One of the major headaches for a saddle fitter is to resolve the issue of a saddle that slips to one side. It has been well publicized that this issue is linked to the horse being unsound/unlevel or even lame behind. Sometimes this gait abnormality is so subtle that it cannot be easily detected. Foot balance is also a factor – asymmetric front or hind feet can affect saddle stability. In my experience young horses are often weak behind causing saddle slippage, but strengthen up with maturity and correct training. Many riders are also crooked and do not realise that they are sitting to one side – and when they sit straight they can feel unbalanced!
It is really important to make sure that the saddle sits straight in all gaits, as it is obviously very difficult for the horse to perform at its best if it is carrying an uneven load; the riders weight should be carried equally throughout both panels either side of the spine. Also for example if the saddle sits to the right, the left panel will be sitting on the spinal processes. It is difficult for the rider if he/she is constantly having to straighten up the saddle – it feels as though one stirrup is longer than the other. The ramifications for both horse and rider is discomfort and sore backs.
Whatever the cause, my job as a saddle fitter is to minimise the slippage and there are various measures that can be taken. Obviously a well fitted and balanced saddle is the first priority, as well as checking that the rider’s stirrup leathers are of even length – sometimes one has stretched and the rider is unwittingly riding a hole or two longer on that side. A non-elastic girth is a must, and girthing onto the point and balance straps really helps. (Point straps are attached to the tree points, and balance straps are attached to the tree as far back as possible under the seat of the saddle. If your saddle doesn’t have them they can be put on by a saddler.) Anti-slip numnahs or gels under the saddle can also be hugely helpful. Finally and definitely my last resort, is to use pads with shims to correct any conformation irregularities.