Think come-along girth tighteners, think crupper, think breast collar, think no slip pads, think pulling your hair out in frustration.
All of the above are symptoms of the Arabian rider trying to keep their saddle in place on their horse’s back. The why is simple--an extremely short back with little to no withers on a barrel that resembles, well frankly, an oil barrel.
Compounding the problem, few saddlers make the hoop tree that this breed demands. Our breed (Morgans) share a huge number of saddling characteristics with the Arab, so it’s fair to say I have put thirty plus years into resolving the issue of "revolving" saddles.
While the strong back of the Arabian makes them a premier Endurance horse, when a saddle has a more tent shaped tree, nothing short of brute force can keep it in place. And when force is used, the tree cuts into the back muscles, doing damage and flawing performance.
A correctly shaped saddle tree and panel will lay quietly on the round backed horse. The panel needs to be wide and thinner. Too high a gusset can shove the cantle too high and create a tipped pelvis for the rider and pressure against the horse's shoulders. One of my favorite tests of a saddle is to place it on the horse’s bare back in the correct position—with the points 1.5" behind the shoulder blades, then grasp the billet straps and draw straight down. When the saddle is right, I will not be able to dislodge it. If it is less than perfect, it will slide off into my arms.
The width of the English tree on an Arab is almost universally a wide, (keeping in mind that the shape still must be correct.) Some extraordinary individuals bump up into extra wide. One element that helps with saddling this breed for Dressage is a tree that flares over the shoulders.
(Photo left: Suzette Sontag of www.smartstartstable.com riding Safarr+// in the Lovatt & Ricketts Berkeley—a flared tree.)
When it comes to saddling the Arab with a Western saddle, while there Arabian bars, they don’t always work. (It’s pretty wild the number of Quarter horses, Icelandics and Paints I saddle with Arabian bars.) The one saddle that almost always works with Arabians is the Freedom Saddle, made by Crates for Meleta Brown. The bars of this saddle are flared at the shoulders. With the wide Arabian barrel that their shoulders must slide over, the flare allows an easy entry under the bars. The freedom saddle has enough rise over the flanks so that they do not cut into the loin between the ribs and hips. Equally important are the width of the bars, a full 1.5" wider than most stock bars. This is important because the greater the bearing surface in contact with the back, the smaller the pressure any one square inch of the back.
(Photo right: Kari Schmidt of www.smartstartstable.com riding GF Raushana+/, Canada Champion 3 X Top Trail Horse in The Freedom Saddle by Meleta Brown. ("Ra" is also US & Canadian Top Ten 1st Level Dressage in a Thornhill Zurich Dressage saddle.))
There are only a few English saddles in the world which replicate the shape of the Arabian back the same way that the Freedom Saddle does. This is an interesting situation to ponder. America’s Western saddle trees are in the shape of the horse. Unlike some saddles designed to speed through the factory manufacturing process, quality Western trees are made at great expense and precision so they match the horse. Saddle designer David Bowler, owner of Strada Saddles has done the same thing. A Dressage rider in Canada who just test rode (and ordered) a Strada described it as Dressage Heaven. Like the Steele Saddle Tree Company’s "Fit to be seen" systems of forms, David has done the same thing for his Dressage, Endurance and Jumping saddles.
(Picture left: David Bowler of www.dressage-saddles-uk.com on his Arabian, Strada, now 27 years old.)
Please contact me if you need assistance saddling your Arabian.
Society of Master Saddlers Qualified Saddlefitter