Horse as Teacher
Horse as Teacher
Horse As Teacher

Horse As Teacher, The Path to Relationship is now available for purchase. Click here for details!

Our Services
Join Us
We Recommend

Our Site for Personal & Professional Growth
Empowering women from the inside out. Experience horses helping humans heal!

Click here to visit Unbridling Your Brilliance...

Poor Saddle Fit May Contribute to Lameness

Story by Julie Drown

Poor saddle fit can contribute to your horse’s lameness. My 6-year-old trail riding horse, Alegro, seemed slow, and I couldn’t coerce him to go any faster on trail rides. Later he could barely move a muscle. Improper saddle fit can cause slight and gradual problems, and eventually lameness in your horse.

Intrigued, I went online and found a couple of sites that explained how to measure a horse for a custom saddle fit. Following their instructions, I conformed a wire hanger to the shape of my horse’s back, then traced the pattern onto a poster board. I also noticed the saddle bore down on his withers rather than straddling them. I knew then that poor saddle fit was causing Alegro’s lameness.

Jule Drown discovered poor saddle fit was contributing to her horse's lameness. After some research, she found two good-fitting saddles. Shown is the custom-made trail/endurance saddle from Desoto Custom Saddlery

A Custom Fit
Why didn’t the saddle fit anymore? It seems Alegro had lost weight. He loves to eat, so with the help of my veterinarian, I’d slowly changed Alegro’s diet from alfalfa, Bermuda grass hay, and grain to Bermuda hay alone. I’d done this over the course of many months. The diet resulted in a more svelte horse, but I hadn’t realized the impact it’d have on saddle fit

Armed with my new knowledge, I plotted the contours of each of my horses’ backs on poster board. My spirited little mare, Natalie, has low withers, and I’d been giving her additional Bermuda hay to gain more weight. Alegro’s trail saddle fit fine on her, as well as her Paso Fino training saddle. But Porcelana, my new broodmare, has high withers and a narrow back after several pregnancies and years of little exercise. She and Alegro were both going to need new saddles.

I didn’t want to spend an arm and a leg buying new saddles, but it was important to me that they fit properly and meet my frequent trail- and arena-riding needs. I knew it’d be a challenge to find saddles to fit my relatively small, narrow Paso Finos, who aren’t built like stock horses. After perusing ads and saddlemakers’ Web sites, I purchased two lightweight trail saddles I can use interchangeably on Alegro and Porcelana.

One is a handsome leather-and-Cordura-nylon Western saddle made by Timber Ridge Saddlery ( Betty Hamilton’s prompt service and friendliness at Timber Ridge were a delight. She sent me two different saddle trees to try on my horses. I took photos for her to determine the best one to use. For less than $500, a month later, I had a saddle made to order.

The other one is a leather trail/endurance saddle made by master saddlemaker Marilyn Horstmyer of Desoto Custom Saddlery (231/775-5612; To ensure a good fit, Ms. Horstmyer sent a plaster mold enclosed in cloth like a saddle pad. I dipped it in water, set it on Porcelana’s back, and let it dry for 10 minutes. Then I stored it overnight and shipped it back to Desoto.

For a base price of approximately $1,275 and a five-month wait (there were customers ahead of me), I now own a beautiful leather saddle. It fits me just right, too, as Ms. Horstmyer asked me for my own measurements, such as weight, height and inseam length. I’m also thrilled with Desoto’s thick, washable, contoured saddle pad.

Holistic Bodywork
But it took more than a new saddle to “cure” Alegro’s limping. He still didn’t walk properly. A friend referred me to Jenene Bowman, a longtime massage therapist who also helps horses with holistic bodywork. I was skeptical but thought it was worth a try.

Fitting me into her busy schedule, Ms. Bowman came out in the dark early one morning. She took a quick look at Alegro and showed me that his shoulder blades were out of alignment from the saddle pressing down on his withers; one was farther forward than the other. Ms. Bowman warmed up his shoulder muscles with a laser light (referred to as photonic energy), stretched out his front legs one at a time, prodded along his back, then pulled on his tail. Voila! His shoulder blades were back in place, and the problem was solved.

Now, six months later, Alegro is limping again. But this time his feet are sore because he’s making the transition to going shoeless, at my initiative. But that’s a different story, for my next column.


Jule Drown can usually be found with her horses when not at work in Tucson, Arizona. She may be reached at

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.