Why does a saddle bridge?

Answered by Phillip Nicastro

A saddle can bridge for a few reasons, and it is important to understand why this happens in order to address the issue correctly. When a saddle bridges, it means that the panels in the center of the saddle are not making even contact with the horse’s back. This can create pressure points and discomfort for the horse, potentially leading to soreness or even injury if not addressed.

One possible reason for a saddle to bridge is that the saddle tree is too straight for the horse’s back. The saddle tree is the rigid structure that provides the foundation and shape of the saddle. If the tree is too straight, it may not conform properly to the horse’s back, causing the panels to lift away from the horse’s back in the center. This lack of contact can create pressure points at the front and back of the saddle, while leaving a gap in the middle.

Another possible reason for bridging is if the horse has a swayback. A swayback is a condition where the horse’s back has a concave shape, resembling a sway or dip in the center. This can occur naturally in some horses, especially older ones or those with certain conformational traits. When a horse has a swayback, the saddle that fits correctly on a flat-backed horse may not make even contact with the horse’s back, resulting in bridging.

To determine if a saddle is bridging, you can perform a simple test. Place the saddle on the horse’s back without a pad and run your hand along the panels. If you feel any gaps or uneven pressure, it is likely that the saddle is bridging. Additionally, you may observe signs of discomfort or soreness in the horse, such as resistance, stiffness, or white hairs on the back.

To address bridging, you may need to consider a few options. If the saddle tree is too straight for the horse’s back, you may need to explore saddles with a different tree shape or consider using shims or padding to help create better contact between the saddle and the horse’s back. Working with a knowledgeable saddle fitter or equine professional can be beneficial in finding the right solution for your horse.

If the horse has a swayback, it is important to find a saddle that is designed to accommodate this conformation. There are saddles available with specialized padding, such as built-in risers or adjustable panels, that can help provide proper contact and support for a horse with a swayback. Again, consulting with a saddle fitter or equine professional who has experience with swaybacked horses can be invaluable in finding the right saddle fit.

A saddle may bridge due to a saddle tree that is too straight for the horse’s back or if the horse has a swayback. It is crucial to address this issue to ensure the horse’s comfort, well-being, and overall performance. Working with professionals and considering specialized saddles or padding options can help alleviate bridging and provide a better fit for your horse.