The notion that you can use sweat marks to evaluate saddle fit may sound like an old wives’ tale, but it’s not. Sweat patterns can indicate poor saddle fit long before rubs or soreness occurs.
After you pull a saddle off your horse, inspect the sweat marks on his back and the saddle pad. You want to see symmetry—mirror images along both panels of an English saddle and the bars of a Western one. A lone dry patch might indicate “bridging”—a place where the saddle doesn’t come in contact with the back—meaning other areas are subject to increased pressure.
If a saddle fits well, there will be no sweat along the horse’s spine because air circulates freely in that space. No properly fitted saddle of any type rests on a horse’s vertebrae. The saddle pad will also have a clean, dry line down the center. (Of course, in hot, humid weather, the entire pad and your horse’s back may be soaked with sweat due to slow evaporation, so interpret what you see accordingly.)
Even if you’ve used the same saddle on your horse for years, it’s wise to regularly take note of these sweat patterns. Changes in fitness and soundness can affect saddle fit, and lopsided sweat marks may be the first sign that an adjustment or replacement is needed. If you suspect a problem, talk to your veterinarian or a saddle fitter.
This article first appeared in EQUUS issue #464, May 2016.