Saddle Fit

By Elaine Lindelef

Copyright 1994 IMHJC, reprinted with permission

Properly fitting an english saddle to a model horse can be almost as frustrating as trying to fit a real horse (though the issues and the consequences of a poor fit are totally different)! With real horses, you have to worry about the width of the tree and the shape of the padding, where with models, typically the problem is just in getting the scale (and sometimes the shape) right.

Most people make the error of using a saddle that is too large for their model. Take a look at the photo; they didn't call these saddles "postage stamps" for nothing! The saddle is basically only there to support the rider's leg, and there isn't much leather not covered by the rider. The saddle shown is a close-contact style jumping saddle (16 1/2" Crosby Prix des Nations), but the concept holds for other types of jumping and all-purpose saddles as well as dressage saddles. The difference is less in the amount of leather present and more in the angle and length of the saddle flaps. There's a lot less leather than most model saddles seem to have!

This is me riding my old horse Me Too (when I was 17!). I've drawn lines showing the relation of the end of saddle with the horse. For reference, this horse is 16.1 hands, I'm 5'6," and the saddle is a 16 1/2" Crosby Prix des Nations (with extra long flap!). Note that the saddle's cantle ends at about 2/3 of his barrel, and that the flap ends above the point where his throat meets his chest.

Most model horse english saddles are too big. Properly sized saddles actually end up looking tiny! Take a look at the photo featured in this issue's Judge's Corner. It's not wildly out of scale to the eye, yet the saddle covers far more area than my saddle did on Me Too. The back of the cantle is nearly to the horse's hip, putting a large portion of the rider's weight over the loins.

One of the difficulties I had when making tack was understanding how the stirrups could end up so far below the bottom of the saddle flap, especially since I realized about where the rider's knee would be, and that the lengths of the thigh and calf are approximately equal. The secret is that the rider's hip joint is actually quite far above the saddle's seat. If you look at the photo of me on Me Too, you'll see how far my hip is above the saddle and how long my stirrup is compared to the end of the saddle flap.

I've drawn some guidelines on the photograph. Note that the bottom of the saddle flap comes about to where the bottom of the horse's neck comes out of the chest. This is about right for a jumping saddle, give or take a few (scale) inches. A dressage saddle will be longer by a few inches, but not a whole lot more. If you look at the back of the saddle, you'll notice that it's nowhere near the horse's hip and that the loins are uncovered. This is how any jumping or dressage saddle should sit.

With real horses, the saddle is fit to the rider first, with the tree selected to match the horse's back. If a relatively large rider is riding a small horse or pony, the saddle will be on the large side. This happens when an older child is riding a small or medium pony, or sometimes when an adult is riding a larger pony. Conversely, a very small rider on a large horse (a young child on a horse, or a small adult on a big warmblood) may create the look of an especially small saddle. And within saddle types, flaps can be a few inches shorter or longer, which accomodates riders with longer or shorter legs.

On the left is a picture of a large pony in a leadline class. Note that the rider, and therefore the saddle, is small for the horse. On the right is a 13 hand Connemara pony ridden by an adult. Note how big the saddle is (it fits like many model saddles), and how big the rider has to be to fill it!

The stirrup length is also adjusted to fit the rider. If you're using a doll, the stirrup leathers should look taut when the feet are in the stirrups. Otherwise, you should choose a stirrup length that works with the saddle and the depth of the horse's body. A good match is a stirrup length that is about 4 inches above the bellyline, but if the saddle is small (signifying a small rider) the stirrups should be shorter.

Fortunately, hardly any models have a problem with an improperly fitting "tree," though there are a few exceptions. Some that can be troublesome are the models with little or nothing in the way of withers; two in this category are the Classic Arabian Stallion and the Proud Arabian Mare. A saddle not especialy made for these models will often "perch" on the back oddly, elevating the front of the saddle unnaturally. If you regularly show a model like this, you may want to have a saddle made just for it.

Once you've found a properly fitting saddle, it's important to put it on correctly. Generally, when the saddle is in the right place, the pommel and cantle will be approximately level. The front of the tree should be behindthe horse's shoulder (though the flaps may be on the shoulder), which should put the girth about 4 inches behind a standing (and anatomically correct) horse's elbow, which also happens to be where the horse's circumfrence is smallest. (Since the elbows move when the horse does, you have to extrapolate to a moving model.) Don't forget to check from the top to make sure it's centered!

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