by Olivia Kile April 08, 2020 4 min read
Have you ever ridden a few times around the ring and started sliding to the side and going down like the Titanic?
Were you ever in the middle of your hunter-jumper course and mid-flight started rotating around your horse like you’ve suddenly decided to be a trick rider? Yeah, you’re right, that’s not supposed to happen, but if it does, read on for some tips to think about.
The English saddle or any saddle for that matter has one basic function: provide the rider with a tool to communicate effective cues at the seat to the horse’s back. The saddle must be balanced and properly fitted to the horse’s back in order to properly and effectively do its job. We will discuss the most common reasons for why your saddle slips from side to side and how you can avoid it.
If your saddle is sliding, the first thing to check is the fit of the saddle. The saddle must fit the horse’s back in several places, most importantly gullet width, channel width and length.
Check out our saddle fit blog for a more in-depth explanation.
Saddles that fit the horse improperly at the gullet commonly slide back or too far forward. Saddles that are too narrow or have too much padding built up in the front are prone to sliding back, resulting in an improper placement on the back.
Saddles that are much too wide without proper corrective padding may slide forward and onto the withers. This happens a lot with horses and ponies that have mutton withers. Saddles that slide too far forward also run the risk of blocking the shoulder blade from having complete rotational movement. This blockage can also cause wear of the outer cartilage of the shoulder blade.
Your horse may also have changed their muscling over time since the saddle was fitted last. If this is true, your saddle doesn't fit anymore and must be corrected in correlation to your horse’s changing body tone. Horses often can get very “one-sided”, this is often an issue with OTTB’s and horses that have riders that do not switch direction often and school the same exact movements in one direction of the arena continuously.
Carefully look at your horse directly from behind, while letting your horse know you are there first, evaluate the muscle difference on both sides of the back. There is often one side that is built up more than the other, pushing the saddle off of the built up side and onto the less-muscled side.
You can also watch this video - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2qySGgyHuiI for better understanding to fit a saddle.
Another reason your saddle may be sliding from side to side is your own balance as a rider. If you know the saddle fits correctly, ask your trainer or a knowledgeable friend to watch you ride directly in front of and directly behind. This will make it easy to tell which stirrup you are carrying most of your weight in. Top-heavy riders can have this issue too; lowering your center of balance with some centered riding courses will help to achieve this and improve your position too! Without a balanced rider, the saddle cannot be balanced and the horse cannot be balanced.
Hopefully this is an obvious thing to check, but it happens to everyone from time to time: don’t forget to check your girth before you get on! Oftentimes, we riders tighten the girth just enough when tacking up so that the saddle just stays on the horse while we walk from the cross ties to the ring. A girth that isn’t dangling on the ground can be easily forgotten- outta sight, outta mind! This can absolutely cause your saddle to slide from side to side, even with a balanced rider aboard. Always check your girth tightness before getting on.
When grooming your horse for a show, you want your horse to look as polished, healthy and clean as possible. We use an endless amount of time brushing, washing with color enhancing shampoos, slathering on the hoof polish and dousing horses in coat sprays to achieve perfection. Hair coat products, although they make your horse’s hair bright and shiny, can often make the hair slick. This doesn't much matter for anywhere except the back. Try to avoid spraying too much of that magic stuff on the saddle patch as it can be like saddling up a greased pig! Luckily, not all coat products are the same; Carr & Day & Martin coat sprays, like Dreamcoat, don’t leave the hair slippery or greasy.
Next time you find your saddle slipping, evaluate the situation and find the problem. Some are easy fixes that require you to switch grooming products, some may take a little more time like re-fitting a saddle. Making your horse as comfortable as possible during your ride will make your horse and you happy!
Olivia has a passion for all things equestrian and equine health and still enjoys riding. Olivia earned a bachelor's degree in Equine Science from Delaware Valley University and currently works as a sales and marketing assistant at Breeches.com
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