This blog is in response to Valerie’s question from a few weeks ago:
If the question is relating to the pommel area specifically, I have pretty much already addressed this in a previous blog about withers clearance. There are exceptions to this rule for mutton-withered horses and extremely high withered horses (many saddles have lots of clearance on top of the withers, but not on the side of the withers). On a high withered horse you are lucky if achieve 1-2 fingers clearance all the way around, and on a mutton-withered (or lower-withered) horse you could get as much as 5-6 fingers clearance.
If the question was meant specifically for the panel itself at the front, then I would suggest the following: Take a piece of chalk and mark the half circle of the edge of the shoulder. Draw a vertical line from the top of the withers behind the shoulder edge about 12 inches long. The first 4 inches you should be able to put your fingers easy under the panel, the next 4 inches should be harder to put your fingers under, because this is where the saddle is supposed to be supported, to free up the withers and the spine. The last 4 inches the hand should slide easily under again. The top 4 inches and the bottom 4 inches is where the horses’ muscles are thinner and more sensitive.
The whole saddle support area has been beautifully explained in a previous article in Equus #258 magazine called “Back off” . It will soon be up on our website under the drop down menu entitled 'articles' as a reference.
There are many possible reasons that you are finding the hair roughed up along the sides of the withers: your girth is possibly too loose; the saddle pad could be too rough, too thick, possibly dirty; the billet position could be too far forward, too far back; tree angle too wide or too narrow; tree width too wide or too narrow; saddle sliding forward etc. All of this is hard to analyse without seeing your horse. When the horse hair is wet, it wrinkles, and the best way to test for which one of these causes is responsible, is to ride walk, trot, and canter on a 20 meter circle in both directions without a saddle pad. Don’t let the horse sweat; ride only 8 circles in each gait and each direction, and then take the saddle off. The hair should be flat and the saddle dust pattern on its hair should be symmetrical and not twisted to the left or right. Your saddle should not be on the spine, sitting past the last rib or sliding up on the shoulder . Most of the time if the hair is roughed up after this dust pattern ride, it indicates that the tree angle is too wide and the tree width is too narrow, which are things that need to be adjusted beyond just simple restuffing. Again, without seeing the horse and you ride, it’s hard to analyse, but these are some probable causes.