A saddle is only as good as its foundation, which is the tree, the wooden or fiberglass interior frame that determinesits fit for both rider and horse. A broken or twisted saddle tree is murder on your horse's back, and no matter how perfect the rest of the construction may be, the saddle is a danger if its foundation is compromised. Use the following three-step test to see if your saddle is sound at this most basic level:
- Support the front of the saddle against one thigh, press one hand on the seat, and, with the other hand, grasp the cantle and pull it towards you. An intact tree does not give to the pressure; a broken tree does. Clicking noises are another possible sign of a breakdown.
- Reverse the saddle so the cantle rests on your thigh, grasp the front edges just under the pommel or horn, and pull outward and upward. Again, movement or noises could signal a compromised tree.
- Turn the saddle over to expose the gullet. Visualize a line running down the gullet, connecting the center of the pommel or horn with the center of the cantle. If the centerline of the saddle deviates from the straight line, the tree is twisted or broken.If your saddle has failed these tests, stop using it immediately (and, no, additional saddle pads will not make up for its deficiencies), and get a professional opinion about its condition from a saddle-fitting specialist or saddler. A broken tree is not repairable, so be prepared to shop for a new saddle.
This article first appeared in EQUUS magazine.