Sizing Your Horse

Fitting a Horse Blanket
Use this handy reference for getting a perfect fit when you buy a blanket for your horse.

If you blanket your horse for winter, careful measurements will ensure a perfect fit.
Photo by Darrell Dodds

You've just purchased a new blanket for your horse, but when you get home and try it on him, you realize it's not the right size, and back to the tack store you go. Here's how to get it right the first time. All you need is a cloth measuring tape and a level spot on which to stand your horse.

1. Stand your horse up squarely. Tie him, or ask someone to hold him.

2. Standing on his left, take the end of the tape in your left hand and place it at the point where his neck meets the center of his chest.

3. With your right hand, draw the tape along his left side as far as you can. Make sure the tape crosses the widest part of his shoulder; if you measure too low on the chest, your blanket will be too small. The tape must be level and taut, or you'll add inches to your final measurement, and end up with a blanket that's too big.

4. When you've reached as far as you can, mark the spot with your right thumb, noting the measurement. Then measure backward from that spot, holding the start of the tape there with your left hand, and again reaching back with your right.

5. Still keeping the tape level and straight, bring it across the point of his buttock (the hindmost point of the quarters, about 10 to 12 inches below the place where the tail joins the body). Stop at the edge of his tail, noting the measurement.

6. Add your two measurements to get your horse's blanket size. Stock blankets come in even sizes, from 30 (for foals) to 88 (for large horses). If you come out with an odd number, round up to the next even number.

Measure Your Horse's Mouth for Proper Bit Sizing
Use this handy tool to measure the width of your horse's mouth for proper bit sizing.

Is your snaffle bit the right width for your horse? Use this handy tool to check and see.
Photo by Darrell Dodds

In the September 2006 issue of Horse & Rider, magazine Bob Avila shares his wisdom on bits ("Bob Avila's Winning Insights: Bits From Start to Finish.") Whether you're looking for a bit for a green horse or a veteran campaigner, you want to be sure you're selecting the right size for your horse's mouth. If your snaffle bit's mouthpiece is too wide or too narrow for your horse's mouth, the bit can't do its job effectively. Here's how to make a tool to measure the width of your horse's mouth--and how to use it as a guide to proper bit fit.

(Note: The measurement you get from this method isn't absolute, it's simply a guide to help you pick the correct mouthpiece for your horse. Standard width is 5 inches. Generally, horses with small muzzles and jaws wear a 4 1/2-inch mouthpiece, as a 5-inch model may look sloppy. Horses with larger muzzles and jaws are usually more comfortable in 5 1/2- or 6-inch mouthpieces, so the bit won't fit the corners of their mouths.)

You'll Need:
An 8-inch section of 1/2-inch hose; a ruler; a pocketknife or leather punch; two rolls of different-colored, 1/2-inch wide electrical tape (we'll use red and yellow for ease of description); two split key rings; a lightweight headstall; two swivel snaps (optional).

Making the Measuring Tool
1. Using the ruler, mark points 1/2, 1, and 1 1/2 inches from each hose end. (The space between the two 1 1/2-inch marks should be 5 inches.)

2. Wrap a strip of red tape between the 1/2- and 1 inch marks at each end. Then wrap a strip of yellow tape between the 1- and 1 1/2-inch marks. Looking at the hose from left to right, you'll see 1/2-inch of bare hose, then a red piece of tape, then a yellow piece, then 5 inches of bare hose, followed by yellow tape, red tape and 1/2-inch of bare hose.

3. Using a pocketknife or leather punch, pierce a small hole in the hose end about 1/4-inch from each end. Then thread a split key ring through each hole.

4. Secure the rings to your headstall's cheekpieces, as though you're putting on a bit. Or, fasten swivel snaps to your headstall's cheekpieces. Then clasp the snaps to the key rings. (The latter is a bit faster.)

Mouth Measuring
1. To measure the width of your horse's mouth, bridle him with the measuring tool attached to the headstall, placing the hose in his mouth just like a bit. (Note: adjust your headstall so that the hose lies flat in your horse's mouth.)

2. The colored tape markers with tell you at a glance what size mouthpiece your horse needs. If the corners of his mouth are within the standard 5-inch width (the corners of his mouth are within the bare hose area) a 5-inch mouthpiece may be fine. However, when it comes to snaffle mouthpieces, wider is often better. Try a 5 1/2-inch mouthpiece; you may find him more comfortable and responsive.

3. If there's a gap of 1 inch or more between the corners of his mouth and the edge of the yellow tape marker, try a 4 1/2- inch or 5-inch mouthpiece.

4. On the other hand, if the corners of his mouth spread on to the yellow tape marker, opt for a 5 1/2-inch mouthpiece.

5. If his mouth spreads on to the red (or farthest) tape marker, a 6-inch mouthpiece may be best.

Suzanne Vlietstra is president of Hobby Horse Clothing Company, Inc., in Chino, Calif.

Choosing a Bit
Instructor and trainer Ron Meredith discusses how bits act on the horse's mouth and how to select a suitable bit for your horse.

Bits are one of the most MythUnderstood pieces of horse equipment man has ever invented. The things that people think they're supposed to do with a bit in a horse's mouth are unbelievable.

All to often, the human take on the situation is that a horse is a big animal, therefore the pressures needed to control it must be big and strong. That's a myth. A rocket engine is controlled by tiny bits of information being fed one at a time by a computer. Each of those bits is either a "zero" or a "one". The bits flow in a pattern called a program that the rocket understands. Same thing with a horse. All it needs are tiny bits of information fed to it with the right timing to get with the program.

There are very few surfaces where the bit can apply pressure. So it takes some pretty complex applications of pressure to those few points to create complex communication. The bit must be shaped in such a way and fit properly within the mouth so horse is able to understand what the communication is. Therefore a bit must be both directional and horse logical. It must not cause any injury which will result in temporary numbness.

The area in the horse's mouth where a bit communicates our pressures most effectively to the horse is called the bars. These gaps between the front teeth and the back teeth on either side of the jaw consist of tissue-covered, pressure-sensitive cartilage. Between the bars, the bit lays across and presses against the horse's tongue. Depending on its shape and adjustment, a bit can also put pressure on the horse's lips and on the roof of its mouth. Pressures on the lips are the least effective because the lips are an unstable surface and easily injured.

The first thing to look at on any device you put in the horse's mouth is its contact area--the size of the area that actually touches the horse and transmits pressure or feel. When trainers talk about "pounds of pressure" on a bit, they are really talking about pounds per square inch of pressure over this contact area. The thinner the bit, the less contact area it has and the greater the pounds per square in of pressure. The thicker the bit, the greater the contact area and the lower the pounds per square inch of pressure.

Put another way, the thinner the bit, the more noticeable any pressure on the bars will be. With a thicker bit, the same amount of rein pressure will be less noticeable. So the effective size of the mouthpiece is the first thing to look at because it will determine how noticeable the pressure you apply will be. Rough bit surfaces such as twists reduce the area where pressure is felt much like rough tread reduces a tire's surface area where it meets the road.

The second thing to look at is whether the mouthpiece is straight or whether it is shaped so it relieves the pressure on the tongue. If the bit is straight, the horse's tongue absorbs some of the pressure and the horse will feel less pressure on the bars. The bars are the only places in the mouth we can use to communicate an understandable directional pressure. If the mouthpiece is hinged or grooved so it relieves pressure on the tongue, the bit is more noticeable on the bars of the mouth and gives more directional guidance.

A tongue groove and a port are not the same thing. A tongue groove is a shallow, raised indentation in the center of the mouthpiece only high enough to relieve tongue pressure. It allows the bit's pressures to be felt on the bars. A port is a raised groove or attached spoon so tall that it puts pressure on the roof of the mouth when the shanks of the bit are rotated by pulling on the reins. If you could park a little boat in it, it's a port. A port is severe and nondirectional and cannot teach the horse anything.

The third thing to look at is whether the bit has leverage. The way to measure leverage is to compare the distance from the mouthpiece to where the reins attach to the distance from the mouthpiece to the curb chain (or strap). Most curb bits have a 3:1 leverage ratio. That means if you put 10 pounds of pull on the reins, the horse will feel 30 pounds of pressure squeezing his mouth.

Leverage decreases the amount of time it takes for the horse to feel bit pressure. If you have a bit with 3:1 leverage, the horse feels 10 pounds of pressure three times faster than he would if you applied 10 pounds of pressure with a non-leverage bit like a snaffle. To make this kind of bit pressure understandable and horse logical you would have to soften the pressure to reward the horse three times as quickly as you would with a non-leverage bit. Because of this exaggerated pressure and release, curb bits impede true feel and understanding between you and your horse.

Curbs are also nondirectional. Their pressure is felt as a clamping between the horse's chin and the bars of his mouth, and therefore can convey minimal direction to the horse. If you use a chain, the pressure is more noticeable underneath the chin. If you use a thick leather strap, the pressure is more noticeable on the bars of the mouth. In most cases, curb bits are used as a signaling device rather than as a training device to help the horse learn to shape himself correctly.

One of the biggest mistakes everybody makes is picturing the bit by itself. The bit is only part of the overall corridor of aids you use to create the shapes you want the horse to take. You do not want the bit to be louder than your legs or seat. You don't need a big bit to get the horse's attention and you don't need a big bit to get the horse stopped. You just need to know how to use a bit to make it understandable and directional to the horse.

Whenever you see a horse fighting the bit, he has lost feeling for the rest of the aids. It is just like two people who speak different languages raising their voices louder and louder in an effort to be understood. Rhythm, relaxation and repetition are the cornerstones of good training.

Instructor and trainer Ron Meredith has refined his "horse logical" methods for communicating with equines for over 30 years as president of Meredith Manor International Equestrian Centre: Rt. 1 Box 66, Waverly, WV 26184; 1-800-679-260; an ACCET accredited equestrian educational institution.

Types of Bits
Most tack stores offer a bewildering array of bits for sale. Knowing what each of them is will help you decide which type of bit is right for your horse.

Too Many Choices
A popular feature of many tack shops is the "Bit Wall". This is usually a rather intimidating array of different types of bit, each with different features designed to work in a slightly different way. Trying to decide which is the right bit for your horse can be confusing, but when you look closely, you'll see that there are only two basic types of bit: the Snaffle Bit and the Curb Bit.

Most people assume that because the snaffle is usually a jointed bit and the curb usually is not, the mouthpiece is what determines whether a particular bit is a snaffle or a curb. However, according to veteran horse trainer, Jessica Jahiel, the difference between snaffles and curbs has nothing to do with the mouthpiece. The difference between the two types of bit is that the snaffle is a non-leverage bit and the curb is a leverage bit.

What Does That Mean?
On a snaffle bit, the rein attaches directly to the mouthpiece. The bit acts with a nutcracker action (provided it is jointed) on the bars of the mouth (the area of gum between the front and back teeth), the corners of the mouth and the tongue. As the rider takes a contact on the rein, the horse feels an equal amount of contact on the bit in his mouth.

On a curb bit, the rein attaches to a shank or cheekpiece which adds leverage. When the rider takes a contact on the rein, the horse feels a greater amount of contact, depending on the length of the shank. Following the basic physics of leverage, the longer the shank, the greater the leverage. The curb bit works on the bars of the mouth, as well as under the chin (by way of the curb chain which is attached to the bit) and over the poll.

Types of Snaffles
The gentlest type of snaffle bit is the Eggbutt snaffle. The name comes from the somewhat egg-shaped connection between the mouthpiece and the bit-ring. The mouthpiece of an eggbutt can be made of a variety of materials (as can any bit), including copper and synthetic (either solid or covered). The reason this bit is so gentle is that it doesn't pinch the corners of the mouth.

Another style of snaffle bit is the D-Ring snaffle. The name is self-explanatory in that the ring of the bit is in the shape of a "D".

In the Loose-Ring snaffle, the mouthpiece is attached to a full-round ring, and can slide around on it, allowing the bit to lay in the most natural position, whatever horse it is used on.

Some snaffle bits, such as the Full Cheek Snaffle, have cheek-pieces which prevent the bit from being pulled through the mouth.

Types of Curb Bit
A basic Western Curb Bit has a gently ported mouthpiece and shanks to which the reins attach. As the rider takes a feel of the reins, more leverage is exerted on the horse's mouth and also on the poll (where the bridle goes over the head, behind the ears). By increasing the amount of port on the mouthpiece, pressure is applied to the roof of the mouth also. Since Western horses are ridden on a loose rein, the longer shank allows the rider to utilize the leverage by giving extremely light rein aids and attaining the same result as a rider using a snaffle on a firmer contact.

In the English Curb Bit the port can also vary in severity. In general the shanks on English bits are shorter than on Western bits - four to five inches on an English bit as opposed to up to eight or nine inches on a Western one. The English Curb bit is often used in a double bridle. In the double bridle, two bits are actually used. One is the curb, called the Weymouth and one is the snaffle, called the Bridoon. Both of these bits are used together to refine the aids in the higher levels of dressage competition.

Bridle-Fit Tips
These tips will ensure your horse's bridle fits comfortably and securely. Written by Chris George for Horse & Rider magazine.
© Cappy Jackson

When your horse's bridle is properly adjusted, he'll be comfortable, and he'll have the polished, "custom tailored" look that projects a winning image in the show ring.

1. Adjust the bridle's cheekpieces so that the bit just creases the corners of your horse's mouth, forming one wrinkle on each side, as shown.

2. For a polished appearance, the cheekpiece buckles should lie next to the prominent bone at the eye, and be even on both sides. If the buckles on your bridle don't lie there when properly adjusted, a saddle-repair shop can alter the bridle for you.

3. When you buckle the throatlatch, leave enough slack to fit your fist beneath the strap. That's snug enough to keep the bridle from being accidentally pulled off, but not so tight that the strap interferes with your horse's ability to flex at the poll.

4. Adjust the cavesson so the noseband rests about one finger-width below your horse's cheekbones. Buckle the noseband such that you can slide two fingers comfortably beneath it.

5. The browband should rest in the natural hollow below your horse's ears, and lie flush and straight across his forehead.

Chris George and her husband, Shane, train out of their facility, Show Sports farm, in Magnolia, Texas. Shane has shown to national success in USA Equestrian competition, and is a multiple American Quarter Horse Association world champion in hunter events.

Adapted from an article that appeared in Horse & Rider magazine.

The Nine Points of Saddle Fitting
Your saddle affects the way you ride and the way your horse performs. Learn how to evaluate this very basic piece of riding equipment.

At the risk of sounding like a school-kid returning to class in the fall, I must say that I went to camp this summer. No, not to learn canoeing, nature crafts, or even dressage. I went to "saddle camp." For the better part of a week, our group of eight, made up of professional saddle-fitters, tack-shop owners, riders, an insurance agent, a college professor and an assistant editor--me--bent over carpet-covered workbenches in a classroom at the Potomac Horse Center in Gaithersburg, Maryland. We used assorted-sized metal "flocking irons" and wooden "smashers" to push and shape soft wool into saddle panels, while our instructor, saddler David Young of Raleigh, North Carolina, looked on. "Put the flocking in there as light and fluffy as possible," he told us. "Don't let it ball up." We heeded his word and worked intently, knowing an intensive five-part practical test and written exam loomed at week's end.

The course, sponsored by the Master Saddlers Association (MSA), was an education in equine anatomy and saddle fitting. As I realized at the time I enrolled in the course, it's impossible to teach or to learn everything there is to know about these subjects in just five days. But you can take people who already know something about horses and saddle fitting, teach them the basics of what they don't know and give them guidelines for standard saddle-fitting procedures. Going into the course, I knew I was the least experienced member of our group. But I really applied myself, soaking up every bit of information I could, and I passed the final exam--a major accomplishment in my book.

Of all the valuable lessons I learned during saddle camp, the nine points of saddle fitting is the one that I most want to share because it's information that every rider can use. I'm also going to outline some of the details of my final exam to give you an idea of what goes into the education of a saddle-fitter.

Nine Fundamental Points

After a day's lesson in equine anatomy by Joyce Harman, DVM, I had a renewed awareness of and appreciation for the skeletal structure, muscles, and ligaments that bear the weight of saddle and rider, and so are at the core of any study of saddle fit. Through Harman's instructive slides and props and her straightforward presentation, I felt adequately prepared for the second day of class, which was devoted to the fundamentals of saddle fitting. Master Saddlers Association founder Gene Freeze began to build our foundation of understanding by introducing us to what he calls the nine points of saddle fitting--a basic checklist that zeros in on the most critical and readily identifiable aspects of a saddle's suitability for a particular horse and rider.

Point 1: Saddle Position

To begin our evaluation, Freeze emphasizes the importance of ensuring that the horse each of us is examining is standing squarely on level ground. I check my horse's stance, then I proceed to place the saddle correctly without using a pad: I lay the saddle on the horse's back, slightly forward on the withers. I put my left hand on the horse's neck, just in front of the withers. Then I grab the saddle by the pommel with my right hand and I give it a sharp tug back and down. The saddle "locks in" when it is in the correct position. I repeat the process; the saddle stops in the same place each time.

According to Freeze, many riders place their saddles too far forward, which restricts the movement of the horse's shoulder. The equine shoulder blade (scapula) moves backward by as much as three inches when the horse is in motion, so saddle placement must allow enough clearance for the shoulder to move freely. Ideally, the "points" of the saddle--the fingerlike extensions at the front and on both sides of the saddle tree--are far enough behind the back edge of the horse's shoulder blade so that the saddle doesn't interfere with movement.

Point 2: Level Seat

With the saddle correctly placed on the horse's back--and the horse still standing squarely--Freeze now instructs us to look at the lowest point of the seat, which, in most cases, is centered between the pommel (the front of the saddle) and the cantle (the back of the saddle) as well as level. This is the ideal position because it allows a rider to sit comfortably and effectively deliver seat and leg aids without putting undo pressure on the horse's back.

When the deepest point of the seat is too far back, the rider slides toward the cantle, loading the back panels and causing the horse to hollow his back. During the sitting trot, the rider also tends to rotate forward onto her crotch to compensate for that feeling of being "left behind."

At the other extreme, if the saddle's center is too far forward, the rider slides toward the pommel and feels pitched forward. Then the natural response is to brace against the leg, making the aids less effective.

A seat that is not level may indicate a serious saddle-fit problem, or it may simply mean that the panels require adjustment. As long as the saddle tree correctly fits the horse (which will become more apparent as you continue to evaluate the points on this checklist), it may be possible to adjust the level with flocking--extra natural or synthetic wool stuffing placed inside the panels.

Point 3: Pommel-to-Cantle Relationship

A dressage saddle's cantle is higher than the pommel by virtue of its design, which takes into account the amount of sitting a dressage rider does. For comfort, the cantle conforms to the anatomy of a rider's seat. If, however, the saddle is sitting slightly low behind--and as long as the saddle tree is not too narrow--a saddle fitter may be ale to add flocking to the back of the panel to raise the cantle.

Point 4: Clearance under the Pommel

To evaluate pommel clearance when no rider is in the saddle, Freeze now instructs us to first hold one of our hands perpendicular to the ground then to slide it into the space between the pommel and the horse's withers. As a very general rule, two and one half to three fingers should fit into the space without feeling cramped or pinched. Assuming that the tree fits, if there isn't sufficient room, a saddle fitter may be able to add flocking to raise and/or balance the saddle to ensure that it clear the horse's withers.

Point 5: Point Angles

The points of the saddle tree determine the saddle's width, and this is probably the most important aspect of evaluating a saddle's suitability for a particular horse. When the width of the tree is not correct for a horse, the saddle does not fit.

We begin this phase of our examination by lifting up the flaps of the saddle; the points are in front of the billet straps. Freeze tells us that on most saddles you can see what looks like a pocket. Inside this pocket, under the leather, lie the points of the saddle.

With the saddle in place on the horse, Freeze instructs us to look at the angle of the points in relation to the angle of the horse's body. If the points are parallel to his body or within 10 degrees of parallel, the tree is the correct width for the horse. If the angle of the points is steeper than the angle of the horse's body, the tree is too narrow. If the angle is greater, then it's too wide.

When the angle is too narrow, the saddle will pinch the horse at the bottom of the points, causing discomfort. If the tree is too wide, it either will sit right on top of the withers, offering less-than-adequate clearance, or once loaded, it will rotate down in front, putting pressure on top of the panels.

Trying to mechanically alter an ill-fitting tree can break the points, shear rivets or affect the webbing that supports the seat as well as possibly void a saddle's warranty. A factory-authorized representative should perform any tree adjustments, no matter how experienced your saddle fitter.

Point 6: Panel Pressure

Now Freeze shows us how to place one hand on the saddle and apply some pressure to simulate having a rider sit in the saddle. I place the palm of my other hand away from the horse. Then I run it from top to bottom under the points, checking for consistent pressure throughout. Next, I move my hand from front to back under the length of the panel, feeling for any pressure points or bridging--gap where the saddle does not touch the horse. Freeze emphasizes the importance of checking both sides of the saddle, since the majority of horses are not built exactly the same way on each side. Correcting pressure points or bridging requires adjusting the flocking.

Freeze also tells us that this is a good time to check for "rocking," which concentrates the rider's weight on one or two small areas of the horse's back, often causing soreness. I put one hand on the pommel and the other on the cantle. Then I alternately press down with one hand and then the other. If the saddle rotates excessively on the center of the panel like a seesaw, the flocking probably is uneven and needs to be adjusted. Rocking also can be caused by a wrong-sized tree or inappropriately shaped panels.

Point 7: Gullet Clearance

For this part of the evaluation, I position myself near the horse's hindquarters so I can look down the gullet--the open space between the panels--from the rear. Ideally, the gullet clears the entire length of the horse's spine and does not touch the connective tissue on either side. Now I reach forward and push down on the cantle and I inspect the same area. As Freeze explains, sometimes when a horse is asymmetrical and weight is added to the saddle, it will shift and rest on the spine or the connective tissue, which is painful for the horse. This situation can be alleviated by adding flocking, changing how the saddle is girthed, and/or by adding a balance strap--an extra billet--to help keep the saddle from shifting when the horse is ridden.

Point 8: Length of the Saddle

The weight-bearing surface of a saddle should be between the horse's wither area and the point where the last rib meets the spine. To find this point (technically known as T18), Freeze shows us how to locate the last rib and follow it with our fingers as far as we can. He explains that it may be hard to feel once we get up into the horse's back-muscle area. If the saddle sits too far back beyond this point, it will rest on the lumbar region--the weakest part of a horse's back--where it can cause injury, because the lumbar region cannot support a rider's weight.

Point 9: Horse's Response

During her anatomy presentation on our first day of the course, Harman had told us "the horse never lies." He will tell you whether he is comfortable by his movements and actions. This is the acid test of saddle fitting.

A horse that moves freely, without hesitation or signs of distress, probably is wearing a saddle that fits him correctly. Most horses show a dramatic change in disposition and movement when an ill-fitting saddle is the source of pain. Dressage riders can look to saddle fit for clues when a horse just isn't going "right," and veterinary, dental, and showing problems have been ruled out. Saddle fit may be the reason a horse fidgets when approached with a saddle. It also may be why he collapses, "crabs" away, or hollows his back when his girth is tightened.

Final Exams

After almost a week of nonstop classes and hands-on work, we were ready for the five-part testing process. To begin, each student was presented with a horse and his saddle. Jan Cross, the owner of Justy, a 17-year-old Arabian gelding who was my test horse, brought him out for me to assess. Over the winter, Cross explained, Justy had suffered pituitary and ankle problems and was still in the process of gaining back the several hundred pounds he had lost while he was ill.

Right off the bat, I noticed that Justy was very asymmetrical: His left side was more steeply angled than his right. Because of this, Cross's dressage saddle shifted to the left on Justy's back when she rode. This interfered with the supraspinus ligament and the connective tissue on the gelding's right side. In addition, I noted that the deepest part of the saddle's seat was tipped back toward the cantle. Cross confirmed my observation when she mentioned that she was constantly fighting to keep her body position more forward whenever she rode.

To remedy Justy's saddle-fit problems, I began by adding some flocking throughout both panels. Then I put a bit more in the back. To fix the shifting, however, required some brainstorming. Cross and I discussed several options, then decided that the best solution would be to use a small additional pad, called a shim, just under the rear of the left panel. I also recommended that she send her saddle to a local saddler to have a balance strap sewn on the right side to help keep the saddle from shifting left whenever she rode Justy.

Cross searched me out early the next morning to say how much better she was able to hold her position in the saddle as a result of my efforts. For the first time in a long while, Justy had given her some good lateral work, she said, and he seemed happy about it.

I sighed with relief. That was one test down, four more to go. Friday was the big day. We had to demonstrate our ability to make templates--models--of a horse's back using a flexible architect's tool. Then we had to go through the nine points of saddle fitting, do a back examination that included naming the pertinent anatomical structures, and complete a 20-question essay.

In the end, I was one of five "campers" who made the grade by passing all of the tests. However, I'm not planning to hang out my saddle-fitter's shingle just yet. I'm at least a year of practice and apprenticing away from feeling comfortable enough to do that. Besides, I have too many stories to write. Even now, I can hear my editor calling.

The Master Saddlers Association

A new organization, the Master Saddlers Assocation (MSA) was started this year by Gene Freeze of County Saddlery in Woodbine, Maryland. Freeze is the only person in the United States registered as a saddle fitter by England's Society of Master Saddlers (SMS). He started the U.S. program because of what he sees as a lack of qualified professional saddle fitters.

The mission of MSA is to educate horse owners and riders about proper saddle fit, to protect the well-being of the horse, and to set professional standards for saddle fitters. MSA is based on the principles of SMS and includes a professional code of conduct and standardized guidelines for certified saddle fitters to follow. The organization plans to run certification courses for all levels several times a year.

According to Freeze, it is important for consumers to know the difference between saddle makers and saddle fitters. A saddle maker does not necessarily know how to properly fit a saddle, just as a saddle fitter may not know how to construct a saddle.

To locate a certified saddle fitter in your area or to find out about becoming certified, call MSA at (301) 570-3100.

Stacey Nedrow-Wigmore is a life-long horseperson and assistant editor for Dressage Today magazine. Her article won a first place award for service to the reader in the recent American Horse Publications contest.

This article first appeared in the October, 2000 issue of Dressage Today magazine

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How to Halter a Horse
A step-by-step guide to putting a halter on a horse.

A halter is the very basic head gear a horse wears to enable you to handle him and control him.

Here's How:

  1. As you approach your horse to halter him, make sure the halter is unbuckled and the lead rope is attached.
  2. Stand on the left side of the horse and pass the end of the lead rope under his neck with your left hand.
  3. Put your right hand over his neck and take the lead rope from your left hand.
  4. Now you have the rope around his neck. Catch both ends of rope together in your right hand so he can't wander off while you put the halter on.
  5. Position the loop so you can pass the halter strap to your right hand in the same way you did with the rope.
  6. At this point you should have both the rope and the halter strap in your left hand, with your arm over the horse's neck and the halter buckle in your right hand.
  7. With your hands on either side of the horse's head, position the noseband so the horse's nose will slide easily into it and raise the halter into position.
  8. Bring the halter strap over the horse's head, right behind his ears and do up the buckle, keeping hold of the rope just in case he decided to break away before you have finished.
  9. Remove the loop of rope from around the horse's neck and you are ready to go.


  1. Make sure your halter fits properly and is neither too loose nor too tight.
  2. The noseband should lie two fingers below the cheekbone and you should be able to fit two fingers between your horse and the noseband.