Selecting a Saddle For An Atrophied “A” Framed Back

“SADDLE SAVVY”…an ongoing series of articles geared to help you understand how to selct the appropriate saddle for you and your horse.

The following is a case study with pictures,analysis, and suggestions of possible treed and treeless saddles with accessories that are the best choices for both horse and rider.


Salina is a 14 yo/14.2h Paso Fino mare weighing about 950 lbs.  She  had traditional Paso Fino training and was ridden in the traditional Paso Fino style before Annalee brought her into the family a few years ago.

When Salina was a foal she tore a flap of skin from her side which was not able to be re-attached resulting in some scar tissue, but no sensitivity.  A few years ago, Salina chipped a bone in her gum with no residual effects.  She is trimmed by a Natural Hoof Care specialist as well as having ongoing sessions with a Connected Riding instructor.

Annalee is 5’/126 lbs. with an average thigh & inseam.  She has no injury history or special needs.

Salina and Annalee live in the US Midwest where temps are freezing in winter with summer temps in the 90’s plus high humidity.

Their activities together consist of 1 1/2  – 2 1/2 hours alternating ring & trail riding 4-5 x’s a week combined with Connected Riding ground work.

The trail terrain is a combination of rocky scree, hard packed dirt, & sandy mixed grassy soil.  The arena is 2″ sand over a clay base.

Because of Salina’s challenging conformation, they have tried many saddles including Albetta’s, Wintec’s, a variety of Western & Peruvian saddles.  They also tried a Black Forest treeless saddle with padding Black Forest sent with the saddle, but Annalee did not find the softer feel comfortable, nor did Salina.  Annalee prefers the feel of a treed saddle to treeless.

They currently ride in a CTK  custom treed Paso Fino saddle with a 1/4″ custom pad made by the saddler for this horse alternating with a 1/2″ wool felt pad.

Since this is a custom saddle and Annalee did not send tracings of the underside of the saddle or Salina, I can not comment on  the fit of this saddle  long distance.

Annalee has had bodywork sessions for Salina as well as ongoing Conected Riding body work/groundwork/riding lessons for the past 6 months.  At the suggestion of the Connected Riding instructor, Annalee concentrated on just bodywork & ground work this past winter with no riding.  Her Connected Riding teacher also wants to try a bareback pad to perhaps give Salina a different experience in efforts to break her habitual bracing pattern under saddle evidenced by the following picture.



Salina has a shorter back length overall with a straighter shoulder.  Her whithers are medium height with a dip at the base and longer ,ending behind her more forward, longer girth line.  She is also built a bit croup high.  Her neck is straight & high set assuming a habitual bracing pattern under saddle which as a result, drops the back.  This is in part due to her early traditional Paso Fino training & riding.  Her longer girth groove is set closer to her elbows as well.


Salina has a pronounced “A” shaped pitched back with an atrophied look despite 6 months of consistent Connected Riding work.  Since it sometimes takes a year or more with this type of ingrained habitual bracing pattern & resulting topline atrophy to see appreciable posive changes, only time will tell how much of Salina’s topline shape will change & how much is her actual conformation.  Also her angled back pitch does not widen much scapula to loin area lending to a tubular shape front to back.  This does not make most english  treed saddles an option since most english model panels broaden to almost flat just behind the twist area.


Salina’s habitual bracing pattern is evidenced in this picture.  I would like to see this CTK saddle placed further back 2 1/2″ behind the scapula to put it in the proper position and to level the saddle.  The caveat is that unless the rigging can be altered, the girth placement would be too far back for Salina’s girth line and then the saddle may also be too long for her back.  As I mentioned before, since  this is a custom saddle  And I do not have tracings of Salina or the underside of the saddle, I can’t comment on suitability of fit long distance.



A caring , lighter weight rider who is putting much time & effort into helping Salina make positive changes.

Salina has a great copperative attitude


Shorter back length
Pronounced “A” shaped back pitch
Dip behind longer whithers
Tubular shape
More forward, long girth line
Slightly croup high
Straighter shoulders
High set straighter neck
Long term habitual bracing patterns



Caring & patient
Lighter weight
Appropriate riding activities & times for Salina




1)  Have an equine chiropractor out on a regular basis.

2) Alternate between two different saddles, a bareback pad & a saddle, or two different padding systems to give a different feel for horse & rider.

3) Trying a high whither cut bareback pad like Skito, Christ or Little Joe over a Skito pad to protect Salina’s spine sometimes can help to break habitual bracing patterns.

4) Look into trying the TTEAM roller bit &balance rein to aid lowering the head and rounding the back.

5) Sometimes longterm muscle atrophy can have a nutritional component.  It may be helpful to look into some free choice supplements like Advanced Biologicals Concept or Dynamite.

6)  A softer , thin 3/8″ shim (Prolite/MLC foam through Skito) cut to go into an insert pad similar to Skito to fill in Salina’s dip behind the whithers until Salina’s back comes up would be helpful.


Since most english saddles have a broader pitch to the panels than the angulation on Salina’s back, they are not a possibility.  Most of the flex panel saddles where the fitter/owner can alter the pitch of the panels like Reactor Panel or Free N’ Easy have panels that may be too long for her back.  A shorter base Western or Western underside undurance saddle may be a better choice if the CTK custom does not work over time.  Also look for rigging on a running “Y” or placement that matches Salina’s girth line when placed appropriately behind her scapula.  Make sure that the tree fork as well as the bars are the correct shape, pitch AND size for Salina’s back WITH the padding system chosen.


I prefer to see a slow recovery type of foam for this type of back to buffer concussion & to protect the spine.  Skito makes wonderful insert pads with 100% wool bottoms where you insert the foam thickness & density of choice into the pad pockets.  1/2 ” firm Skito foam as the bottom layer with perhaps a thin layer of 1/4″ Prolite or 1/4″ felt layered on top in the pad pockets can give a bit more protection for a prominent spine like this.   Again, remember that the tree fork of the saddle needs to accomodate the thickness of the padding system you are choosing.


A Sensation Western or wide mohair type girth would be the most comfortable & will perhaps keep the girth from sliding on Salina’s longer girth line/tubular shape.


Custom made will be the best choice for Salina’s “A” pitch back.

SR Saddles
Dave Genadeks


Treeless saddle choices are limited because of Annalee’s preference for a firmer treed saddle feel & Salina’s general conformation..mostly the pitch of her back & prominence of her spine.


Startrek Comfort or Western models work best for “A” pitched backs and would suit Annalee’s preference for a  firmer, treed saddle feel.  For a rider who a softer feel would work, Black Forest saddles makes a Western model that has a paneling system to accomodate the more “A” pitch horse with or without whithers  over an appropriate padding system similar to a Skito insert pad with 3/4″ slow recovery foam with maybe an overlay of 1/4″ Prolit or 1/4″ firmer felt.


With either Startrek model for Salina, a Skito 100% wool bottom pad with 3/4″ Equalizer foam & 1 /8″ MLC or 1/4″ Prolite shim to fill in her dip behind the whithers inserted into the pad pockets.


If the Startrek has english rigging, the Sensation self centering central elastic would be ideal.  If using the Western model Startrek, a Sensation Western girth or broad mohair type Western girth.


1) Christ pony length with pocket underside over a 3/4″ foam Skito insert pad with 100% wool bottom.

2) Little Joe pony length over a Skito insert pad, 3/4″ foam & 100% wool bottom.

3) Skito bareback pad  in a custom shorter length than standard with 3/4″ foam.

All of the above have english billets, so a Sensation english, self centering/central elastic would be the most stable and comfortable for Salina.

Alway try any saddle for at least 10 days before you buy, preferably having an equine chiropractor or bodyworker come in before the trial period & towards the end of the demo period for input.



Coming next month, a dippy backed , very broad Icelandic mare with a forward girth line.

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