Myth One: The old school of thought was that you needed to have 3-4 fingers clearance over the wither. ***EWWWW Back up the bus please***
Your saddle should be sitting BEHIND the shoulder. (read that FAQ for more information)
Myth Two: Clearance at the front needs to be 3-4 fingers.
Don’t believe me? Check this – The SMS (Society of Master Saddlers) have now changed their teaching to ‘clearance’ at the front of the saddle.
For those with ‘high withered’ horses – to achieve 3-4 fingers clearance the seat of the saddle would be like a ski ramp with the mid point/balance point of saddle being too far back in the saddle.
(A good indication that the saddle isn’t balanced correctly is the rider having a sore lower back after a ride)
This leads to what is wither height. Wither height is the distance from the top of the shoulder to the top of the wither. There are those that have no wither above the shoulder. Wither height is not defined by the hollows behind the shoulder – this is muscle atrophy
This definitely plays a part in Saddle fit. It is also a variable factor. Some swaybacks or ‘huge’ withers are caused by muscle atrophy and the horse can learn to strengthen his back to correct. The sway is caused by the horse being in pain and ‘ducking’ away from the pain.
Whilst the horse below will always have a defined wither strengthening the back will have a huge impact on wither drop and subsequently Saddle Fit.
Whilst the above horse will never be a ‘hippopotamus’ fit he could well be exceeding an X-Wide gullet, with improved movement and less lameness and shying.
How do I know this? From hands on experience of horses I’ve retrained.
I’ll do a blurb on Muscle Atrophy soon.
Meanwhile – feel free to contact me for more information.