Paddle or Saddle for a small pony?

I often get asked about a saddle for a small pony. (Also, my paddocks consist of Shetlands and Welshies)

Personally, I’ve seen a lot of back issues caused by the use of non-treed saddles (yes, even those expensive paddles).
Here are some of the most common comments I get:
But my kid is only light
Those experienced horsepeople out there will agree that a rider can ride light or heavy. This, in part, has to do with balance. Often learner riders are ‘heavy’ riders and a more experienced rider can ride a lot ‘lighter’ (more in balance, not bouncing around).

I can’t find a saddle wide enough
This is a big issue. One we are working on determinedly. There are brands that are making wide saddles that are suitable – you just need to be able to find them.

Everyone uses paddles in the show ring
This is mainly because a suitable treed saddle hasn’t been available. Also, not true – there are saddles out in the Shetland showring.

The big issue is weight distribution. Pads and Paddles have an issue that the weight isn’t distributed well enough and often concentrated at the girth/stirrup bar area. A tree is there to distribute the weight over a greater area of the back.
Signs you need to look for are the presence of a ‘wither’ on a Shetland with dips behind (or I’ve seen an outline of the saddle imprinted in the back). Also, if you pony is reluctant to be saddled, girthed or mounted suggests that there is something not going right.

We currently have 11.5″ and 14.5″ sample saddles that are being trialled for suitability (kids job over school holidays) with – so far – good results.
Main issues with the fit – especially on the Shetlands and Welsh Mountain Ponies – are the short back and croup high pony.
[Photos to come]

The other factor is your rider and the suitability of a pad/paddle. Having covered off pony comfort there is rider comfort to consider. Personally, if someone said to me that I should ride my 16+hh Warmblood in a pad or paddle I’d look at you with horror – not that I need a deep seat saddle (I actually ride him in a flat seat jumping saddle most of the time) but because I’m not doing the horse or myself any favours in comfort. I wouldn’t do it so why would I expect my kids (who are learning) to do it? Sometimes I wonder if the Shetland got the Sh!tland title due to the unfair expectations placed on it.

Ok – so you have read this and are still determined that a paddle or pad is the way to go here are some pointers.
If you are buying from the UK make sure it is MADE in the UK. There is a lot of cheaper imported saddlery available in UK now. Having worked on top brand saddles where girth straps have literally come off in my hands I am very conscious of the need to put your trust in the maker and nothing says this better than Society of Master Saddlers manufacturers.