Saddle slipping or riding the round barreled horse

Round bellied Ellie

Round bellied Ellie

It wasn’t Ellie, but another round bellied horse. We were having a pleasant hand gallop out on the polo field, and I was just thinking, “oh how nice this is, how lovely this feels”, when there was a rustle in the bushes, and…

 the horse leapt sideways at 90 mph, my saddle slipped, and as my old riding teacher used to say, “he went east, and I went west.”

Darn. It always hurts when I fall off, and I always cry. I just do, from the shock of it. And there was dirt in my mouth, too, because I landed facedown. Yuck.

These days I seem to pick breeds that are, well, low withered and round bellied. The kind that tend to slip saddles unless you stay really, really well balanced in the center of the horse. I usually am fairly well balanced, but sometimes the horse decides to do something unexpected and your weight can pull the saddle over. Once that saddle rolls, you are toast.

How do you keep saddles stable on rotund horses with low or no withers? Since that accident, I’ve spent a lot of time and experimentation figuring it out.

1) Fastening the Girth SUPER tight is NOT the answer – it decreases performance and is very uncomfortable for the horse.  NOTE: Horses generally have a hollow along their belly right where we tend to put our hand to check the girth tightness, thus giving us a FALSE sense of how loose we think the girth might be. Instead, put your hand underneath the horse, between the fore legs, and check the girth there. We should be able to get 4 fingers snugly under the girth. If you can’t do that – it’s TOO tight. Poor horse. Of course, you can’t do this once you’re ON the horse. At that point, you’ll have to guesstimate.

2) The RIGHT kind of girth makes a big difference. There will be as many opinions as riders on this, but I have a few thoughts and a few cautions.

(a) Avoid fleecy, very padded girths, as they tend to be slippery

(b) Avoid girths with elastic at only one end as they tend to pull the saddle to one side

(c ) Be cautious with any girth with elastic, as it is easy to over tighten them, especially if you tighten it from the saddle. Our leverage is greatly increased when we girth from the saddle. Elastic is fine, just be cautious.

(d) Anatomic Girths, which are contoured so that they have more surface area on the belly (more gripping area) and cut out around the elbows, DO help. Personally, I use the County Logic (available at, which comes in dressage or jumping length, or a Mohair girth (, which grips and absorbs sweat. Note that many endurance riders use mohair it tends to prevent girth galls. I get my mohair girths from

3) Your saddle should fit well so that you do not need a lot of extra padding or shimming. Thick pads will destabilize your saddle and cause more slippage.

4) An anti-slip pad can be helpful. Here’s one you can put under any saddle pad, between the horse and the saddle, and it will help keep things in place. These really do help, I’ve used them! SmartPak Air + Non-Slip Pad $19.95 However, they can be pretty sweaty.

(5) A well fitted breastplate can help to stabilize your saddle but it won’t do much if you don’t have the above pieces in place. I’ve had saddles roll seriously even with a breastplate on, so don’t count on your breastplate to save you.

(6) Be grateful for those round bellied horses. They teach us to be better balanced riders. But do get a good anatomic or mohair girth, a well fitted saddle, and maybe a grippy pad of some sort – just in case. The cost of a good girth is nothing compared to a trip to the doctor or emergency room. Just saying.

Ellie - a fat three year old straight from pasture

Ellie – a fat three year old straight from pasture