10 On-Trail Saddle Tips

On the trail, tack changes aren't easy, so saddle fit becomes all important. Optimal saddle fit will let you and your horse leave home comfortable and sound, and return that way six or seven hours later. Here, we give you 10 at-a-glance saddle tips — six for your horse and four for you — designed to improve your trail rides, no matter what type of saddle you ride in.
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SADDLE/SADDLE-ACCESSORY RESOURCES

Abetta
(800) 451-4660
www.buyabetta.com

About the Horse
(800) 449-7409
www.aboutthehorse.com

Action Rider Tack
(877) 865-2467
www.actionridertack.com

The Australian Connection
(800) 847-8521

Australian Stock Saddle Company
(818) 889-6988

Big Horn Inc.
(423) 867-9901

Bob Marshall Sports Saddles
(614) 837-7299
www.sportssaddle.com
www.treelesssaddle.com

Bona Allen Saddle Company
(618) 392-4054

Cashel Company
(800) 333-2202
www.cashelcompany.com

Circle Y of Yoakum, Inc.
(800) 531-3600
www.circley.com

Crates Leather Company
(423) 622-7503
www.cratesleather.com

Crest Ridge Saddlery
(870) 499-7413
www.crestridgesaddlery.com

Custom Tree and Saddle Co.
(615) 792-3884
www.steelesaddle.com

Desoto Custom Saddlery
(231) 775-5612
www.desotosaddle.com

Difani's Backcountry Manufacturing Company
(208) 926-7574
www.difanisbackcountry.com

Double Creek Saddles
(877) 249-9040
www.doublecreeksaddles.com

Dover Saddlery
(800) 989-1500

Down Under Saddle Supply
(303) 753-6737
www.downunderweb.com

Duett Saddles
(781) 444-4311
www.duettsaddles.com

EasyCare, Inc.
(800) 447-8836
www.easycareinc.com

E-Z Up Legsaver
(877) 865-1497
www.ezuplegsaver.com

Fabtron
(865) 982-2321
www.fabtron.com

Gaits of Gold Enterprises, Inc.
(888) 617-8009
www.gaitsofgold.com

High Country Cowboy Company
(866) 441-HCCC [4222]
www.cowboycompany.com

Horse Saddle Shop
(866) 880-2121
www.horsesaddleshop.com

J.J. Maxwell Tack & Saddle Company
(888) 739-0108
www.jjmaxwell.com

JT International
(317) 862-6842
www.jtidist.com

Kate's Saddle Supply
(303) 841-6770
www.kates.net

Len Brown's Innovations
(816) 625-0333
www.thecorrector.net

Long Riders Gear
(888) 420-4327
www.longridersgear.com

MDC Corporation
(831) 393-0588;
www.mdccorporation.us

Marciante Saddle and Leather Company
(866) 833-8225
www.trailsaddles.net

On the trail, tack changes aren't easy, so saddle fit becomes all important. Optimal saddle fit will let you and your horse leave home comfortable and sound, and return that way six or seven hours later. Here, we give you 10 at-a-glance saddle tips - six for your horse and four for you - designed to improve your trail rides, no matter what type of saddle you ride in. We've also added a handy resource guide to saddle and saddle-accessory manufacturers and distributors.

1.Check saddle design. The way your saddle fits your horse is the key to his comfort and soundness on the trail. The bars - the part of the saddle tree that lie on either side of your horse's spine - should lie along the back muscles without touching the spine itself. The saddle's front arch should be high enough to leave your horse's withers free. It should also be wide enough and angled so that his shoulders can slide back and forth freely. (For more on saddle fit, function, and design, order About Saddle Fit, a videotape by saddlemaker and clinician Dave Genadek. Contact: About the Horse, Inc., 800/449-7409; www.aboutthehorse.com.)

2.Watch for shape-changing. Horses can change shape for any number of reasons, including weight gain or loss, muscle gain or loss, or simply due to the aging process. A saddle that was perfect for last year's trail rides might not be perfect this year.

3.Select the right cinch. If your saddle doesn't fit, don't count on the cinch to put things right. Overtightening the front cinch will only make your horse uncomfortable. If your saddle is double-rigged to accommodate a back cinch, use both cinches, and don't forget your connector strap for security. Select a cinch that's easy to clean, won't pick up trail detritus, and won't rub or pinch your horse. Mohair cinches are tops, but neoprene cinches are a close second. (Caveat: Unlike mohair, a neoprene cinch doesn't breathe and can be overtightened.) Avoid fleece and faux-fleece, which are burr magnets.

4.Consider a back cinch. Consider a back cinch if your trails are steep, or if you're not entirely secure in the saddle. A back cinch stabilizes a saddle, which leads to rider stability, as well. (Tip: Before you hit the trail in a back cinch for the first time, saddle your horse and longe or lead him, so he gets used to the feel. Check for any rubbing.)

5.Consider a breastcollar and crupper. These saddle add-ons provide security - and will help reduce saddle-sore risk - especially on hills. A breastcollar will help prevent your saddle from sliding toward your horse's rump going uphill, while a crupper - which runs from the back of the saddle under your horse's tail - will help prevent the saddle from sliding forward while going downhill. Select a wide, flat breastcollar made from heavy leather for equine comfort, or consider neoprene. Again, avoid anything made from fleece. A crupper is especially recommended if your horse has low, flat withers. For optimal fit, make sure you can fit two stacked fingers between the strap and your horse's rump. Help your horse adjust to a crupper the same way you would a back cinch, above.

SADDLE/SADDLE-ACCESSORY RESOURCES

Martin Saddlery (div. of Equibrand Corp.)
(800) 654-7864
www.martinsaddlery.com

Mile High Ranch
(406) 961-1363
www.saddleoutfitters.com

OrthoFlex Saddleworks, Inc.
(501) 375-7822
www.ortho-flex.com

Outfitters Supply
(888) 467-2256
www.outfitterssupply.com

Professional's Choice
Sports Medicine Products
(800) 331-9421
www.profchoice.com

Queen Valley Mule Ranch
(602) 999-6853
www.muleranch.com

Reinsman Equestrian Products
(423) 559-8799
www.reinsman.com

Rio Verde Saddlery
(888) 746-8373
www.ladiessaddles.com

Saddle Up Shop
(636) 828-4273
www.saddleupshop.com

Sharon Saare Saddles
(303) 678-5968

Shorty's Saddle & Tack
(866) 900-2603

Simco-Longhorn Company, Inc.
(800) 251-6294
www.simcolonghorn.com

SmartPak Equine
(800) 461-8898
www.smartpakequine.com

Smith Brothers
(800) 410-5546

Specialized Saddles
(505) 882-3342
www.specializedsaddles.com

Stablegear Tack
(866) 535-6410
www.ciwtrailers.com

Stagecoach West
www.stagecoachwest.com

State Line Tack
(800) 228-9208
www.statelinetack.com

STI Safety Breakaway Stirrup
(406) 248-7331
www.breakawaystirrups.com

Stirrup Straight
(503) 651-3690

Syd Hill & Sons/Outback Ranch
(800) 686-1417
www.sydhillsaddles.com

Synergist Saddles
(877) 595-0115
www.synergistsaddles.com

Tack South
(706) 233-9065
www.tacksouth.com

Tarpin Hill Saddle Company
(800) 354-8964
www.tarpinhill.com

Tex Tan Western Leather Company
(800) 531-3608
www.textan.com

Timberline Saddle Company
(417) 549-6655
www.timberlinesaddlecompany.com

Toklat Originals, Inc.
(888) 486-5528
www.toklat.com

Trail & Pleasure Riding Supplies
(888) 336-4693
www.trailandpleasure.com

Tucker Saddlery
(800) 882-5375
www.tuckersaddles.com

Weaver Leather Inc.
(800) 932-8371
www.weaverleather.com

Wind Rider Tack
(800) 546-2740
www.windridertack.com

Wintec/Partrade Trading Company, LLC
(800) 223-2102
www.partrade.net

6.Add tie rings and saddle strings. Don't leave your best, most comfortable trail saddle at home just because it lacks sufficient points of attachment for your on-trail needs. Take it to a tack shop or saddlemaker, and have them added on.

7.Check seat fit. Your saddle's seat should be comfortable. Check fit before the first trail ride of the year; they say a saddle seat can shrink over the winter - at least, that's my excuse! You should be able to relax in the seat without it getting too "up close and personal," either in the front or the back. You should also be able to stand in your stirrups and sit down again without moving your lower legs or feeling as though you're going to fall forward onto your horse's neck.

8. Invest in wide stirrups. When you're out riding all day, you want wide, flat stirrups that will give you maximum support over the ball of your foot. Consider investing in special trail stirrups with extra-wide treads. Also look for shock-absorbing pads, which can enhance foot and joint comfort.

9.Don't fight the stirrup. If you ride in a Western saddle, and are plagued with sore ankles and knees, you might be trying to keep your feet pointing forward in stirrups whose natural position is sideways! Some riders place the saddle on a chair, soak the fenders with water, twist them into the desired position, then put a broomstick through the stirrups to hold the fenders in that position until they dry. The new solution is much simpler: Add a Stirrup Straight to each stirrup. This device is available from Cashel Company. (See the resource guide for contact information.) If you ride in an English saddle, you can buy Stubben Fillis Stirrups (available from Dover Saddlery) or MDC Intelligent Stirrups (available from SmartPak Equine). Set the eyes at 90-degree angles to their usual position to make the stirrups hang straight. Then you'll never have to fish with your toes and torque your ankles to bring those stirrups into front-facing position - or to keep them there.

10.Go light. Tired of hefting a 40-pound saddle onto your horse's back? Consider investing in a lightweight trail saddle. Saddles made specifically for trail riding tend to weigh less than those made for roping and other Western events.

Use our resource guide to get started on finding one that's right for you and your horse - then hit the trail safely and comfortably!

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