Total Saddle Fit Girths

March 14, 2022 38 view(s)

It is no secret (at least to us saddle fitters) that saddles ride up and interfere with a horse’s shoulders way too often.  This can be caused by a handful of reasons, but some of the most common reason are:

  • Poor Saddle Fit – Any saddle that is out of balance, the wrong shape for the horse’s back, or has improper billet placement can cause a saddle to ride up onto the shoulders.  Usually the saddle’s instability lets it shift around and over a few minutes finds it’s way into a horse’s range of shoulder motion.
  • Forward Girth Groove – A horse whose narrowest part of his barrel is set forward past the scapula will cause a regular girth to sit too far forward relative to the saddle, and will actually pull a saddle forward.  This is because the saddle initially girths up with billets angling forward, and over a few minutes of riding the natural nature of the saddle is to creep forward to line up with the girth.  This inevitably pulls the saddle into the shoulders.
  • Big Shoulders – Blame it on the blood line (or thank it for the big movements), but some horses have big shoulders that come back quite a ways into the saddle. Even if a horse doesn’t have a forward girth groove or bad saddle fit, they can still be impinged due to their conformation and where the saddle naturally wants to sit with a regular girth.

When you walk next to your horse you will see his shoulder moving as he reaches his leg forward.  His scapula actually rotates backward as the front leg moves forward.  This is because of the point of connection where the soft tissue attaches to the scapula. So this means that even if a saddle is clearing the shoulders in the cross ties, it actually needs an additional 1-2 inches of clearance to account for the movement.

Total saddle fit shoulder reliefTotal saddle fit shoulder relief

The Shoulder Relief Girth actually changes the position and angle of the billets to prevent the saddle from interfering with the shoulder.  The center of the girth is set forward to sit in the horse’s natural girth groove.  While the sides of the girth are cut back to meet the billets 2 inches behind where the horse’s natural girth groove lies. This brings the billets from angling forward, to becoming perpendicular to the ground (in the case of a forward girth groove horse, which reduces the saddle’s tendency to be pulled forward into the shoulders.  With horses that have shoulder interference without angled billets, it simply moves the billets back to keep the saddle farther away from the shoulders.

The secondary benefit to this shape, is that it is cutback at the elbows.  This gives more room for elbow movement as well, and prevents galls in the elbow area

total saddle fit girth how it workstotal saddle fit girth how it works

Additional Considerations

  1. What is the ideal girth length? For dressage/monoflap jump girths we recommend the girth be 4-6 inches from the bottom of the saddle flap.  This will keep the buckles above the elbow, allow for greater pressure distribution, and prevent the edge of the girth from resting on the horse’s pectoral muscles.
  2. Does every horse need the Shoulder Relief Girth? No, some horses are lucky enough to have the conformation perfectly shaped for saddle fit.  However, many horses do need it, and sadly there are way more horses that feel the pain of interference from the saddle than you might imagine.  And as horses are more frequently bred to be big movers, the need for shoulder freedom becomes more and more of a real issue.
  3. What if I have a perfectly fit custom saddle?  First off, congratulations! Second, if your horse exhibits any of the above conformation characteristics then you (and they) could benefit from the Shoulder Relief Girth in a big way.  No matter how well a saddle fits, if it is being pulled into the shoulders by “external forces” then it could cause an issue that would benefit from the proper girth.
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