The term high withers means the bump formed where the shoulder blades meet between the neck and the back is taller than average. A horse with a high withers can be difficult to find a properly fitting saddle for, because the withers can rub against the saddle, causing the saddle to be uncomfortable and to interfere with the horse's movement.
Saddle Fitting Basics
When you go shopping for a new saddle to fit your high-withered horse, the primary thing you need to keep in mind is clearance. The pommel is the front of the saddle, and the gullet is the channel formed between the two bars that provide the internal structure of the saddle. A saddle that fits properly will evenly balance weight on the back without interfering with your horse's ability to move comfortably and easily. The gullet of the saddle should fit your horse without pinching. The pommel should not rub your horse's withers when he moves. A saddle that rubs or pinches the withers will cause your horse pain when you ride.
Features to Look for
Generally speaking, a horse who has a high withers has a slightly narrower back than a horse with a flat withers. Saddles with semi-quarter horse bars have a more angled and slightly narrower fit, making them more likely to fit a horse with a high withers properly. A saddle with a high pommel design will offer more room for movement at the shoulder and withers, and will be less likely to rub.
Saddles by Discipline
High-withered horses exist in virtually every riding discipline. English and western saddles are made to accommodate horses with high withers. If you are competing in a specific riding discipline, look for a saddle designed for that discipline and for the features that will enable the saddle to fit your high-withered horse. For example, roping saddles are designed to withstand heavy-duty cattle work. If you are going to compete in roping, you will need to ride in a roping saddle. If you ride a high-withered horse, find a roping saddle with a higher-than-average gullet to ensure that your horse will have plenty of room for his withers.
Cutback saddles are popular for gaited horse breeds but can be used on any horse with a high withers. The cutback design features a section of the pommel that has been cut back by an inch or more to allow extra room for the withers. All English saddles feature a moderate cutback, but cutback saddles feature a significant opening for the withers. These saddles are good choices for extremely hard-to-fit, high-withered horses.
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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.