Saddles are generally designed to fit the average horse. However, we all know (and perhaps own) a horse who has less than average conformation.
When fitting a saddle the key is to check that the saddle is the correct width for the width of the spine, and that the balance is correct from front to back and side to side. The panels should sit flush with the muscles of the back with no ‘bridging’ between the panel and the horse’s back.
Some people are lucky enough to have a custom made saddle created for their horse. However, for most of us this is simply not affordable. This is why a good saddle fitter becomes vital. Always have a qualified saddle fitter to advise you, and have your saddle regularly checked and rebalanced to maintain the best fit possible.
The sway back requires careful saddle fitting to avoid placing too much pressure behind the shoulders and over the lumbar area, as the saddle can drop with a rider’s weight and ‘dig in’. The saddle panels will require more support where the back dips most, in order to maintain an even feel between the saddle and the back and maintain the front-to-back balance of the saddle.
Depending on the severity and length of the roach, it may lift the saddle up behind causing it to dig in behind the withers and shoulders. Good support in front with less flocking behind can be useful in some instances.
Flat withers and loaded shoulders often go hand-in-hand, and are most common in breeds like the Arabian, Friesian, Appaloosa and Boerperd. The danger with this conformation is that the saddle rolls over the withers easily. Generally speaking, low profile panels, a wide gullet and often longer bars in the saddle tree provide sufficient support to stabilise the saddle.
High withers and withers that run further back under the saddle are a real challenge. Sometimes saddles on these horses are too tight, because owners are trying to ‘clear’ the withers. Saddles with a cut-back pommel such as the Kieffer and PDS really assist with providing wither clearance.