How to Properly Fit a Saddle (Feat. Maxtra)

horse tack co.

By Shannon Fox

According to dressage rider, Julia Field, there are only 3 steps you need to know when fitting a saddle. If this is true then that is simply amazing! Here at Horse Tack Co. we decided to put her method to the test using our trusty thoroughbred, Maximiliano, and Maxtra saddle pads, here are our results.

First she told us to take a look at our model horse and ask this question: Are his shoulders even?

In this example, the nearside shoulder (A) is different and looks “fuller” when compared to (B) the offside shoulder.

80% of horses have one shoulder that is larger or more developed than the other. Take a photo if you can so you can get a second opinion.

If you find that your horse has one shoulder that is larger than the other, this means your horse is more dominant with that leg, perhaps grazing with it forward more often than not, or preferring to go with that leg on the inside of the circle.

Standing on a bucket you can also see how straight your horse’s spine is (C).  Is it straight, does it have a curve, are there any lumps or bumps?  To ensure you get an accurate picture make sure your horse is standing square.

I loved these suggestions she offers. Thankfully Max’s shoulders were even. I did stand on a feed bucket to double check though.

But if his shoulders weren’t even, I’d want to use a really good saddle pad to ensure he’s comfortable and the saddle stays put.  The Maxtra line of saddle pads are the most versatile saddle pads on the market and would be a great choice for a horse with uneven shoulders!

Available for all disciplines, Maxtra are contoured around the withers to ensure the horse is comfortable no matter how they’re built or what their job is. And for horses with really uneven shoulders, Maxtra offers shimmable half pads so you can create a truly customized fit! 

Even horses with symmetrical shoulders like Max can benefit from being ridden in a Maxtra pad.  The Maxtra line uses high impact foam to create maximum pressure absorption and dispersion under and around the saddle. Since every horse’s spine has its own unique lumps and bumps, that layer of foam ensures that they’ll be comfortable during every ride.

To continue with our saddle fitting, Julia told us to find the back of the horse’s shoulder.

The blue arrows in this photo show where your horse’s shoulder blade, or scapula, is located.

The arrow closest to the horse’s neck shows the front part of the shoulder.

The arrow on the horse’s mid section is pointing to the back of the shoulder.

If you run your hand over your horse’s shoulder from front to back you should reach a point where your hand “falls off” the back of the shoulder.

The front of your saddle panel should sit right at the edge of this “fall-off point”, just behind the shoulder blade. It should not sit up on the shoulder itself.

I found this to be a bit tricky to find though the picture she provided was helpful. I looked at it while running my hand over Max’s shoulder.

Some horses don’t have much of a natural fall-off point. Or the saddle tends to slip forward when they’re ridden, especially if they like to travel more downhill. The Maxtra front lift half pad is a great option for these horses and will ensure the saddle stays back where it belongs.


Lastly, Julia told us to find the horse’s last or 18th rib as the final step in the saddle fitting process.

The blue arrow shows the location of the last rib on this horse.

To find this you can use two methods:

  1. Look for where the horse’s coat on their flank comes together in a “watershed line”
  2. Feel for the last rib and follow this straight up to your horse’s spine

Your saddle panels should not sit on your horse’s back beyond this point. If your saddle panel goes past the 18th rib then it could potentially do damage to your horse’s back.

But don’t be tempted to move your saddle onto the shoulder to make it look like it fits – as we learned in step two, the saddle needs to sit behind the shoulder!

If your horse has a shorter back and you have a larger seat, your saddle might get pretty close to that 18thrib. Again, this is why choosing the right saddle pad is so important! On all the Maxtra pads, the layer of foam goes all the way from front to back to ensure your horse’s back is always protected from the saddle. 

Just make sure you don’t choose a saddle pad that is too small. Be sure that the back of your saddle is sitting squarely on the pad and not resting on the edge or going over onto the back. Several of the Maxtra pads come in multiple sizes so you can choose the right one for your horse.

On Max, the 18thrib was easy to find, as it should be on most horses. I used the second method she suggested. 

Once my saddle was securely in place I enjoyed a nice trail ride, I have to say, I did feel safe and secure in the saddle! And I was even happier to know that Max was just as comfortable as I was! Check out Horse Tack Co. for all of your riding needs and be sure to use the promo code “LoveTheRide” to take 15% off your order, all the time and any time.

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