Does My Australian Saddle Fit Properly?
Fitment for the horse and rider is our number one priority. If you have received your new Australian saddle and are not sure if it fits or if you not sure if you are tacking up your horse properly, you've come to the right place. If you still have questions after you have read through this page, simply give us a call and one of our Colorado USA based saddle fitters will help you determine if your saddle is fitting properly or if it might need corrective measures such as a different saddle pad, an adjustment to the saddle itself, or perhaps an exchange for a different model of saddle altogether.
We like to talk about saddles. We like to talk about horses! Our knowledgeable saddle fitters are what set us apart from the high volume equine retailers. Please don't hesitate to call us!
Also, here we should also say that there are many people who are experts in fitting English or Western saddles who do not have much experience with Australian saddles. If you are talking to a friend or a trainer or other expert who is telling you that the saddle is not fitting correctly, please call us to be sure. Your saddle might be fitting just fine, even though someone who is used to Australian or English styles thinks it looks wrong. Australian saddles sit further forward than Western saddles, and their fitment criteria and riding position are different.
Step 1: Make Sure Your Saddle is Positioned Properly
Australian saddles sit more forward on the horses back than traditional Western saddles. The stirrups are also attached in a more forward position. This puts the rider's center of gravity and weight in a more forward position rather than the middle of the spine. The girth should be 1" to 3" behind the horse's front legs. You will find that this position is far more comfortable for most horses and greatly enhances horse performance. Many of our saddles have padding that will conform to the horse's shape further increasing comfort. If you have this type of saddle, we recommend taking a number of shorter rides with your new saddle to allow it to settle in before setting out on a longer ride.
Step 2: Make Sure Your Saddle's Seat is Level
Australian saddles sit differently on a horse than Western or English saddles, and a different fitment approach is required. Do not hesitate to contact us directly with any questions you have. Our saddle fitters have gone through extensive training and have fit thousands of Australian saddles. We recommend that you do not rely on trainers, tack shops, or friends that may mean well but may not have extensive experience with Australian style saddles and how they should fit your horse.
When properly sized and positioned, the seat of the saddle will feel level to the ground. If the saddle is too narrow, the seat will slope upwards causing the rider to lean too far back. If the saddle is too wide, the front will drop too far and the rider will lean too far forward.
In addition to the levelness of the saddle's seat, we also look at the clearance of the saddle's gullet over the horses withers. The minimum clearance here is "some" clearance. We don't want the saddle to rub on the horse's withers in the front. Some manufacturers recommend three or four "fingers" of clearance, but in our experience as long as there is no direct contact there will be no issues, even if the clearance is two "fingers" or only one "finger."
Step 3: Go For a Test Ride
Once your saddle is in the proper position and girthed up with a level seat, it's time to go for a test ride. If you are accustomed to riding in a Western style saddle, you may take a little bit of time to get used to riding Australian style. But, like most people, you will likely find that the more forward riding position and closer contact feel will help you communicate your intentions to your horse more effectively. You'll also find that the webbed seat gives you a more comfortable ride, and that the poleys, or knee pads, give you more stability and security when your horse does something unexpected.
To ride in the proper position for an Australian saddle, adjust the stirrup leather length so that when your sitting in the saddle your thigh is parallel with the poley (or knee pad). Your feet should be forward with your heels down. Ideally, you should place 25% of your weight on each stirrup and 50% on the seat of the saddle, which will ensure an even weight distribution on the horse's back.
Once you have your stirrup leathers adjusted properly and you are in the proper riding position, you can assess your own fitment with the saddle. The primary concern with sizing an Australian saddle to the rider is the amount of clearance between the rider's thighs and the poleys. The amount of clearance is largely a matter of personal preference. In Australia, many riders prefer their thighs to be snug up against the poleys as it gives them the greatest feeling of security as they can immediately brace themselves when the horse does something unexpected. In the USA, most riders who are transitioning from a Western style of riding like to have some clearance, perhaps enough to slide their hand between their thigh and the poley. This gives a sense of freedom and comfort while at the same time keeping the poley close enough to be quickly engaged when needed. Riders who come from an English style background often want a little more clearance so they can "post" more freely. Generally speaking, posting in an Australian saddle works great, but is best when it's done "smaller" and "more quietly" than what a rider might have been initially trained to do in English riding lessons.
After your test ride, take a look for any obvious signs of poor fitment on the horse's back. Depending on the type of Australian saddle you purchased, the saddle may take some time to conform to your horse's back and distribute the weight in a perfectly even way. If your horse has sores from a previous poorly fitting saddle, has unusual bumps or hollows or other surface features, feel free to give us a call to discuss your options.
This video from Down Under Saddlery may be helpful in evaluating the fitment of one of their Down Under Collection or Kimberley Series saddles:
Step 4: Fall in Love or Give Us a Call! (Or Both!)
At this point, you should have a pretty good idea of whether or not the saddle is a good fit for you and your horse. If you have any questions or concerns please call us as soon as you can. Our saddle fitters will almost certainly ask you for pictures so they can see what is going on with your fitment. If you did not send fitment photos and a wither tracing when you originally bought the saddle, you should do that now. Also, you should send photos of taken from the same angles shown on the fitment photos page only with the saddle (without a pad) positioned on the back of the horse.