Are some horses better suited to a close contact saddle than a standard panel saddle?
Society of Master Saddlers’ Master Saddler, Master Bridle Maker, Master Harness Maker, Registered Master Saddle Fitter and Registered Qualified Bridle Fitter, Helen Reader, provides advice.
All horses are different and will therefore suit different tree shapes, panel styles etc. It isn’t as simple as a horse just suiting or not suiting a close contact saddle, as this is just one element in the make up of the saddle. The horse’s back conformation will need to be assessed along with their muscle development; a close contact panel is a slimmer panel that allows the saddle to sit closer to the horse’s back, so the horse needs to have adequate muscle condition to support the saddle. High withered horses do not suit close contact saddles because the saddle is designed to sit close to the horse, but a high withered horse needs the saddle to sit a little higher to allow clearance of the long sloping wither. Professional riders often choose a close contact saddle as they like to feel closer to the horse, have good balance and their horses are worked to produce a well muscled back to support the panel.
The panels on close contact saddles are usually constructed with a combination of felt and foam, which although soft and smooth, is more difficult to adjust the panel to refine the balance on the horse. Adjustments can be made to the panel but not like with a flocked saddle which can easily be done while with the horse and rider, then put straight back on for reassessment. Due to this close contact saddles are often seen being used with thicker numnahs or pads to give lift and clearance for the horse. This defeats the point of the close contact saddle and can cause instability of the saddle. It is always recommended that you ask your Society of Master Saddlers Registered Qualified Saddle Fitter for advice on the most suitable saddle for both you and your horse.
For more information visit www.mastersaddlers.co.uk or contact The Society of Master Saddlers on 01449 711642.