While high withers can potentially enhance a horse’s performance, saddle fitting high-withered horses can be challenging. Why is saddle fitting high withered horses so challenging?
High withers give a horse extra length in his stride, making him potentially faster than his rivals. In events like barrel racing and roping, this can shave valuable seconds off your best time.
As saddle fitting high-withered horses is difficult, many riders end up using an ill-fitting saddle that may pinch on the shoulders or press on the withers, leading to discomfort and behavioral issues as well as slow speeds.
How To Fit a Saddle On a Horse With High Withers
Saddle fitting high withered horses is the same as fitting a saddle to any other horse – there should be 2-3 fingers clearance over the wither and visible daylight along the gusset.
A saddle that fits any more snugly than that may rub on your horse’s withers, pinch his shoulders, or cause him pain along the spine.
It is tempting to fit a narrower saddle onto high-withered horses as the unnaturally elevation at the points of the withers is narrow.
This often gives way to a wide, athletic back, however, so many horses with high withers benefit from a saddle with a thicker gusset which compensates for the hollows that occur behind the shoulders as a result of that elevation.
How To Adjust A Saddle To Fit A High Withered Horse
If the thought of saddle fitting a high withered horse causes you too much distress, don’t despair, a cut-back saddle pad could do the trick for you.
The Wool Blend Contour Pad from Tucker, for example, comes with either a cutback or a wither cut out. Both of these can “provide pressure relief in the sensitive wither area”.
They can also resolve many of the issues related to saddle fitting high withered horses, and particularly horses with both high withers and narrow builds.
Big Horn also have a couple of cut out options available that will reduce pressure on the withers and give your horse a little more room to move.
The Big Horn Tuffy High Withers Pad is the more affordable option, but the Big Horn Tuffy Cut Back and Built Up Pad includes a built-up section in the front that raises the saddle, allowing for even more clearance.
Some experts even recommend saddle fitting high withered horses “with a too-wide saddle and using shims to lift the front,” saying the extra padding up front helps to balance the rider, “while the extra width in the tree gives the horse great comfort and freedom of movement.”
What To Look For When Saddle Fitting High Withered Horses
The difficulties involved in saddle fitting high withered horses are often exacerbated by the fact that many such horses also have narrow backs.
Both these conformational features can be accommodated by a saddle with a higher-than-average gullet which offers more room for manuever, particularly in the shoulder and wither areas.
This is particularly important if you’re looking for a roping saddle which needs to withstand a lot of pressure on the horn.
If you’re after a more general purpose saddle, barrel racers and gaited saddles are a good place to start. These tend to offer more clearance at the withers but may not fit high-withered horses that taper off gradually as well as those with “shark withers that drop off sharply.”
While V-shaped trees are better for horses that are both angular and have high withers – like a Thoroughbred – hoop-shaped trees can be better for those with high withers and broad backs.
Treeless saddles can reduce some of the headaches associated with saddle fitting high withered horses as they often fit horses that other saddles won’t.
They can still cause pressure points, however, so you need to be careful about how you attach it. Some treeless saddles are also less secure than traditional ones, so may cause problems on rough terrain or when barrel racing.
The Best Saddles for High-Withered Horses
Saddle Fitting High Withered Horses #1
This lightweight saddle is ideal for horses with high withers. Designed for gaited horses in particular, this stylish saddle has a higher gullet and adjusted bar angle to provide extra movement in the neck and shoulder. The design also gives high-withered horses the space they need to perform to the best of their abilities.
Built on a wooden tree that’s reinforced with fibre-glass, this saddle is as durable as it comfortable. It’s also affordable and versatile.
Saddle Fitting High Withered Horses #2
The Billy Cook barrel saddle 1524 has a higher gullet and horn than most saddles, making it suitable when saddle fitting high-withered horses. A versatile saddle, it can be used “on a daily basis for training and trail riding” or “at rodeos for barrel racing and pole bending.”
This unique saddle won’t just fit your high-withered horse, it will make him look like a winner with its silver-laced cantle and quilted seat. The fleece lining makes it comfortable on your horse’s back and reduces the risk of rubs and chafing.
Saddle Fitting High Withered Horses #3
This barrel saddle from Circle Y features Tammy Fischer’s treeless design which combines security for the rider with freedom of movement for the horse. The tall cantle will enable you to sit deep in the saddle while the treeless design means you can feel your horse and move with him.
The neoprene skirts are designed to distribute weight more evenly across the horse’s back, alleviating the pressure points and rubs that are often associated with saddle fitting high-withered horses.
Finished with crystal mosaic conchos and peace heart inlays, this saddle will turn heads even when your performance doesn’t.
A high-withered horse has the potential to out-perform more conventionally shaped horses, with the added wither height giving him extra reach in his stride.
Saddle fitting a high withered horse, however, is not without its complications.
Look out for gaited saddles and even treeless ones that give you a little more around the neck and shoulder area, or used cut-out saddle pads to improve a wider saddle’s fit.
A uncomfortable horse isn’t only going to deliver a sub-standard performance – he could develop more serious physical and behavioral issues as a result – which is why you must be careful saddle fitting high withered horses, especially if you want to compete.
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