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  • Emma

The Last Rib... It's easy peasy!

Updated: Nov 14, 2023

Having a saddle that sits beyond the last rib is a bad thing, don’t do it.

This is such an easy thing to test and know for sure. Anyone can work out whether their saddle sits beyond the last rib. You don’t need to do the 3 years mentoring, have a degree in equine anatomy, or be a master saddler. “Experts” (Fitters, Reps or Yard Experts) can’t even pull the wool over your eyes in any way shape or form, even the best “know it all” can’t talk themselves out of this one. And all teachings, no matter who’s giving it agree that no treed saddle should sit beyond the last rib of the horse. It’s saddle fitting 101 - Step 1.

WHY? Because we love being bloody awkward?

NO. It’s because the tree is there to distribute your weight evenly along the horses back - It's its only job! This will help your horse carry you as it’s not a natural thing for their body to do. It should equally distribute your weight all the way along the tree, from front to back (In Balance). The panel is there to “cushion” and support this weight bearing structure. This is why flock must be firm, flat and smooth all the way through as well, as it’s there distributing your weight along the long back muscles (Longissimus Dorsi). This is the whole point of a treed saddle - THE END. Just let that sink in.

Beyond the last rib, there’s a junction, where the thoracic and the lumbar spine meet. It’s weak. It isn’t supported by a structure such as the rib cage. It’s a floating area of nothing. Weight bearing here is a bad idea. Putting weight on a weak area is never a clever plan. You prevent the horse from using themselves correctly. You encourage a compensatory movement from the horse and that’s when things go twang (I’ll talk more about that in another post/blog/rant).

Below is an image of my Freddie (the bold, bullet dodging ranger!) This was the day he came to me. Yes, it makes me feel nauseous as well but it's a great anatomy lesson. This is a horse compromised every which way but for the purpose of today, it's his skin and bone state that's helpful. I've marked the last rib, where it attaches to the spine and the bit above that SHOULD be filled with a lovely, plump longissimus dorsi muscle - I fear it is not here..

That little box, above the dots, between the lines is where his saddle and panel need to fit within. That's the saddle support area, which in turn is what should be strong and beautiful to support you. Freddie in no way shape or form, would or should be ridden in this state.

> 1. Freddie Day One Showing you where the saddle should sit anatomically

Freddie Day 1 :o(

> 2. However, no horse with a topline and body this compromised should be saddled.

Freddie Day 1

So your saddle, no matter who’s fitting it, should ever sit beyond the last rib.

Now, test yours - All you need to do is put your saddle on your horse. Ideally girthed up but no saddle pad will make it easier. Feel along gently for your horses last rib, got it? The very last one! Now follow it up, following the nice curve of the rib, and then where they would connect into the spine (Dots in the images) - STOP, and go straight up - that’s the point of no return (See image 1).

Did you just hit your finger on your saddle?

1. Yes - Take Action - Video - Mark the last rib and ride to see if in dynamic movement the saddle is sitting within the last rib (can be the case. If it is still over the last rib, and this includes the weight baring panel.. Get a saddle fitter in..

2. No - Excellent - Step 1 : Your saddle is a good length for the horse. Just need to make sure that it’s the right length for you*, is the channel width allowing freedom, and all the other aspects that need to be considered and correct.

I’m really tired of getting to appointments and saddles being beyond the last rib. Many have been fitted by saddle fitters!". It’s such a bloody easy thing to get right and I can’t do anything about it. I don’t say it unless it’s true and I can show you, and you can feel for yourself. No saddle fitter should ever fit beyond the last rib. Even if you are too big for a smaller saddle then you need to take action, NOT the horse has to put up with it *. Horses that have saddles that are too long often have those raised, hard areas behind the saddle. They’ll often look Croup high. Poor posture. Ride on the forehand. Sway backed. These are all signs the horse is compromising their Posture and movement for you. STOP. You are actually reducing their life span. JUST STOP.

I’ve had people say things like “well it’s in a 6’6 rug”, or “it’s 16.2 so it must be able to take a 17.5” - Well, have a feel and see, prove it to yourself, as neither of those aspects have any correlation on the length of the rib cage.

It’s not difficult but you do sometimes have to have a difficult conversation but all we want is happy horses able to go on adventures and not be compromised.

Now, go test it out.

* If you have a very short backed horse this is where things get awkward… BUT no one should ever compromise the horse or pony for the rider. if you are 6ft and your horse can only take a 16.5” saddle then the next step is the PSI - Pound Per Square Inch and if you can’t fit in a smaller saddle without putting too much pressure on it, then that’s that. You can’t ride that horse or pony. It’s sometimes really hard but causing your horse to compromise is unacceptable.

And just for good measure, here is my wonderful Freddie 1-2 years on and living his best life. He's now 18yrs young and a superstar. Happy under saddle (although he does very little) and enjoying his life with me as his ever watchful guardian!

Freddie Year 1

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