A properly fitting saddle is essential to making sure you and your horse have comfortable, pleasant rides. You can ride a senior horse whose back is sagging or who is already swaybacked as long as your veterinarian says the horse is healthy enough to withstand the exercise. Using corrective saddle pads helps ensure your swaybacked horse experiences the best possible saddle fit when you ride him.
The Swaybacked Horse
A swayback occurs when the muscles supporting the back and spine no longer hold the horse's back in a straight line. The back dips down, creating a swayed or sagging appearance. A saddle, which should sit smoothly and evenly on the horse's back while giving room for movement at the shoulder and without compressing the withers, is hard to fit to a swaybacked horse.
Corrective padding will not fix a truly bad-fitting saddle. However, if the saddle fits appropriately through the gullet but is off balance due to the swayback, you can creatively use saddle pads to bridge the gap between a saddle that comes very close to fitting in the way it is supposed to and one that fits perfectly.
Specially designed swayback pads are a normally a good solution for the previously easy-to-saddle-fit horse who now has a swayback. A standard swayback pad lifts the saddle up through the sagging area of the back without disturbing or unbalancing the rest of the saddle. A withers pad or bridging pad may be an option if your horse has a high withers and a swayed back. Experiment by arranging different pads underneath your saddle and continuously checking the fit as you work your horse on the lunge line or ride him. A second saddle pad, an English bump pad or varied layering and folding can help create a more comfortable fit for your horse. Make sure pressure and weight from the saddle and the pad are distributed as evenly as possible. It make take multiple tries before you figure out the best combination of padding to make your horse comfortable.
Hire a Saddlefitter
If your horse is extremely hard to fit, if you cannot seem to get a reasonable fit regardless of how many saddle pads you try, or if your saddle just flat out does not fit your horse, bring in a professional. A saddle fitter can help you find the best possible saddle for your horse. Some can direct you to professionals who can either modify the design of your original saddle or make you a completely new custom-made saddle for your swaybacked horse. Ultimately your horse's comfort is the most important element of saddle fit, so you need to be certain that he is wearing as comfortable a saddle as possible.
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Jen Davis has been writing since 2004. She has served as a newspaper reporter and her freelance articles have appeared in magazines such as "Horses Incorporated," "The Paisley Pony" and "Alabama Living." Davis earned her Bachelor of Arts in communication with a concentration in journalism from Berry College in Rome, Ga.