Saddlery: Pre-season preparation is essential for success

Saddlery: Pre-season preparation is essential for success

Keeping fit, focused and positive through a global pandemic has not been easy. Although some competition dreams temporarily took a hiatus, the eventing community weathered the hard times together and an action-packed calendar awaits.

Coming off the back of a year filled with disrupted competition schedules and irregular work, the most important consideration underpinning success is your horse’s soundness.

Whatever level you’re training for, your aim should be to advance carefully and consistently towards your competition goals.

Season-ready tack

Hand in hand with fitness and conditioning is ensuring your horse remains comfortable in all phases of eventing, with safe, well-fitting tack.

It’s understandable if your care routine has slipped a little in recent times, but it’s time to take stock of your equipment. Saddlery is a big investment and showing your tack some love can prolong its life significantly.

Carefully go through all your saddlery, checking every clip and buckle as well as all leather, punches and keepers. Inspect your saddles carefully by examining your stirrup bars, your girth points and the evenness and softness of your panels and under flaps. If your saddle has screws, check if they need tightening. You can assess the integrity of the saddle tree by looking for abnormal movement and listening for unusual noises – if you have any concerns, consult your saddle fitter.

All leather tack will benefit from a good clean with saddle soap, before bringing it back to life with a liberal application of balsam. We recommend balsam over
oils (which can over-soften and weaken the leather, particularly in strapping). Balsam also provides a protective barrier against all the mud, dust, sweat and water that eventing equipment comes up against.

Saddle fitting for riders

Given the ongoing challenges of competing during a pandemic, chances are your horse’s shape has been through some changes since their last pre-season saddle fit.

You’re also likely to have new aspirations for the year ahead, which may further influence your horse’s muscling. Is there a particular phase you’ll be focusing more on or are you looking to advance to the next level?

Before you start submitting your event entries, book an appointment with your saddle fitter to assess your tack for each discipline alongside your competition goals. Together with your bodyworker, your saddle fitter will be able to work with you to keep your horse comfortable as they increase their workload. It’s always exciting to see the changes in our horse’s bodies as they respond to correct, regular work. Keep in mind that you may need to see your saddle fitter more regularly, every three months, as you re-establish consistent training. Pat yourself on the back – this is a great signal that you’re riding effectively!

To look for changes that signal it’s time to call your saddle fitter, ensure your horse is standing square, position the saddle correctly behind the shoulder and secure the girth. Stirrups should either be removed or run up and safely secured.

Be sure to take note of

  • Bearing – does the panel contact your horse’s back completely and evenly?
  • Balance – is the deepest part of the seat sitting flat, level and in balance?
  • Clearance – is there sufficient space around your horse’s withers and spine?
  • Girth length – is your girth length still correct and doing up at the right place?

You could set a calendar reminder for every two months to monitor changes to the fit of your gear when tacking up. Paying attention to the signs that it’s time to make a saddle fitting appointment will ensure you’re competition ready for a full calendar of eventing.

Sarah Olivier

My pre-season preparation

Elite rider Sarah Olivier (née Stretton) shares how she gets ready for the season

I bring my horses in each January and they are always fit and feral after their winter break. This year, my season will be starting in earnest in April, so I have time to bring them on gradually – it’s important to return your horses to competition fitness slowly. I begin with hacking before I introduce poles and flatwork, then gallops and then I begin lessons in March.

I keep ‘riding fit’ as I ride four or five horses a day, but once I start the gallop work, I know my legs will be burning the next day! Sometimes I pull on my trainers and jog around the cross country course to get my exercise in. If you have an office job and only ride one horse, it would be a good idea to start running or going to the gym to be ready for competition season.

Ahead of the season, my saddle fitter comes to check my saddles over and make any alterations. They come back again for another check after a couple of events when the horses are leaner and in full competition mode. My Bates saddles have adjustable and ergonomic features, so we can ensure they’re set up correctly for my horses and for me.

Find out more

Visit to find out more about Bates saddles and locate your nearest saddle specialist.


The Society of Master Saddlers (SMS) is the UK’s premier body for saddle fitter accreditation and holds a list of SMS qualified saddle fitters by region: