times it is because of the focalized pressure of the rider’s weight.
Your saddle should fit your horse so that the seat is level on his back and the bars of the tree do not pinch, but sit level on his back. It’s a good idea to work with a reputable saddle shop and to ask someone to evaluate the saddle’s fit on your horse. You’ll need to make sure the saddle doesn’t interfere with the horse’s motion or block his shoulder movement.
One of the easiest ways to check saddle fit is to look at the sweat marks from your saddle and pad right after a long hard ride, when your horse is fully sweated up (not just damp). If there are any dry spots under the bars of the saddle’s tree—anywhere there are dry spots, there has been excessive pressure and the sweat glands have been shut down.
Once you have the perfect saddle, you may still need help to “rig it up” so that your horse is most comfortable. You’ll know if your saddle can offer multiple riggings if you look under the saddle’s stirrup fender and see multiple dee attachments instead of one metal loop.
While most of us were taught to cinch up a Western saddle with a “full position” rigging, that might not be the most comfortable rigging for your horse. If your horse is high withered or you need to move the balance of the saddle back a bit, another rigging can help. You’ll also need to understand rigging options so that you can switch the rigging if your horse has a girth sore.
There are three basic styles of rigging available in a traditional Western saddle: full rigging, seven-eighths and three-quarter. It will help you to understand each type of rigging, so that you can understand the advantages of having multiple rigging options.
Full rigging: You may be most familiar with a “full” saddle rigging, when there’s a dee-ring attached to the saddle’s tree or skirt directly beneath the pommel. This is the most forward position for saddle riggings. To cinch up, you would wrap the latigo from the cinch to this dee-ring, with layers of the latigo lining up in one vertical line. Saddles with this rigging often have a flank cinch, or rear cinch, (a double rigging because the saddle is attached at the front and back) to keep the saddle from tipping forward when traveling downhill or to help distribute the pressure when the rider dallies the rope to stop a steer. This full double rigging is the preferred outfit for ranch riding and roping. The pressure of the saddle lands just under the pommel then the flank cinch keeps the saddle balanced.
7/8 rigging: This measurement title means that your cinch is 7/8 of the distance from the cantle to the pommel and it brings the pressure from the cinch slightly rear-ward on the horse’s back, compared to the full rigging. You can also use a rear cinch with the 7/8 rigging to help secure your saddle on hills. This configuration helps the saddle sit in a balanced point and can relieve pressure from the horse’s withers.
3/4 rigging: Similarly, this rigging means that the dee-rings are attached a little behind the 7/8 rigging, or three quarters the distance from cantle to pommel. This will protect the shoulders and withers even more and give more room between the horse’s elbow and the cinch. This rigging position can be very useful on a horse which the saddle tends to “bridge” on the back (with pressure at the front and back of the tree, but not in the middle). Keep in mind: The farther back the rigging, the more pressure rests in the middle of the saddle instead of at the front, where the horse may be stronger. This 3/4 configuration moves your cinch back from your horse’s heartgirth—switching to this rigging can help your horse avoid girth sores during long rides.
There’s a great illustration of the saddle riggings from The Horse Saddle Shop http://www.horsesaddleshop.com/:
If your saddle has multiple rigging options, you’ll have more flexibility for saddle fit and making the saddle useful on a variety of differently shaped horses and circumstances. In a saddle with 3-way rigging, there will be two dee rings at the front of the saddle and it can be rigged up three ways—in the full, 7/8 or 3/4 positions. Make absolutely certain when using a saddle with multiple rigging, that the rigging is the same on both sides.
Armed with these tips and ways to affect the weight your horse carries and the way he carries it, I hope you have many good, long rides together! I’m glad to help with more saddle questions and talk to you about the saddles I designed at facebook.com/horsemaster.tv
Even if you haven’t had a big wreck with your horse, you’ve imagined what can happen out on the trail. You’ve felt your stomach tie in knots as you headed up a steep hill, passed through deep water, or worse, seen a friend slip or fall with her horse. Those moments of fear aren’t bad and shouldn’t be dismissed says natural horsemanship trainer Julie Goodnight. “Fear is a natural response,” she says. “It can keep you alive. With horses, it’s always important to think ‘what is the worst-case scenario?’ If you know what can happen, you can make plans to avoid it.”
Here, Goodnight has outlined potential tragedies that can happen because of faulty tack or fastening, because of what you’re wearing, or because of who you’re riding with. Read on to find out what can happen and what you can do to avoid the scenario. Keep in mind—ignorance isn’t bliss when it comes to horses and safety. Once you know what may happen, you can take the necessary steps to ensure your safety and health for your horse. When you know what steps to take to be safe, you can envision a safe and relaxing ride.
Before you ride
Check your cinch
Problem: Your saddle becomes loose and swings beneath your horse.
Worst-case scenario: You’re going along the trail at a brisk pace when you realize you haven’t checked your cinch for almost an hour. And you can’t quite remember—did you check the cinch after stopping for a lunch break? Your saddle slips to the side—taking you with it. Your try to untangle yourself from the saddle—which is now upside down and hanging below your horse’s belly—but your foot is caught. Your horse is moving faster as the “attacking” saddle chases him. You’re terrified as you’re being dragged down the trail. If you’re lucky, your worst problem will be a horse that’s terrified of being saddled for the rest of his life. If you’re not so lucky. . . .
Solution: Goodnight says she’s seen many saddles slip and flip during her years as a horse trainer and trail guide. “That traumatizes a horse for the rest of his life—he’s afraid of a saddle after it slips and that’s a difficult and sometimes impossible fear to un-train.” Avoiding this wreck is simple—take time to check your cinch (or girth as it’s sometimes called) and know where to check.
How to go about it: You may have been taught to check your cinch at a point parallel to your horse’s elbow. The horse is concave in shape on his side, so the cinch will almost always feel loose at that point—it’s a false reading. Check the cinch between the horse’s front legs at the point where the cinch crosses your horse’s sternum—that’s hard bone. You’ll get a true feel for the looseness or tightness there. To be sure, straighten your index finger and place it between your horse’s haircoat and the cinch. Reach in from the side closest to your horse’s tail so that when you pull your fingers out, you’ll leave the horse’s hair flat and avoid causing him to be sore. If you can push one finger in up to your first joint, your cinch is tight. If you can easily push two fingers—or one finger farther than the first joint—between your horse’s body and the cinch, your cinch may need to be tightened. If you can’t get your finger in at all, the cinch is probably too tight—causing your horse to feel undue pressure.
Keep in mind, how tight your cinch should be depends on how your horse is built. If your horse is round and doesn’t have high withers, you may need to ride with a tight cinch to be safe. If your horse has high withers and is somewhat thin, your cinch won’t need to be cranked. You may be safe if you can fit two fingers in up to your first knuckles.
You’ll want to check your girth before and after mounting because your weight compresses the saddle and the pad and may allow for extra room. Plus, when your horse warms up and his muscles tighten during exercise, he begins to sweat and air rushes away from his body and out of the saddle pad. All these factors create space between your horse and the cinch. You may have heard that horses hold their breath during saddling to create more room between their bodies and the cinch. Goodnight says horses don’t plan ahead for a way to escape pain, but they do remember if someone has cranked up their cinch too much at one time. If your horse braces against the cinch, consider tightening his cinch in increments so he doesn’t flinch and tense then relax and loosen the pressure later on.
Get in the habit of checking the cinch each time you mount up and again about 20 minutes into each leg of your ride. Tip: to remind you to re-tighten your cinch after you break for lunch, put your stirrups up over your saddle horn or, if you’re riding in an English saddle, leave a billet hanging down. You’ll see the strange set up and remember to adjust your gear before moving on.
Analyze your bridle
Problem: Your bridle comes off because you don’t have a throatlatch or your rein breaks away from the bit.
Worst-case scenario: You’re loping across an open meadow when suddenly you realize you have no contact with your horse’s mouth. You’re holding on to your reins as your bridle drags along the ground beside you. Your horse senses your panic and takes off faster—and heads straight for the tree line. Without reins, you don’t have a way to steer your horse through the approaching trees. Will he rub you off because you can’t maneuver quickly? He knows how wide his own body is, but you probably can’t trust him to judge how wide he is while you’re on his back. How will you stop without your trusty rein aids? The trees are getting closer. . . .
Solution: Make sure your headstall has a throatlatch and it’s properly connected. Also take time to analyze the screws or leather pieces that connect your headstall to the bit and your bit to the reins. Goodnight says losing one rein isn’t as traumatic as losing your entire bridle. Still, if your horse isn’t properly trained, you may have trouble stopping without pulling the bit through his mouth. Plus, stopping for repairs during a ride is never a fun way to spend time.
How to go about it:
Goodnight recommends purchasing a headstall with a throatlatch included. She says many riders who show in Western classes ride without the throatlatch attached so that their horses look refined. But out on the trail, your horse can easily pull off even a split-eared headstall if there’s not an extra fastener around his jowl. Put on your horse’s throatlatch and make sure you can fit three fingers vertically aligned between your horse’s jaw and the latch’s leather.
While you’re checking your bridle, look closely at the connections between leather and metal—that’s where you’ll first see wear and breaking. Replace any worn leather before you leave for a ride. Also check your bridle’s Chicago screws to make sure they’re tightly fastened. Consider dotting the back of the screws with super glue to ensure you won’t lose a rein (just make sure you know you won’t want to change your tack set up later).
Double check your halter and bridle
Problem: Leaving your halter and lead attached beneath your bridle may leave dangerous loops for your horse to step through or tangle on passing brush.
Worst-case scenario: You’re almost ready to stop, rest and eat some lunch. You’ve left your rope halter on—with the lead in place—beneath your horse’s bridle to make sure he doesn’t get away in the wide-open spaces. When you stop, you’ll take off his bridle and allow him to rest and graze. As you approach your lunch site, you realize your halter’s lead has come untied and hangs down near your horse’s lower chest. Since you’re almost at your stopping point, you think you’ll fix it later. As you step over a log, your horse places his foot in the swinging loop. He raises his head to find he’s tied to his legs. He pulls against the solid rope and finds no relief. If the halter doesn’t budge, your horse could break his neck. You’re out of balance and risk falling as your horse continues to bob and fight the connection.
Solution: Goodnight says she’s not against riding with a halter under a bridle, but recommends using a flat, nylon break-away halter instead of rope. She also recommends detaching your lead while you ride. “A rope halter may feel uncomfortable for your horse if it rubs beneath other layers,” Goodnight says. “Plus, if you have a heavy rope lead swinging from the rope halter, your horse may become insensitive to any pressure on his face. He’ll feel a constant downward pulling pressure all the time—which fights the cues you’re giving with your rein aids.”
How to go about it: Choose a flat halter that fits your horse well. When you put the bridle on over it, make sure to adjust the bridle. It may suddenly be snug with the extra layer beneath it. You’ll know you need to loosen your bridle if you see more wrinkles than usual at the corner of your horse’s mouth—where the bit and bridle meet. Instead of attaching your lead and tying it anywhere on your horse’s neck, choose a lead with a snap and simply detach and store away in your saddlebag until it’s time for a break.
Take off the tie down
Problem: A tie down interferes with your horse’s balance.
Worst-case scenario: You’re riding down a steep hill toward a deep-water crossing. Your horse slips sideways as you head down the hill and needs to correct himself and take a step up to be back on the trail. He could correct himself easily if he wasn’t tacked up. You outfitted him in all the gear that came with him—including his tie down. With a tight strap connected from the bridle to his body, he can’t use his head to balance his bodyweight. As he attempts to climb back onto the trail, he stretches the tie down and slips again. You’re sliding toward the water. With his tie down in place in the water, you’re in even more trouble. Your horse must keep his nose above water to breathe as he attempts to swim across. The tie down keeps his nose under water. If you can’t find your knife in time to cut the line, your horse may drown. . . .
Solution: Make sure you’re using tack that you and your horse really need—don’t use equipment just because it came with your horse or because every one else is using it. If your horse tosses his head and a tie down keeps him more calm and manageable, make sure your gear is fitted appropriately—with enough room for him to move and save his balance. Any time you’re headed toward water that may be deep, make sure to stop and take off the tie down before entering.
How to go about it: If you feel you must use a tie down, make sure your horse has plenty of room to move his head. That’s his balance mechanism. When your horse is standing still and relaxed with his head in a neutral position, lift up on the tie down. It should have enough slack to reach up to your horse’s throat. If it’s shorter than that length, it will interfere with your horse’s balance. Always take off your tie down before entering deep water.
Wear a helmet
Problem: Wearing a helmet is hot and just not stylish.
Worst-case scenario: The Rocky Mountains are a great place for your first ride of the season. In cowboy country, you decide to wear your hat instead of your helmet. After all, you have a trustable horse. Your helmet is in the truck, but it’s so hot in the sunshine. You think your hat is an acceptable choice. Twenty minutes into your ride, the trail opens up onto a rocky climb. The footing smooth and covered with small rocks. Your trust your horse to move on—and he tries—then slips backward. You lose your balance and roll off of his back onto the hard rock. Your head hits with a thud. . . .
Solution: Goodnight says most trail riders don’t wear a helmet for one of two reasons: helmets are too hot—and not ‘cool’—or riders trust their horses and don’t think there’s any chance of bolting or falling. The justifications don’t make sense. Wear a helmet.
“When I made the decision to ride a helmet when I do my demonstrations and clinics, it was difficult because none of my peers did the same,” Goodnight says. “I was concerned that it would make me appear un-cool. I also worried about getting too hot and not looking nice later. Then I realized that no one was going to not like me because I wore a helmet. No one else cares that much about you. Now, if anyone comments on my helmet, I tell them that obviously I’m smarter than them and my brains are more important.”
Modern helmets are designed to allow more airflow than their older counterparts. New helmets come in a variety of colors and styles—not just the big black versions you may remember from your younger days.
If you’re still arguing that you have a safe, well-trained horse, Goodnight lends this wisdom, “You’re in an uncontrolled environment with unmanaged footing. Even the best-trained horse isn’t guaranteed not to slip or fall. There’s more of a chance that your head would hit a rock if you do fall off on the trail. It just isn’t worth the risk.”
How to go about it: Look for lightweight helmets designed for horseback riding and that carry the ASTM/SEI seals. The ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) includes doctors, engineers and physicists. ASTM sets standards especially for riders—judging the impact that could happen falling from a tall horse at high speeds. The criteria for horseback riding helmets are different than any other sport’s helmet. Workers at the SEI (Safety Equipment Institute) test equestrian helmets to be sure they meet the ASTM standard. Don’t be budget conscious and decide to wear your bike helmet while you ride your horse. The standards are quite different.
Slather on the repellent
Problem: You and your horse may be mosquitoes’ victims.
Worst-case scenario: While you’re trotting through the mosquito-infused forest, your horse—accustomed to a bug-controlled barn—gets a terrible case of itchiness. Hoping to rid his skin of the pests, he purposefully aims for the bushes. As he brushes off the bugs, you lose your balance and come off, too. Worse, if the wrong bug bites, you or your horse may also come in contact with West Nile Virus. Horses infected with WNV may stumble, stagger, grind their teeth, lose the muscle strength to stand, have facial paralysis, go blind, and suffer effects of encephalitis that ultimately take their lives. If an infected bug bites you, you’ll experience headaches, a high fever, a stiff neck, disorientation, coma, convulsions, muscle weakness, and even paralysis if the bite results in encephalitis.
Solution: Avoid mosquitoes to avoid the virus. Protect your horse with a vaccine against WNV. Protect yourself with long sleeves, bug spray and bug-repelling clothing. Even if mosquitoes in your area don’t have the virus (yet) new research from the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston shows that bites by “healthy” bugs may prime your system and make it easier for you to contract a severe virus variety. To find out more about the mosquito population in your area visit AABB’s (the association formerly known as the American Association of Blood Banks and now known by its acronym) web site, www.aabb.org, and search for “2008 West Nile Virus Biovigilance Network.” You’ll find up-to-date charts and maps showing where the virus is found; you’ll also find tips to help you avoid the problem.
How to go about it: Get your horse vaccinated each spring and ask your veterinarian what boosters are needed to keep your horse safe throughout the warm mosquito season. Before you get ready for a trail ride, make sure to pack a mosquito-repelling spray for you and for your horse. Ask your veterinarian which brands she recommends for ultimate bug control and safety for your horse. If you plan many ventures into the woods, consider adding mosquito-repelling clothing to your wardrobe. Fabric is infused with Permethrin, a man-made form of a natural insect repellent found in Chrysanthemum plants. Check out the Buzz-off line at www.exofficio.com.
Watch for catching clothing
Problem: Hoodies, loose-fitting shoulder bags or fanny packs, dangling jewelry, and jackets with zippers all can cause hang-ups.
Worst-case scenario: As you dismount for a lunch break, your zipper-closed jacket slips over your saddle horn. With your feet already out of the stirrups, you can’t push yourself up to free yourself. Your horse feels your strange movements at his side and takes a step to the side. When you move along with him, he steps away again then starts to trot and canter to get away from your too-close stance. Your horse is dragging you by your unbreakable jacket. . . .
Solution: Make sure all of your clothing and accessories fit close to your body and that no straps or outerwear layers can catch.
How to go about it: Look for equestrian-specific jackets that have snap—rather than zipper—closures. A snap will come apart much faster than a zipper will break. Make sure to tuck in your shirts and hoods. Tuck the base of loose sweatshirts and any under-layers into your jeans or jods. Pull your hood out from beneath the smooth protection only when it’s time to put it on. When it comes to accessories, leave your jewelry at home. If you wear a fanny- or backpack, make sure the straps are adjusted so that they lay flat next to your clothing. Consider turning your fanny pack toward your backside so that it’s out of the way as you mount and dismount. Better yet, store all that you can in your saddlebags and hide your needed emergency items (your cell phone with in-case-of-emergency number clearly labeled, knife, ID, protein bar, compass or handheld GPS) in a zip-closed pocket or hide-away satchel beneath your outer layer—or shop for a specially made wallet that attaches to your leg. Check out www.cashelcompany.com for non-catching totes.
Problem: You’re riding alone and no one knows where you are or when to expect you back.
Worst-case scenario: You take off for some personal rejuvenation time. It’s just you and your horse out on the trail. No one knows where you are or when you’ll return—and for a while, you’re glad for that freedom. Suddenly, a summer storm sweeps the sky. A lightening bolt lands too close for comfort and your horse charges off. You’re left behind and you’re far from home. Worse yet, your cell phone was stored in your saddlebags. Your horse doesn’t know how to dial and you don’t know how you’re going to get back to the trailhead and out of the storm. Which way did you come from? You hope your husband will miss you—but he won’t be home until at least 9:00 p.m. It’s getting scary and darker. . . .
Solution: Always tell someone where you’re going and when you’ll return. Goodnight says “Riders’ lives have definitely been saved when they’ve left word—clearly stating when they should return and when to send help.”
How to go about it: Call a friend—whom you know will get the message—from your cell phone as you set out on the trail or before you leave home. Let your friend know which trail you’ll take and how long the trip should take. Also let her know whom to contact if you haven’t checked in by a certain time. Have a list of park ranger or other emergency numbers ready.
Once you mount up, stick to the trail you told our friend about—and don’t tarry. Make sure to have your cell phone, a GPS or compass, and a protein bar stored on your person—not in your saddlebags. Your horse may not be with you when you need the items. Also make sure to attach some form of ID on your horse—use a luggage tag to list your name and contact info—and your emergency contact’s number. A rescuer may find your horse before they find you—and your friend will know what trail you took. That information will speed up your rescue!
When you’re done riding—and if you didn’t have a problem—call your friend to check in.
My friends and I have a problem with our saddles rolling over to the side when we get on. My horse in particular has a flat broad back with wide withers. Any suggestions? I know we are cinching our western saddles up tight enough.
A round, mutton-withered horse is difficult to keep a saddle on, but there are a few things that may help.
First, make sure your saddle fits. That seem like a no-brainer, but if your tree is too wide or too narrow, it’ll be more likely to slip. Often a flexible tree will hold better on a round horse than a rigid tree saddle because it shapes to the horse’s back. This is one reason I like the Circle Y Flex2 saddles.
Secondly, the saddle pad you use can really help or really hurt. Make sure you are not using too thick a pad—usually round horses don’t need a lot of padding. For the really round horses I like to use a split-withered pad—sometimes called a cut-back pad (incidentally, this also works for very high-withered horses). It helps to hold the pad in place around the withers. I also often use an open-cell foam pad that has a suction-like effect and holds on the back really well.
Make sure when you saddle that you pull the pad well up into the gullet of the saddle—causing a V-shape to the pad, which is less likely to slip. If you don’t pull it up and create an air space over your horse’s spine, the pad sits right on the withers and has a round shape which slips much easier (not to mention puts uncomfortable pressure on his spine).
Unfortunately for the round horse, you have to keep the cinch much tighter than you would on a horse with good withers. Make sure you tighten the cinch slowly—don’t gut-wrench him right off that bat—that will create a cinchy horse, or one that is resentful of the cinch. Tighten the cinch gradually over 10 minutes or so and walk him a little between tightenings. Check your cinch again about 15 minutes into your ride or before you do any loping.
Finally, you might consider using a breast collar and/or a crupper, which attaches to the back of the saddle and goes under the horse’s tail. Neither one will stop your saddle from sliding but they will help stabilize it. Good luck and be sure to keep you weight in the middle of your horse!
Ask Julie Goodnight:
Is My Saddle Causing My Horse’s Issues?
Question: Dear Julie, I am switching from English to Western and am hoping to get one of your Peak Performance saddles. I am looking at the Monarch Arena/Trail saddle or the Wind River Trail saddle. I really like the sounds of the close-contact design, the narrow twist and especially the memory foam in the seat for my tired old rear-end! But not knowing too much about Western saddles, I am confused by a couple things. First, what does “3-way in-skirt rigging” mean and what is the advantage of that? Also, I noticed that your saddle does not have fleece on the bottom like other Western saddles I have seen and I was wondering why?
Thanks for your help!
Answer: No matter which of those two saddles you choose, I am sure you will love it! Actually they both have many awesome features that I designed into the saddle, some obvious, some not; both the Monarch and Wind River have all the same great features—the only difference is that the Wind River has a more rounded skirt, which is often better for a short-coupled horse. Also, both saddles are made on the Flex2 tree, which provides the benefit of weight-distribution like a rigid tree, as well as a better fit for the horse and greater comfort for the rider because of its flexibility. While the flexible tree is not right for every rider, if you are under 230 pounds and not planning to rope steers, it’s a great choice– more comfortable for the rider, gives better fit for your horse and fits a greater variety of horses.
Other comfort features that these saddles have, in addition to the narrow-ness of the saddle and the cut-aways under your leg that give closer contact with the horse (and make the saddle lighter weight), they also have pre-twisted stirrups and specially softened leather under your leg that gives the saddle a “broke in” feel when it is brand spanking new. I should know, I ride in a brand new Monarch saddle every weekend, since Circle Y ships me a “demo” saddle for people to sit in and try on their horse at expos and clinics. By the end of the weekend that saddle always goes home with some lucky buyer and I start with a new one the next weekend.
The 3-way in-skirt rigging gives you better fit options for a variety of horses and helps with the close-contact design, reducing some of the bulk under your leg. The rigging on any Western saddle refers to where the dee-rings are located that you attach your latigo and cinch to. “In-skirt” means that the dee-rings are sewn into the skirt of the saddle—between the layers of leather, rather than sitting on top of it, like a more traditional saddle. The “3-way” part refers to multiple rigging options, allowing you to move the pressure of the cinch either forward or rearward, depending on the fit-needs of the horse.
There are three basic styles of rigging available in a traditional Western saddle: full rigging, seven-eighths and three-quarter. Most Western saddles only have one rigging option but my saddles allow you to easily change the rigging according to the needs of each horse you put it on. It will help you to understand each type of rigging, so that you can understand the advantages of having multiple rigging options. Here’s a video that talks more about riggings: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OmgykJDIX1s&feature=channel_video_title
Full rigging: You may be most familiar with a “full” saddle rigging, when there’s a dee-ring attached to the saddle’s tree or skirt directly beneath the pommel. This is the most forward position for saddle riggings. To cinch up, you would wrap the latigo from the cinch to this dee-ring, with layers of the latigo lining up in one vertical line. Saddles with this rigging often have a flank cinch, or rear cinch, (a double rigging because the saddle is attached at the front and back) to keep the saddle from tipping forward when traveling downhill or to help distribute the pressure when the rider dallies the rope to stop a steer. This full double rigging is the preferred outfit for ranch riding and roping. The pressure of the saddle lands just under the pommel then the flank cinch keeps the saddle balanced. The Rocky Mountain Ranch saddle in my line of saddles is the only wood (Kevlar reinforced) tree in my line; a wood tree is necessary for roping and cow work or for riders that may be too large for a flexible tree. It has “J” rigging which allows for both full and 7/8ths rigging and it comes with a flank cinch.
7/8 rigging: This measurement title means that your cinch is 7/8 of the distance from the cantle to the pommel and it brings the pressure from the cinch slightly rear-ward on the horse’s back, compared to the full rigging. You can also use a rear cinch with the 7/8 rigging to help secure your saddle on hills. This configuration helps the saddle sit in a balanced point and can relieve pressure from the horse’s withers.
3/4 rigging: Similarly, this rigging means that the dee-rings are attached a little behind the 7/8 rigging, or three quarters the distance from cantle to pommel. This will protect the shoulders and withers even more and give more room between the horse’s elbow and the cinch. This rigging position on the Flex2 tree can be very useful on a horse which the saddle tends to “bridge” on the back (with pressure at the front and back of the tree, but not in the middle). Keep in mind: The farther back the rigging, the more pressure rests in the middle of the saddle instead of at the front, where the horse may be stronger. This 3/4 configuration moves your cinch back from your horse’s heartgirth—switching to this rigging can help your horse avoid girth sores during long rides.
Trail rigging: The Blue Ridge Gaited Trail saddle in my line has a dee-ring at the back of the saddle known as a “Y rigging,” which is angled down from the cantle to form a Y shape, in addition to the 3-way rigging. Instead of attaching two different cinches, these saddles are designed so that you can run the latigo through the front D and cinch, then the back D to help keep the back of your saddle anchored. This Y rigging will move the pressure back away from the withers, freeing up the shoulders and it works well on gaited horses and other short-coupled horses.
My Peak Performance saddles, made by Circle Y, juliegoodnight.com/saddles, have multiple rigging options, giving more flexibility for saddle fit and making the saddle useful on a variety of differently shaped horses and circumstances. In a saddle with 3-way rigging, there will be two dee rings at the front of the saddle and it can be rigged up three ways—in the full, 7/8 or 3/4 positions. Make absolutely certain when using a saddle with multiple rigging, that the rigging is the same on both sides. If you use the front dee, it will be full rigging and if you use the back dee, it is ¾ rigging. To achieve 7/8 rigging, you create a V with the latigo by running it through the front and back dee. To view a video which explains the rigging in a visual format, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OmgykJDIX1s&feature=channel_video_title .
People often ask me about the lack of fleece on the underside of the saddle; it is a unique feature and there are a few reasons I designed them this way. The purpose of the fleece under a saddle is to provide padding and to absorb sweat; but this is a layer that adds unnecessary thickness and it wears out before the saddle does. So by removing the fleece, it helps make the saddle even narrower and closer contact and it improves the longevity of the saddle. Since most riders use an absorbent pad (I prefer a ¾” wool felt pad); neither the padding nor the absorption are needed under the saddle. And one of the most important reasons I took out the fleece layer is because on the underside of my saddle, gel pads are sewn in between the bars of the tree and the horse’s back. The memory foam in the seat is for your luxury; and the gel pads are for the horse’s comfort. Without the fleece layer, the saddle is thinner underneath you, the horse gets the full benefit of the gel pads and the leather bottom of the saddle is much easier to clean and maintain.
I couldn’t be happier with my line of Circle Y saddles; I ride in them every day and my horse works so much better in the Flex2 tree. I’ll have a demo saddle available for everyone to look at and try out, at each clinic and expo that I do this year, so I hope you’ll be able to check one out in person. For more information on my Peak Performance saddle line, visit http://juliegoodnight.com/saddles or contact your local Circle Y dealer. Whichever saddle you choose, I know you’ll be happy with it!
Ask Julie Goodnight:
Is My Saddle Causing My Horse’s Issues?
Question: Dear Julie,
Six months ago I bought a seven-year-old Quarter Horse gelding and he has turned out to be an awesome trail riding horse and a promising versatility ranch horse prospect. He is dark brown and very cute but over the past couple months he has developed spots of white hairs just below his withers on both sides—but worse on the left. At first there were just a few white hairs, but now the dots are about an inch around and almost solid white on the left.
When I purchased Sonny, I had a vet exam done and he passed with flying colors. The vet said he had good conformation with a short strong back. It seems like this could be a saddle fit issue but I am not sure what to do now.
Thanks for your time, Polly
Answer: Dear Polly,
You’ve definitely got a saddle fit issue and most likely it is from “bridging,” which means there is pressure from the tree in the front of the bars and the back but not in the middle. This means there is an excessive amount of pressure at the front of the tree, at the point where you are seeing the white hairs.
These white hairs represent scarring and in time the scars may become permanent. These marks are often worse on the left because when you mount the saddle shifts and a lot of riders fail to balance the saddle after they mount, continuing the whole ride with un-even pressure from the tree on the horse’s back.
Given the relatively short amount of time the spots have been present on your horse, if you get your horse better fitted in a saddle, they’ll probably turn back to brown and you may see a reduction right away in the number of white hairs. For horses that are ridden in ill-fitted saddles for years, these marks become permanent scars, often mistaken by the novice horse-person for white markings.
Since your horse is appendix registered, it means he has some (or a lot) of Thoroughbred in him so he is probably fairly narrow and high withered, compared to a foundation-type QH, which may cause the saddle to sit down more in front. If the withers are set well back (which often comes with a short-backed, athletic horse), that would contribute to the bridging. Short-backed horses, both broad and narrow, can be really challenging when it comes to saddle fit. Other horses that may have bridging problems are older horses whose back has begun sagging and sway-backed horses of any age.
One of the easiest ways to check saddle fit is to look at the sweat marks from your saddle and pad right after a long hard ride, when your horse is fully sweated up (not just damp). If there are any dry spots under the bars of the saddle tree, which you will likely see right over the white spots, that is where there has been excessive pressure and the sweat glands have been shut down. This could be a sign of bridging or too narrow a tree or even too wide a tree that is pitching forward.
The job of the saddle tree is to distribute the weight of the rider evenly over as broad an area as possible, to protect the horse’s back. If the saddle is bridging, there could also be excessive pressure on the horse’s loins which would contribute to back soreness as well.
Actually, bridging is a big problem with my personal horse, Dually (a purebred QH but very athletically built with withers set far back), and one reason I switched to the Flex2 saddle tree made by Circle Y and worked with them to create a saddle line that has the horse and rider in mind. Because the bars of the tree flex slightly with the weight of the rider (the flex tree is only advisable for riders under 230#– and not for all western disciplines), it increases the contact in the middle of the tree and actually causes the front of the tree to flare out a little giving the horse a little more room at the shoulders. Unless you are roping, cutting or a heavier rider, the Flex2 tree may be a good option for your horse.
Another thing that has really helped my horse’s bridging problem is using a saddle with multiple rigging options. Several of the saddles in my custom designed line of saddles have rigging options (rigging refers to the D-ring that the latigos and billets are attached to). For a more thorough explanation of saddle rigging, check out this video. But the short story is that a “full-rigged” saddle has the D-ring for the cinch hanging directly below the pommel; a 7/8 rigged saddle has the D-ring a little farther back and the ¾ rigged further back yet. The farther back the rigging, the more the contact comes toward the middle of the bars of the tree. In a Flex2 tree, this really helps the bridging problem. Here are some videos helping to understand saddle rigging: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OmgykJDIX1s and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wEXKcjRzcBY
The saddle that fits my horse the best is the Monarch Arena Performance/Trail saddle http://www.shop.juliegoodnight.com/images/Monarcharenaperformance2.jpg I designed this saddle to give optimal performance in the arena, but be comfortable enough for both horse and rider out on the trail and my horse and I absolutely love it.
When I am doing a lot of cutting, roping or cow work, I switch to my ranch versatility saddle, the Rocky Mountain High Performance saddle http://www.shop.juliegoodnight.com/images/rockymountainsaddle1.jpg , which has a rigid high-tech tree. The other saddles in my line of 5 custom designed saddles by Circle Y are all Flex2 trees and are designed specifically for reining, trail or gaited horses. For a look at my full line of saddles, check out my website.
It is possible to pad out a saddle with a minor fit issue. In the case of bridging I’d use a special pad made for that—thin in front and back and more padded in the middle of the horse’s back (sometimes called a ‘bridge pad’ or a ‘shim pad’). But be very careful about trying to pad-out a mis-fitting saddle. In many instances, adding more padding could make the saddle fit issue worse (imagine wearing shoes that didn’t fit and were putting pressure on your foot – then adding an extra thick pair of socks). In the instance of too much pressure at the front of the tree, if you padded up the front of the saddle, it would likely put too much stress on the horse’s loins, which is also a big problem.
The best-case-scenario would be for you to have a professional saddle fitter take a look at your horse and saddle in action. I’ve been around horses my whole life and dealt with literally thousands of horses but I learn something new every time I work with a professional fitter. Unfortunately they are few and far between (and easier to find them qualified to fit English saddles than western). Many trainers and some vets are good with saddle fit too, so you may want to get a professional opinion—since diagnosing a saddle fit problem via the internet is not a sure bet! Here’s a clip of a show that we did on saddle fit, that might help, too. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V1qceJLjhOM
Good luck and enjoy the ride!
–Julie Goodnight Trainer and Clinician
If you liked this article, Julie suggests the following products to help you continue the work with your horse (http://shop.juliegoodnight.com or call 800-225-8827 for ordering help):
The Goodnight’s Principles of Riding 5-Part DVD Series