Thursday, 9 December 2010

The Wide Horse Problem

I managed to book the indoor school down the lane from me after I finished work for half an hour to work on my equitation and practise my dressage test for Sunday. My nerves were frazzled after work today as the kids at school were nuts with running around, screaming, throwing Lego that the sound of Hattie's hoof beats on the arena surface calmed me.

We even managed a canter on both reins! I'm slowly getting back to where I was before my accident and think I'm sitting more square now as if I wasn't, Hattie WOULD NOT even think of cantering! We are taking baby steps in the right direction...

I tell you what though, the more I ride in my Manorgrove side saddle, the more I like it! My right leg stays put and because it has a flat seat, I can feel even more when Hattie is on the wrong canter lead (feels horrible!). I thought I preferred the slightly dished seat of my old C&W but I think I'm swaying to the flat seat "dark side"!

Fellow side saddle enthusiast and blogger, Kippen64, asked me to do a blog post on the "joys" of fitting the very wide horse! These are my thoughts and scant experiences on the subject but if other readers have any thoughts and suggestions, please pipe in!

I don't have very much experience with fitting very wide horses as I tend to gravitate to narrower breeds like fine Arabs or Thoroughbreds (I always seem to end up with a TB!) but Hattie is one of the rarer chunky Thoroughbreds who, ever since I got her, has been a nightmare to find a saddle to fit her!

The one REALLY wide horse I did have briefly on loan, was a "lightweight" Irish show cob named Juicy Lucy (Lucy for short!). Lucy's owner (my friend Gill), had to have an astride saddle custom made for her as she was so wide (about an XXXW!) and when I used to ride her, my legs felt like they were being torn from their sockets! She also didn't have much in the way of withers and was quite round so the saddle often used to shift to the sides due to the lack of withers to hold it in place.

While it's not too bad with an astride saddle if a saddle shifts to the side on a round horse (you can just shift it back by weighing in the stirrup on the opposite side), you don't really want that in a side saddle as the rider's legs are on one side! This is why a side saddle needs to be a perfect fitting as possible (this goes for any size of horse!) and why when fitting a very wide horse, you need to check that the gullet size and shape is appropriate.

Most antique saddles were made for Thoroughbred types as that is what people rode who could afford side saddles. You didn't really ride a big cob or draft type horse unless you lived on a farm, etc. Yes, some ladies did have large hunters and you do sometimes find very wide side saddles but finding one is like finding a needle in a haystack. I did find a VERY large fitting Champion & Wilton (both for horse AND rider) at the Nationals this summer so they are around but you have to look.

Most of the gullets tend to be shaped like this on antique saddles. This is a medium gullet on my old Champion & Wilton side saddle. While the points of the tree were flared wide enough for Hattie, the actual gullet was 1/2" too small. My old saddle would have been made for a slightly narrower Thoroughbred than Hattie.

When fitting a very wide horse, especially one with no withers, you need a wide spread gullet such as the one on this Elan side saddle which are sold by Hundred Oaks...

If you compare both gullets, aside from the obvious width difference, you can see the actual shape of the front of the saddle is different to accommodate the two different shapes of horses. The old C&W has a pommel front that kind of flares in and upwards to fit a decent withered horse while the Elan has no flare whatsoever, it's just spread out to wrap around a wide, round horse.

The problem is when you have a wide horse WITH withers, sort of like what Hattie is like. A wide fitting, fit her in the shoulders but sat too low on her withers while a medium tree fit at the top of her withers but pinched everywhere else! This is why we went with a heavily flocked up medium/wide tree for my Manorgorve.

The large Champion & Wilton saddle that I mentioned seeing at the National show, was made for very wide horse with decent withers to hold it in place. The tree points looked like the Elan but had the upwards flared pommel and gullet shape resembling my old C&W.

If you find a saddle that you think may work but just need it to be a fractionally wider, then as long as the tree size and tree shape suits your horse, you can always put it on a Wykham pad to squeeze out some extra width.

My old side saddle was originally flocked up as a narrow fit but with a Wykham pad on, it became a "generous" medium fit which work well for Hattie until she put on more muscle from all the work we started doing. I was surpised with how much width the pad gave my saddle though and you can see how well it fit her before she put on extra muscle.

I mentioned earlier about saddles rolling around on round horses so if your saddle is a good fit but still tends to roll around or slide forward due to lack of a front to hold it back, then a point strap put on the off-side (or on the near side if you are riding in an off-side side saddle), can also help to anchor a saddle. Hattie's saddles slide forward for a number of reasons but a point strap helps it to stay put. Thorowgood also puts point straps on their specially designed Cob saddles for round no withered horses.

This is a point strap I had added to my old saddle which did help as well as using a anti-slip pad underneath the saddle as well.

If anyone has any tips, ideas or experience with fitting a side saddle for the wider horse, then please feel free to add them!


  1. Thank you so much for writing this!!!! I have recalled that there used to be side-saddles for cobs but they wouldn't have been frequent. I read in a reprint from a 1850s book (which I have sadly since lost) that a lady should only ride a cob if she were a stout lady riding early in the morning for strictly constitutional reasons. In short, whatever you do, do not ride a cob side-saddle on Rotten Row. So side-saddles for these horses must have been made. In another part of the book it mentioned that cob types for okay for little girls as they ride side-saddle and so therefore the width of the horse is not a problem, but little boys must never be put on a pony like that and must have a narrower pony more suited to their needs. Queen Victoria in her older years, rode a Highland Pony side-saddle. I hope all of that makes sense.

  2. My mare is a cob type and very chunky. Finding sidesaddles at all in New Zealand is incredibly hard and finding an XW impossible! I ended getting one custom made in Australia by Wendy Tidbold
    Wendy made mine from wither tracings and it has been fantastic. The only problem is now the flocking has bedded down, and with no local saddlers willing to touch a sidesaddle, I am having to learn how to add flocking myself :)
    I have just had a tweed sidesaddle habit made and I am planning to do some cob classes aside, so it is fasinating to hear that I need to be a "stout lady" to ride my cob aside. Might have extra pudding at Xmas time... LOL

  3. To find a saddle for a mutton withered horse try shopping in the US. I believe there are more wide tree old name saddles over here, especially M&Ms. I've always needed wider treed saddles to fit my morgans and have found a decent selection.
    Also try the Steele saddles, which are made for chunkier mounts. They are not traditional saddles and you can't jump in them but they are comfortable and they stay in place well.
    Finally, be honest with yourself about your riding...putting too much weight in the stirrup or slumping on the left seat bone can pull even the best fitting saddle on a good withered horse over to the left.

  4. Don't worry ladies, the Victorian idea of "stout" was ALOT larger than what we think of being over weight today! LOL!

    My aunt has an old "family encyclopedia" type book from the 1890's which has an ideal height/weight chart for women along with different frame sizes in it. For my height (5'9") and for a "medium frame", it gave the ideal weight as being 165lbs to 175lbs whereas today, that is considered "overweight" for my height. All the ideal weights were quite a bit heavier than what the charts of today say we "should" be ;-)