Female Saddle Specialist - Infinitely Adjustable for Optimal Comfort & Performance

Tip 3: Gullet Channel Width

Ask yourself…
Is your horse reluctant to bend laterally?
Is your horse not able to use its back correctly?
Are you needing to call out the equine chiropractor often?

If you are answering “yes” to any of the above questions, you may be faced with a saddle Gullet Channel Width issue. A saddle with too narrow of a gullet channel can cause permanent damage to your horse’s back! Watch this informative video and learn how to determine if your saddle’s gullet channel is the correct width for your horse.

There is no one gullet channel width that is appropriate for every horse.

There is no such thing as “one size fits all” where the gullet channel of your horse’s saddle is concerned. Instead, the width of each horse’s spine will determine how wide his saddle’s gullet channel must be.

To calculate how wide your horse’s spine is, do the following. Stand on your horse’s left side and place your hands on his spine in the area where his saddle will sit. Then, with the tips of your fingers, gently palpate downward towards the ground. You will first feel bone (the transverse processes of the lumbar vertebrae), then a slight rigidity (the supraspinal ligament), and finally, an area where there is a bit more give. This is his back or longissimus dorci muscle. Mark the start of this muscle and then do the same thing on your horse’s right side. Next, take your right hand and make a bridge over your horse’s back from mark to mark. Put your left hand inside that “bridge.” The number of fingers you can get inside your bridged hand will determine how wide the gullet channel of this horse’s saddle must be.

It is very important that the width of the gullet channel be the same throughout the entire length of the saddle. Too often we see saddles with gullet chanels that are the appropriate width at the front, but then progressively narrow towards the back. The result is a saddle that has a 4-5 finger gullet channel width under the pommel, but only 2-3 fingers at the cantle. If you consider the anatomical structure of the horse’s back, this makes no sense. The horse’s spine and surrounding ligaments do not get narrower over the length of his saddle-support area. As a result, in order to ensure adequate spinal clearance, neither should the gullet channel of his saddle.

It is only infrequently that we find a saddle that is too wide through the gullet channel for a particular horse. But such a saddle will have inadequate weight-bearing surface, may start to strip muscle away from the top of the ribs, and the back of the tree may actually rest on the spine.

A much more common problem is a saddle with too narrow of a gullet channel. This saddle will sit on the horse’s spine and/or ligaments. This is especially noticeable when the horse goes around a corner: if the horse is tracking to the left, you will see the saddle shift to the right, so that the left-side panel rests on the horse’s spine/ligaments. This is something we must avoid at all costs. In the short-term, a saddle that sits on the horse’s spine/ligaments will cause him to tighten his back muscles and hollow his back, producing exactly the opposite of the nice rounded back that we want to see, particularly in dressage. In the long-term, a saddle with too narrow of a gullet channel will cause permanent, irreversible, and often career-ending injury or damage to the horse’s back. The most severe forms of such damage are spinal stenosis (compression and narrowing of the spinal canal) and spondylosis (degeneration of the vertebrae).

 

Is this a challenge you are facing? Are you experiencing other saddle fit issues? Tell us about them and let us help!

Contact miriam@schleese.com or solutions@schleese.com, book a Personal Saddle Fit Evaluation, or attend an educational lecture/demo.

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Testimonials

Hi Amazing Schleese Folks! I started my big, bold Morgan gelding, Sherman, under saddle lightly when he was four years old after two summers of lunging and long-lining. By the time I actually sat myself on his back, he was well-versed in both voice and rein commands, and it appeared that our future was, in the words of Tom Petty wide open.Late in that first under-saddle summer, Sherm experienced a growth spurt, and my beloved favorite saddle was no longer wide enough for his broadening back. I replaced it with a wider version of the same saddle and continued our light ring work through the end of that season. Over the next eight months, however, Sherm continued to grow...and grow...and as he grew, my attempts to keep up with his width led us down a dark path. The wider-enough saddle, I failed to notice, had far exceeded the appropriate length for this short-backed breed. It took far too long to figure out that with every stride, the saddle was bumping him in the loins, and his own free movement was driving it up over his shoulder blades, where the tree points were digging into his sensitive tissues. Being a game, eager-to-please horse, Sherm tried for a long time work in this saddle, but finally at the end of his 5 year old summer, he just stopped, literally. This always-wants-to-be-first, leader-of-the-pack, eager, ready, forward horse literally refused to work under saddle at anything but a walk. Sometimes I could lunge him with the saddle on and get some trot work, but no canter, and often these sessions, which had been so good when he was younger (and wearing a saddle that fit his younger, smaller body), deteriorated into running, bucking, balking sessions that frustrated us both. Clearly, something was not right. Concerned and afraid of causing damage I could not undo, I actually gave up riding for six months. I took time off and seriously looked at changing equestrian careers-- Sherm would be great at driving; maybe I could convince myself that I'd enjoy CDE if that's what it took to keep him happy. It was a disappointing and depressing autumn as I felt I'd lost my partner just when he'd finally gotten mature enough to enjoy. Fortunately, my veterinarian had purchased her first Schleese earlier in the year, and had been so impressed that she posted her personal testimonial on her Facebook page and was talking about the saddle to anyone who was interested in listening. I gave her a call to ask if she was still happy with it after a season's use, and to ask her if she thought perhaps Sherm was a Schleese candidate. With the help of the awesome doc, I tried several Schleeses out of her tack room, saw first-hand the incredible difference that the Schleese size and shape made to Sherman, and was able to find a used one on eBay just before Christmas-- a JES Elite with an upgraded shoulder-relief #2 panel. I rode in it a dozen times before Sherm's official Schleese saddle fitting in February, and even those few rides demonstrated to me that I'd made the right choice. Gone were the fussiness and ear-pinning during tack-up. Gone was the resigned, low-energy response to mounting. Gone was the balking, the inversion, the head tossing, and the running out from under me in the trot (when I could get it). Sherm was again moving forward, being his normal goofy-gelding jolly self, and working for me, despite the intermittent nature of our work (without an indoor arena in upstate NY in winter) and despite both of us being out of shape after six months off. It was starting to feel like I had my boy back again; that alone was wonderful. In February we had our fitting with the ladies from Schleese, who visited us on one of this past winter's many brutally-cold days, and the saddle was evaluated for its appropriateness for both horse and rider. The evaluation was great for Sherm-- just about the only saddle that would fit such a short back-- and acceptable for me (my butt could use a size larger, but we'll have to manage for now). Adjustments were made to fit Sherm exactly, and we were released to get both our butts in gear, firmed up, and slimmed down. More winter misery interrupted a serious return to training for about six weeks, but over the past month, Sherm and I have been back at it, and I cannot rave enthusiastically enough about what an amazing difference this saddle has made. Sherm is happy to work, eager to do what I ask, delighted with himself and his own progress (he is a Morgan, after all). We've returned to some casual ring work, but have spent a great deal of our getting fittime out on cross country and hill-climbing hacks. Over hill and dale, up and down steep grades, across country at all three gaits, through big what was that?! Swooping Morgan spooks, this saddle does not budge-- it doesn't shift side to side; it doesn't ride up his shoulders, not even going down steep hills! It sits right where it's supposed to, all the while giving him the shoulder freedom he needs to stride out comfortably. The level of happiness, cooperation, trust, and pleasure Sherm clearly demonstrates during every ride out just breaks my heart with joy. He is once again the phenomenal go-pony his heritage and his personality shape him to be. Though we've been enjoying every minute of rollicking out there in the wide open spaces, we'll get back to serious dressage work again in a few weeks, having scheduled ourselves for a boot camp weekend with our favorite trainer. None of the joy we're experiencing, nor the fantastic plans we're making, would have been possible without your amazing saddle. Thank you, Schleese, for giving me my boy back again, and for setting us free to love riding together. We're not going to the Olympics, or to Rolex, or to Dressage at Devon. We're regular ammies, out there as often as we can get out there around running a farm and holding down a day job. But Sherm deserves a saddle that fits, and I am thrilled at the benefits of a happy, comfortable horse. We'll continue to keep up with regular fittings, and may one day graduate to a custom Obrigado (drool-drool)! Thanks to you, our future truly is once again, wide open, and we could not be more appreciative.

— Trish Pierce - Elmira, NY

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