Most riders don’t realize how the rigging in their saddle affects the saddle fitting well. Most of today’s saddles have an in skirt rigging placed in the 7/8 position. What that means is your rigging is placed in a forward position on your saddle under the swells or pommel.
From past articles, I have mentioned the weight distribution on your horse’s body is approximately 60-65% shoulder forward. This type of rigging will add additional pressure onto the already loaded front end, especially when a rear flank is not engaged.
Whenever you saddle up, you should engage the rear flank strap. By engage, I mean to snug it up – no daylight! This helps even out the pressure overall on the saddle and your horse’s back. If you don’t use it or leave it hang loose it does NO good in helping to reduce the amount of friction from the front cinch nor will it help hold down the back of the saddle if your horse stumbles or falls. It can then help propel you out of the saddle!
Many horses that I work on are very sensitive in the girth area even on saddles that are fitting well. The difference appears to be the lack of use or incorrect use of the rear flank. One guarantee, if you aren’t using one or not using it correctly, your saddle will irritate your horse. Period. The torque of your saddle being held on with only a front cinch is very intense even when only walking.
Next time you have the opportunity to check out the importance of the rear flank, saddle up your horse and have someone lead your horse away from you. From the basic motion of the horse, your saddle moves back and forth (think about the front cinch holding the saddle). Next have them turn your horse to the right and left and again watch the saddle lift off the back. This same thing happens when you are in the saddle. A saddle that is fitting well has little motion. You can’t eliminate all of it, but you can certainly reduce it.
I have many people refer to the rear flank as a bucking strap. That is not true! A bucking strap is fitted in the flank area and is done to make a horse kick, not necessarily buck. You ever notice how quickly it is removed after a rodeo ride? Many horses adapt too quickly and the “action” of kicking would either stop or lessen if left on very long. The rear flank has a connector strap that hooks onto the rings of your front cinch to keep it from going back and becoming a bucking strap. I use it just like any other new equipment I put on a horse. Most horses today adjust rather quickly to saddles, bits, etc. The rear flank is no different. Many don’t pay any attention at all.
When saddling a horse with a flank for the first time don’t over cinch. Just bring it up to within inches of the belly and walk your horse off. I do a “zig zag” walk, left and right so they can feel the difference and finish with small circles both directions. If there is no objection, snug it up so there is no daylight and repeat the above exercise. If there is any problem, repeat the above until the horse relaxes and last but not least of all – go ride!
Meleta Brown, owner of Brown’s Speed & Action for 19 years has been studying saddle fitting for approximately 13 years. She designed her own trees for saddles currently being made by Crates Leather Co. for barrel racing and trail riding. Meleta is available for private fittings and clinics. You can contact her at her business at: 260-724-7554.