Struggling with saddle issues

I’ve bought two custom-made saddles for my horse in the three years I’ve owned her and neither have ever felt like they fit correctly. They were both made for her (and me). (Dresch & JRD respectively). I adore the Dresch made for my gelding and I’m borrowing another JRD that I don’t mind - evidently this mare is hard to fit.

The irony is, I have much better luck with random saddles I borrow than the ones designed for her. I eventually gave up on the Dresch - every time they come out to re-fit, it costs money, and it never helped. I have to re-sell it. It got to the point she was obviously feeling sore. The JRD person has been wonderful but it’s feeling like the same issue - they come out, we shim it or they re-fit it, I ride around and it seems better, but then things quickly unravel and it’s worse than ever.

She’s flatter on her right shoulder and the saddles want to slide right. Even when I can shim them correctly to stay put (hard enough of a task), it can feel like there’s a “hole” under my right hip and it’s difficult to keep my seat in place. It can’t just be my own crookedness, because I have no issues with my other horse. Other people who have ridden in the saddles have commented on how horrible they feel (trainers when I’m traveling and clinicians…).

I have spent a fortune and just, desperately, want a solution - I don’t know if I’m being too impatient and frustrated. Is it typical to take months/ many tries to get the fit right on a new saddle? The best fitting saddle/ best feel I’ve had is the loaner I used for two months from JRD while they were making mine - I am really tempted to ask if they still have it and if I can just buy that one. I feel like that might offend them but I’m starting to lose hope. When they fit poorly, I can tell they really bother her, and I have issues enough keeping her wanting to move forward. Are some horses just really counterintuitive with fit? The more I shim under the right (and I’ve experimented with shims all over the place), the more it slides right. I know she keeps changing as she muscles up, but the “flatter”, older saddles seem to feel better for the both of us.

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Have you had her adjusted by a chiropractor recently? I have a gelding that will get out of whack with his shoulders and adjustments do him wonders.

I’d also love to see a picture of the horse’s back/shoulders. I’m wondering how she is put together skeletally and muscle wise to see what’s going on with the shoulder. Sometimes if one shoulder dips and is over flocked to compensate, it will just push the saddle even more into the other shoulder. It sounds like due to the imbalance and movement on the shoulder, you’re feeling it in the seat which makes sense. But even a developing horse should be somewhat symmetrical unless there is something else going on.

Usually a good saddle fitter can get it right with 1 or 2 adjustments. I’ve even had trees adjusted accurately just by taking a picture of the horse with the saddle on their back and sending it in.

And go with the saddle that works for you. Don’t worry about the saddle company’s feelings. Just tell them which saddle suit you best and you’d really like to try it again. Maybe the fact that it isn’t flocked differently on each side is causing the saddle to move less. Hard to say without having eyeballs on though.


Thank you! I will dig up a picture. She’s had chiro adjustments before and no comments on her back/ neck or shoulders. I know she is built unevenly in the shoulders, but she’s been this way since I bought her - she doesn’t move unevenly in any perceptible way.

She actually got a bad coffin bruise that put her off work for almost half a year, from a farrier that tried to experiment to make her more even looking. One saddle fitter suggested she must have got cast or something, to get out of whack, but again, the chiro said no issues, she was totally sound, and she looked the same as she did from day one.

I think there is definitely something about the uneven flocking that is a hindrance. Maybe, like the shoe, it’s better to pretend she’s even already, since she moves like she is? The saddles NOT made for her have felt better every time, so there’s got to be something to that…

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I would not be afraid of “offending” JRD despite how charming he is.

You might want to search the forums for opinions about them. Mine is not good and I’ve seen the guy “fitting” since the mid 1990’s.

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Every horse I have owned that has needed a revolving cast of saddles has ended up having undiagnosed KS. If you continue to have issues, I would strongly suspect a physical component.


I xrayed her neck/spine on pre-purchase and no KS notes (with a couple opinions). I take your point, but it’s worth noting I have had decent saddles on her, just not the ones I bought that were built for her?

This is why I don’t buy custom made saddles anymore. Been there, done that! I went through quite a few saddles with my horse, granted he did change shape from age 5 to 9, but it was so frustrating. I bought an Amerigo “off the shelf” last summer and its been our best saddle. None of my “made to measure” saddles fit me or him as good. Never mind the wait times! It’s so frustrating when you’re spending the money and time to do right by your horse and get them the best fitting saddle only for it to be not quite right.

If the older flatter saddles feel better, than go with that. I wouldn’t care about insulting anyone in the pursuit of making your horse (and you!) comfortable. Especially when you’re still going to be spending thousands. I really hope you find something and it works (for a long time!). It can be such a struggle.

But also…Is her lower back even too? Sometimes a slight dip can be there as well, on the one side and require a slim shim there instead of or in addition to the shoulder. Which shims are you using? I find that some are thinner or more stable feeling than others. Some saddle fitters are really good with shims, others…not so much.


I get you. Don’t fuss about offending your saddle people; you are the client, it is your money and your horse. If they are taking your money they have an obligation to do right by you; don’t give them any quarter in that regard.

Sometimes the quality of saddle/brand has no correlation with whether it will work for a horse. I’ve had horses love my Ainsley XC Pro, which isn’t worth the horse it sits on – and then I’ve had horses hate big dollar saddles too. My most expensive (custom) saddle to date ($5500) is, according to my herd, collectively the worst. Which is too bad, it is one of the nicest saddles I’ve ever sat in.

I had a young horse who seemed to need a new saddle or a reflocking every few months for 2-3 years before I figured out his deal. He made it known to me by some “polite” protests like not wanting to stand at the mounting block or moving away subtly when I put the saddle on his body. His signs were never loud, except he always palpitated sore over his back which we falsely equated to poor saddle fit. He was seen by many saddle fitters and had many saddles, including someone who in my estimation is one of the best fitters in NE. That was when I realized it wasn’t them, it was my horse.

So I convinced my vet to take x-rays of his spine. My vet believed it totally unnecessary because he wasn’t “demonstrating normal KS symptoms” (those symptoms being bucking / rearing / bad behavior). The horse had three remodeled processes, so that was one of the few times in my life I was right over a vet.

You likely know this: x-rays are only a snapshot in time and they are only useful the day they’re taken and if taken correctly; previous x-rays shouldn’t be the groundline for ruling out pathology three years later.

I hope you can figure it out. It’d be a lot easier if they could talk to us.


Thank you - I appreciate that they can change, for sure. She doesn’t palpate sore on her back, it’s her favorite place for currying. The times she starts balking under saddle when I try right half-pass or right 10 m circles, happen when the saddle is slipping so far to the right that I can barely keep my right stirrup, and when I hop off I realize it’s absurdly off to the side - I can see why she starts resisting there (god knows what I’m doing with my body at that point). But this doesn’t happen with the loaner saddles I use.

I will ask them about getting that great loaner back…I forget I have saddle issues when I use the borrowed ones.


This is a lot of why I refuse to purchase a brand new, custom saddle. I have found the older saddles to work better for me and my horse, not mention my pocketbook!


My older horse has a low right shoulder. I only ever had to shim (for brief periods of time) after he’d lost fitness and muscle (extended injury recovery). When I did shim I would ride him and ask him to keep that shoulder up. Like your horse he rides level and my saddle fitter knows to not flock for the low shoulder.

He generally told me when to take the shim out by dropping the shoulder once he’d built enough fitness and muscle. At that point the shim was putting more pressure on that shoulder and he was dropping away from it. The drop makes the saddle slip to that side, increasing the pressure, increasing the drop…

My other horse is ridiculously sensitive to saddle fit and position. His saddle generally slides forward when the fit fails and I ignore his signals at my own peril. I have a good fitter and I can often shim it enough to be okay until the flocking can be adjusted. But not always and I have to not ride. He has an off the rack saddle.


I recently switched from a custom Dresch for my pony to a custome Macrider and it’s made a big difference. I used to get the Dresch flocked every time the saddle fitter came out as the saddle would shift after 2-3 weeks, so far with the Macrider things seem to be holding up well after 2 months.



Oh this is SO familiar! The right shoulder/ reaction to the shims sounds 100% what I’ve experienced - and yes, flocking (and now, given her fitness, shimming) for the low shoulder has the opposite of the desired effect. Thank you for the input!

Little update here - I’ve found a great solution and am embarrassed it took me this long to try this option. I…used my other horse’s saddle. And, uhm, it fits fine. And she rides in it great - no slipping forward, no slipping to the right, stays in place the whole ride and she has been going great with it (our rides have been awesome all week). My other horse has a Dresch made for him and I assumed it wouldn’t fit her, even though they’re similar sized horses with reasonably similar looking shapes in the back to my untrained eye. Other horse has high withers and I think when I put it on the mare before, it looked a bit too high in front. I looked again and thought it wasn’t that bad, so put a big fluffy half-pad underneath…and, I’m not kidding, eureka.

I’m sending my JRD back to them for reflocking to even it out (again, it happens that a saddle flocked evenly sits/ rides correctly on the mare, despite her shoulders - it’s all about how she moves, I think). But I might just sell it, since, you know, it’s cheaper to own one saddle? Jeez louise.


Yay for easy solutions!!


You’re not the only one whose used the other horse’s saddle. (Raises hand) Sometimes it just works. I’ve got a warmblood mare and a PRE gelding going in the same saddle. If you looked at them, it makes no sense - but they both like the saddle and move well in it.

With respect to custom saddles, it’s only worthwhile if the fitter actually sits the tree on the horse to confirm that it is the right shape for the back. And even then, there will be tweaks for a few months to get it just right, especially if you have a “princess and the pea” horse. Good custom saddlers with have a selection of trees to work with.


Yes, in Western world.

But the high dollar brand name English saddles are only semi custom and often only have one tree. It may come in different widths but usually the curve is the same The buyer gets to choose panels, flaps, seats, and rhinestones but not the actual tree which is the most important part.

Maybe someone out there is making true custom English saddles from scratch like the artisanal Western saddle makers, but if so they are very local and very niche and most people don’t have access.

That’s why you need to find the brand that has a tree that works for your horse.

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Yup! Where there is hollowness there is weakness. You want to keep the pressure OFF that weak area in order to allow it/give it room to fill in (if it will). If you fill in that ‘hole’ for lack of a better word, you’re just accepting that ‘hole’ as a permanent thing and not giving it a chance to do anything but continue on its merry atrophying way. Worse, depending on the issue, you can make things deteriorate by filling that hollow area in and putting pressure on it.

I’ve heard that about French saddles but I’ve not explored those enough to know better. However many of the British saddles have multiple trees. Even brands in the mid ranges have different tree shape options.

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Some will have a cob or draft tree. But I haven’t seen any with a full range.

At one of our horsie expo trade shows I stopped at the booth of a one man artisanal Western saddle maker. He had over 30 different trees from different makers, and the first step in the visit would be popping trees on your horses back. After that you’d be able to specify anything, seat cantle horn pommel swell leather rigging stirrups and carving and conchos etc. True custom.

The County rep does not do this. There may be artisanal craftsmen that do true custom in Britain but they aren’t able to do that in North America.

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