I am often asked, “How do I know if my saddle allows my horse to move his shoulders freely?” Here is a quick and accurate way to check the fit around the shoulders of your horse. As you are sitting in your saddle, slide your hand under the front edge of the panel. If your horse is having an easy time sliding his scapula under the front panel of your saddle,you should easily slide your hand in there. If you can’t slide your hand in there, your horse is probably experiencing pain with every step. If you can fit your hand, ask your horse to walk. Your hand should not be squeezed uncomfortably. If you find that you can’t fit your hand or walking causes intense squeezing of your hand, it means that your saddle does not fit properly. The number one reason for poor fit in this area is that the horse has muscle atrophy behind the scapular and the saddle was fit into the resulting hole. If atrophy is evident, the saddle tree should be fit to the shape the horse would be if the muscle was healthy. You must use a saddle tree with a tree arm that is long enough to span the gap, or use a saddle with an independent panel system that can span the gap.
The second most common reason your saddle might fail this test is that your wool or foam flocking has become hard. Wool flocking should be replace every year. Many people don’t know, or they forget, how soft and cushy a brand new quality wool flocked saddle feels.
The WOW saddle with Flair panels has always done a great job of passing this test when the head plate is correct. The BUA saddle will also do a great job of passing the “squeeze test.” It is because the BUA has no tree points that can wedge down behind the shoulder.