How to Evaluate, Find and Enhance Saddle Fit for Faster Barrel Racing

How to Evaluate, Find and Enhance Saddle Fit for Faster Barrel Racing

When your run your hands down your horse’s back, does he tighten, flinch, shrink away or spasm?

Is there atrophy behind the withers or depressions where your horse’s shoulders have rotated forward?

Are you dealing with stubborn soreness or lameness issues that seem to need constant management?

Is your horse’s topline less round and full than before – over his neck, back and hindquarters?

Does your horse have a short, choppy, uneven stride or seem irritable, emotional or impulsive?

Are you not quite stopping the clock in competition?

If so, ALL these symptoms can be caused (and resolved) by saddle fit!

Barrel saddle designs have come a long way in recent years, but still many saddle makers aren’t willing to buck tradition.

But today’s competitive environment requires a higher level understanding of form, fit and function to meet the demands of timed speed event horses in motion – allowing them to gather and collect then stride out comfortably, consistently and quickly over the long haul!

Not only that, but barrel racers who have genuine concern for their barrel horses health and well-being want what’s best for their equine partners soundness and longevity.

I’m passionate about both these areas and am glad to have followed an immense learning curve in the last few years AND found a barrel saddle that is exceeding my expectations for meeting these demands.

In today’s video post I’ve shared:

  • How to evaluate your current saddle or perspective saddles for correct fit
  • The dangers, drawbacks & differences to look for regarding gullet or bar width
  • Three reasons and ways that saddle fit can be enhanced with shimming

Since 2018, my saddle brand of choice has been Usher Brand! Nothing compares to the fit for horses, and the balanced, secure ride Usher Brand saddles offers riders.

To physically rehabilitate a horse with saddle fit damage, soundness issues, and to build topline, check out How to Restore and Maintain Soundness with Quality Movement and Healthy Biomechanics

9 replies
  1. Bogdonas
    Bogdonas says:

    Hi Heather –
    My name is Michelle and I really appreciate your articles. I have also gone on a “learning journey” of sorts in trying to get a proper saddle fit on my new 4 yr old mare.

    I have been a been a huge fan of Martin Crown C saddles, it really worked wonders on my last 1D gelding, however this mare’s shoulder pushes the saddle so far back when she moves. She has a long shoulder, and the saddle fits great when she is standing still – no pressure points on my hand the whole length of the bar. I am also careful to place the saddle far enough back so that the concho is behind her shoulder blade. After riding for 15 minutes, the saddle is about 4 inches farther back and is tipping downhill, even with the shim. Another thing that I noticed is that the breastcollar strap that goes between her front legs to the cinch is always too short, I have added a snap to lengthen all of my breast collars. And once she moves, and the saddle slides back, the breastcollar is too tight.

    This is a problem that I have not come across before. She is built beautifully and has a low, long stride and a lot of bend. I started riding her in a treeless saddle with a SaddleRight pad, but I am not sure if this is the correct answer. I am not competing on her until next year but we are at the point of increasing speed in exhibition and practice runs. Have you ever had this type of problem?

    Thanks so much for all of your help 🙂

    • Heather Smith
      Heather Smith says:

      Hi Michelle, it sounds like your mare has a pretty unique build to be causing the saddle to be moving back that far. O think you’re staying on top of things and as long as the treeless saddle isn’t shifting so much, that sounds like a good option. Maybe it has more “give” where the others are ridged so the whole saddle moves back? I don’t have a lot of experience with treeless saddles but from what I understand, our weight as riders isn’t distributed as evenly with them. So as long as your a good rider, and not going on eight hour trail rides, it seems like it’s a workable option. I’d be curious to see if you had the same slippage with the NH saddle, you might keep their test ride program in mind!

  2. RodeoCowgirl4u
    RodeoCowgirl4u says:

    Hi Heather-
    I want to share another HUGELY important reason for correct saddle fit. When I was 10 my mother purchased an off track thoroughbred which I used for hunters and she rode on the ranch in western tack. Unfortunately back then no one really rode TB’s western and she used the saddle she had for her roping horse, which had a much different build than the TB. The gullet was low and the bars wide for our bulldog-type friend. This did not fit the TB at all, but we worked with pads, etc and eventually saddles that fit the TB came out and we switched. Fast forward to 2007- my trusty TB is now 23 years old and just a trail horse. He develops what we think is a saddle sore during a long trail ride…but instead of getting better it gets worse. After x-rays we discover that his dorsal spinous processes (wither bones) have been crushed and are decaying inside the body and bubbling up through his skin. We euthanized him and sent samples to UC Davis for a study on degenerative bone disease in horses. We have yet to hear the results, which can not completely rule in favor of poor saddle fit, but I am willing to bet that years of pressure, rider weight, and loss of circulation in those parts of the body made favorable conditions for something like this to happen. I now tell EVERYONE my poor horse’s story and how important a well fitting saddle is.

    • Heather Smith
      Heather Smith says:

      Thanks for sharing. I’m so sorry to hear about what you and your horse went through. But yes, this is another reason why saddle fit, good biomechanics and quality movement, etc. is so important. There is also a condition called “kissing spines” when the vertebra actually fuse together after enough time spent crunched when the horse’s back is inverted. I am beginning to see more and more horses actually RUNNING barrels in this contracted posture that lends to these kinds of things. Saddle fit is part of it, and there are other factors as well. A high withered thoroughbred is probably even more at risk. As we know poor saddle fit really can contribute to some serious and even career and life-threatening soundness issues. Thanks again for sharing your experience to help others avoid similar problems!

  3. Mia Evans
    Mia Evans says:

    Thanks for pointing out that the right fit and function should be met to match the speed of the horses in motion. I guess I need to ask professionals what saddle I should buy for my daughter who we gifted this horse for her birthday. She really wanted to ride one and have it for herself and even try racing in the future. So we need the right equipment for her dreams to come true in the future.

  4. Tanya Paley
    Tanya Paley says:

    if i were to send you a video of my recent run would you evaluate it for me. I did it with time intervals and the gave me a report


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