Saddle fitting – why template?

‘Saddle fitting the whole horse’ is not just words, it is absolutely vital! It really is what makes the difference in understanding the success of the saddle performing for the horse and rider.


As part of this whole picture, templating a horse is a sure way of telling us what is going on with that horse. Every time I see the horse I template it. All the horses I work with, from just backed babies to Grand Prix horses tell me a story, through the consistent analysis of their backs.

As a saddler I am privileged to be able to template and therefore, see a true insight into how that horse is developing. I template mostly two areas consistently, the shoulders and the back just behind the scapula.

What do the templates tell me and why is it so vital to study them?

If it’s a new horse I’ve not seen before, firstly the template can tell me if the horse is working over its back correctly. Big holes behind the scapula or muscle wastage throughout the whole back, tells me about blood flow to that area. When I template the horse I am looking at 14 areas within the saddle support area, noting how this may affect the saddle fit. These will include wither shape, shoulder shape and position, muscular build, asymmetry, any pain or tightness, back length and shape. I also then study the whole conformation.

If the horse is a regular client all its templates are filed until the next visit – the template can tell me if something has changed for this horse over that time and, how drastically. Most horses when I first start working with them show an uneven muscle development in the saddle area – usually due to an ill fitting saddle or a saddle that does not allow the horse or rider to work correctly. Through a change in saddle I nearly always see an improved template within 4 weeks; that is if the rest of the horse’s needs are being met correctly.

Through my evaluation of the whole horse, with templating being key, I can identify a change in how the horse is moving. I can advise on the changes, and its strengths and weaknesses with regards to supporting training needs. I use my template to think about how this horse will likely be moving under saddle before the assessment.

After the evaluation and templating the static horse, I assess the horse in motion. All of the details of gait abnormalities and weaknesses are logged along with the template, so this whole picture can be assessed on every visit. I can also use my gait analysis camera system if needed to assess what the eye cannot capture.

During the dynamic assessment as well as observing the horse’s movement, I am evaluating how that rider is influencing the balance and ability of the horse. The template can also highlight the affects of a crooked rider and  identify likely saddle slip.

Working with the whole team

If during my dynamic assessment I am aware of crookedness in the horse or rider I will go back to my template to see how it relates. As a saddle fitter working to fit the whole horse and rider combination, I then build a plan with the rider, owner, trainer, vet, equine body worker, human physio to correct the problems. My template is a reference point throughout all of the changes we are making to ensure we are on the right track. Correct muscle development and improved performance are assessed, while logging all the information as we go.

Each horse becomes a whole picture project and the template tells the story of their life from start to finish – that is all the changes in every horse’s life, from baby steps to piaffe, passage and canter pirouettes, yard moves, nutritional changes to coach and rider changes – I love that – I think it’s pretty cool!!


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