Tie the horse up or ask someone to hold it. Let the horse sniff the numnah and then put it on the horse’s back and move it about. Use a warm type of numnah rather than one of the ‘cold’ cloth ones. (It is advisable to use a numnah because a young horse’s back is soft and unaccustomed to the pressure of a saddle.)
Let the horse sniff the saddle (with the stirrups removed) which should already have the girth attached on the off side. Place the saddle on the horse’s back making sure it easily clears the withers and spine but will not sit up so high that it is unstable. Do not let go of the saddle for a second as the horse may be very frightened if it moves about too much or falls off its back.
Ask an assistant to let the girth down gently on the off side and pass it to you. Hold the girth strap in one hand and the girth in the other and gently let the horse feel the pressure of the girth. If the horse is already used to a roller, there should be no problem, but if this is the first time the horse has felt something tight round its middle it may panic completely when you do the girth up.
The girth must be done up just tight enough for the saddle to stay in place however much the horse bucks. Unlike a roller, which can be tightened gradually and is unlikely to make the horse panic even if it does slip round, the saddle will cause sheer terror, and quite possibly lasting fear, if you do not do the girth up tightly enough to keep it in place and it ends up under the horse’s belly.
Tie the horse up and leave the saddle on for half an hour or so in the stable for several days before taking the horse outside in it, unless the horse is very familiar with the feel of a fairly tight roller. (The horse must be tied up otherwise it may roll in the saddle and break the tree or roll over and become cast against the side of the box.) For safety reasons, do not have leathers or stirrups on the saddle at this point in training.
Remember always to place the saddle gently on the horse’s back. Do not let the girth clonk against the horse’s legs. Be careful not to pinch the skin or pull the hair as you do the girth up and pass your hand between the girth and the horse to be sure it is comfortable.
Checking the Fit of a Saddle
Horses and ponies change shape with age and degrees of fitness in winter and summer, so check the fitting of the saddle regularly. Check the fit without a saddle cloth or numnah. You should be able to see daylight right through from pommel to cantle and there should be no inward-pinching pressure just below the withers, a problem that sometimes occurs with very narrow, highwithered animals. When you are mounted, stand in your stirrups and lean forward with your fingers under the front arch of the saddle; they should not get pinched. There should be room for two to three fingers to fit. If in doubt, ask an experienced person to check the fitting.
If the saddle panels feel hard and flat, they need restuffing. Make sure the saddle sits on the horse so that the lowest part is at the centre. If the lowest part is too far back, you will slide to the back of the saddle, with your lower leg forward, and be out of balance with the horse (behind the movement), encouraging it to hollow its back, move with a high head carriage and trail its hind legs.
Make sure the weight is evenly distributed on the saddle panels and carried over a wide area of the back, supported on the muscles that lie on each side of the spine. lf, having been quiet to mount, your horse now becomes fidgety, suspect that the saddle is hurting its back and investigate this by feeling and pressing on the bare back. If, as you lean forward when preparing to dismount, the horse throws up its head, puts its ears back or fidgets and seems apprehensive, the saddle is probably pinching inwards below its withers. Leaning forward to get off would immediately increase the pressure here and should give you an early warning of trouble. When a horse’s normal pattern of behaviour changes, uncomfortable equipment is often the cause, so check this very carefully before assuming the horse is just misbehaving.