Selecting A Saddle For A Swayed Broadback Horse

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


Osp is an 18 yo Icelandic mare who is 13h, weighing approx. 800lbs. When Osp was younger she had one foal and  has had no injury history or illnesses. Deb is 52 yo and is 5’51/2″ weighing about 129 lbs. with a 31″ inseam.  She has ongoing hip/thigh and knee issues mostly on her right side.

Deb and Osp live in the Northern Midwest where temps are well below freezing in the winter with summer temps in the high 80’s-90’s with high humidity. The mostly trail ride year round anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 hours depending on weather in varied terrain.  Deb and Osp enjoy a mix of walk/trot/canter/ with some galloping as footing permits.

Deb and Osp have been riding in a Sensation G3 Dressage model for a few years.  Deb uses the hard use stirrup set up to distribute her weight optimally for Osp.  They use a standard Skito Sensation pattern pad with poly/wool blend bottom /cotton top and 3/4″ standard Equalizer foam.  Deb uses a soft synthetic girth of unknown make she bought at Equine Affaire.  Finding short enough girths for Osp that are comfy has been not easy.

The challenge they have is that the saddle creeps up Osp’s neck after a short time in the saddle at any gait.  This is clearly evidenced in Picture #4 of Deb in the Sensation after a few minutes of riding around the barn area.  Riding in any kind of hilly terrain becomes a real issue. They have just started to do more trotting and hill work in effort to build up Osp’s swayed back along with TTEAM ground work.

saddlefit osp4fx


Osp has a relatively longer back length for an Icelandic with a pronounced swayed back.  She is also a bit croup high, but that may change over time as her back strengthens and comes up with a combination of body work/different riding approach/TTEAM or Connected Riding ground work.  Her shoulders are broad, but fairly straight.  Combine that with a girth line that lays close to her elbows and that is a recipe for saddles to creep up on her neck when moving.  She also has a straight, short neck standing base wide both front and rear in most of the pix.  Her front end muscling and postural pattern suggests that Osp when left to her own devices has done a lot more pulling from the front end than pushing from the back end.

The “creeping” saddle syndrome also ends up putting Deb right in the deepest place in Osp’s swayed back which does not help Osp to learn to move/carry Deb differently.



Osp has a nice broad back with some asymmetry between her right  left shoulders, left being bulkier.

saddlefit osp2fx

This picture shows where the saddle ends up after a few minutes of riding.   Because of Osp’s forward girth line, conformation, and postural patterns the saddle is pulled forward into this position.


A nice broad back
Solid temperament
Cooperative attitude
Nicely forward under saddle


Long back for her size

Swayed back  *Osp’s age is a factor in how much change can occur in this category..that being said, positive change can occur at any time.

Slightly croup high
Straighter shoulders
A postural pattern of being more of a “Puller” than a “pusher”
Forward girth line


Good height and weight ratio for Osp’s size
Caring and patient
Appropriate activities , frequency, and ride times


Deb’s structural issues may be creating habitual bracing patterns which can effect Osp and her ability to carry Deb optimally.


1) Have some regular body work for both Deb and Osp.  I would recommend Deb look into the Egoscue Method of Postural Integration to get some on line prescriptive exercise programs she can do at home to address her structural issues from a bio-mechanical perspective as well as perhaps
ordering some Feldenkrais At Home CD’s to address the habitual movement patterns.

Also look into some TTEAM/Centered Riding/ or Connected Riding books/classes or privates as well as maybe getting a specific ground work program going.

2) Some TTEAM belly lifts incorporated into the grooming routine as well as hoof circles could also be helpful along with some  TTEAM pole/ cavaletti work to encourage Osp to lift her back and re-balance onto her back end.  Body wraps with the ground work and under saddle may also help to give Osp a feel of her back end connection to her front while moving.

3) When riding hills, serpentine uphill to encourage lifting the back and pushing from the rear. Dismount and serpentine down hills to discourage dropping the back under Deb’s weight /the saddle riding up the neck.

4) Vary the gaits during the ride to help avoid the fatigue/tendency to drop the back that can happen when horses move at the walk or tolt for long periods.

5) On long rides dismounting and hand walking for 5 minutes can stretch the back muscles for both horse and rider.

6) 100% wool bottom pads with either Dryback or non slip strips on the top like the Skito Pad can help minimize saddle displacement.

7) Removing the Sensation internal plastic butterfly plate   can help the  saddle from creeping up the neck with some horses as well as the feeling of being tipped forward for the rider.  The rear edge of the butterfly ends right where Osp’s low point is and where the front of Deb’s pelvis rests.

8) An English Hunt Style Breast Plate can help with both saddles slipping to the rear and lateral stability. For general safety the EHS BP also limits the saddle from slipping sideways /completely going under the horse in an emergency change of direction.

9) Order a custom center shim from Tom Clark @ Skito to put into the existing pad.   Tom may have to laminate two staggered layers at first until Osp’s back comes up. This will fill in Osp’s dippy back and level the saddle for Deb.  Only time will tell if Osp will need the laminated shim or just a one layer shim.

10) Order a custom self centering Sensation girth with black felt liner. Ideally, central elastic would help the most with the self centering feature, but because of Osp’s small size and the need for a dressage length girth, there is not enough room for both.  The self centering will allow the girth to be in Osp’s natural girth line without pulling the saddle forward.  The black felt liner edges are soft. Even if it does contact her elbow area, it will minimize friction and discomfort


I would not recommend a treed saddle for Osp because of her swayed, broad back.


A shorter base length treeless saddle with close contact dressage flaps would work well for Osp’s conformation if shimmed and padded properly.   Even though Osp’s back is long for her size, there is still not a lot of room from front to back for a saddle longer than 20″ without creating friction issues in the loin area.


Sensation saddles with a dressage flap would be the best fit for this mare’s conformation if appropriately padded and shimmed.


Skito 100% wool bottom Sensation pattern pad with either Dryback top or non slip strips over a cotton top for extra saddle to horse and saddle to pad grip.  3/4″ standard foam and either a laminated center shim or singer layer center shim.

A custom made Sensation self centering girth with black felt liner.

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



Coming in the next issue, a 17 yo Trakehner/TB mare with high whithers and an “A” frame/atrophied back.

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