Pitfalls to avoid when saddle fitting – and how to overcome them

Kay Hastilow - who’s seen and heard it all - shares her experiences and advice.

Saddle fitters who read the feature and submit correct answers to the quiz via will be awarded CPD accreditation by the Society of Master Saddlers (SMS). SMS Registered Qualified Saddle Fitters are required to maintain CPD fulfilment as part of their registration. Successful completion is worth 30 minutes’ training time.

Everyone who fits saddles regularly will be familiar with circumstances that can really extend the time it takes. Some situations, can even prevent you from being able to complete the fitting on that day.

How many times have we heard a client say: “Oh, I didn’t know I would have to ride...”

Here are some problems that may arise:

  • The client has given you the wrong address or postcode so you can’t find them.
  • You have their mobile number but it’s turned off/left in the car.
  • They open the gate to a muddy field and expect you to drive into (and out of) it later.
  • You arrive and the horse is still running around the field.
  • The horse is in but soaking wet and/or covered in mud.
  • There is nowhere to assess him under cover and secure.
  • There is nowhere suitable to see him run up.
  • There is nowhere safe and enclosed to see him ridden.
  • The horse is on a headcollar and they can’t control it.
  • They don’t have or have forgotten the bridle.
  • They have forgotten or don’t have stirrups and leathers, girths or saddle cloths.
  • They ‘never wear’ a hat and don’t have one.
  • Dangerous footwear – flip flops on one memorable occasion!
  • No trousers that they can ride in. Skirts or shorts are not good for trying a saddle.
  • They suddenly decide that they would like their trainer’s opinion.
  • They have forgotten their money / bank card / smart banking app. “I’ll pay you as soon as I get back.” Yep, we’ve all heard that one.
  • “My friend is going to ride the horse as she’s much better than me. Yes, I’m 5’7” and 75kg and she’s only 5’2” and 60 kg, but she will know if it’s right for me.” There are no doubt many others.


Most fitters nowadays do a great deal of their booking by email or online. It’s certainly preferable to having your ear bent on the phone for an hour or more of an evening – although, of course, you can’t start to build a relationship with your client this way.

Nonetheless, demands on our time are such nowadays that online booking, in whatever form, really is the way to go.

So, suggestion one. Once you have the booking sorted, acknowledge it with a form that asks and suggests that the following things are in place for your fitting.

  • Please make sure that the address and postcode that you have given me are correct. If possible, give me your location with What3Words.
  • Please have your mobile phone with you (not in the car) and have it turned on.
  • Please ensure that there is good hard standing to park my vehicle and access my saddles.
  • Please have the horse in a stable ready for me, dry and clean.
  • Please ensure that there is good hard standing to park my vehicle and access my saddles.
  • Please have the horse in a stable ready for me, dry and clean.
  • If you do not have somewhere under cover, somewhere safe to run him up or somewhere enclosed where we can see him ridden, could you arrange to use another yard’s facilities for an hour or two?

State that, unfortunately, if these requirements can’t be met, you will not be able to do the fitting. Let’s not be silly about this. I have often fitted in a field and, so long as it’s dry, that’s fine; but I do like the client to have an alternative available should it be bucketing down with rain. You can also ask them to rug up the animal the night before, even if he isn’t usually rugged. There really is no way that you can carry out a satisfactory fitting with a wet horse.

Please have the following ready; bridle, stirrup leathers and irons, girth and saddle cloth, hat and boots as the minimum for the rider. Please come in your riding clothes rather than changing when we are about to ride.

I always carry an adjustable girth and a few saddle cloths as often the ones provided don’t fit with a new saddle. Also, your girths will have good buckles so are less likely to badly mark the girth straps. I always carry an adjustable riding hat too, so that no one could claim not to have one available. No hat? No fitting.

Please ensure that the rider the saddle is for is there to try it themselves. Should you wish to have your trainer at the fitting to help and advise you, please arrange this prior to the fitting.

Except in some very unusual circumstances, it’s essential that the actual rider that you are fitting for tries and likes the saddle. The client really does need to ride in it - albeit just at walk and trot – on a lead rein or lunge if necessary. Apart from anything else, you will need to see if the rider influences the saddle negatively – drag it over to one side or the like. Likewise, if the trainer has any doubts or dislikes about the saddle, you can sort it there and then and work as a team.

Please agree a method of payment before my visit. I will accept cards, bank transfer on the day or cash.

Many fitters now take a payment in advance of an appointment, and sadly this is becoming more and more necessary. If a client is buying a saddle, then they must have the means to pay for it with them. Anything, so long as you know that you have the money before you let the saddle go. No money? Then they will have to come and collect it or pay to have it sent once the payment is in my account. No ifs. No buts. They wouldn’t get away with leaving Tesco with a promise to pay later. Why should they expect anything different from you?

Please make sure that the area where we are to work is safe and free from hazards.

Often, as you come into the yard, you note that it is a real mess with danger everywhere. It’s hard to tidy it up yourself or ask them to do it – unlikely to go down well.

I tell them that if an accident was to happen, I must prove that I have taken all steps possible to prevent it or Health & Safety will be down on me like a ton of bricks! Make a joke of it, but make sure that the area is as free from risks as you can.

Please have a safe mounting block available for the fitting.

I’ve seen many things used for this purpose; many of them frighteningly unsafe.

Please ensure that there is a way to secure the area in which you are to ride.

That, of course, is another pitfall. “Oh, we never close the gate. Just leave it.” Nope. It needs to be shut and if there is no gate, chain or anything else, try to ensure that the next gate on the way to the yard exit is shut so that there is no chance of a horse getting onto the road. Otherwise, you will be liable for any consequences should something happen.

All saddles other than those bespoke made have a ‘right to cancel’ with the sale. The saddle will be paid for at the fitting but will be refunded, less loss of value, if you change your mind within the first two weeks of ownership.

This should be standard information at all sales and in writing. Note that the ‘right to cancel’ documentation must still be given to the customer with a bespoke item, but they would not be eligible for a refund should they change their mind.

Please ask any trainer or advisor whose opinion you seek to be at the fitting.

My favourite! “Yes, that seems good. I’ll just get my trainer to pop in next week and check that it’s alright, then I’ll pay you.” If the above is in your booking notes the answer is there. Pay first. ‘Right to cancel’ policy from there on.

These are just a few of the pitfalls we fitters encounter, and some suggestions of how to prevent them happening. However, we all know that there will always be something new cropping up. Happy fitting.