Why does your saddle slip? Well… it’s complicated. Saddles can slip side to side, saddles can slip back, and saddles can slip forward. Not only is it annoying, it is unsafe. And safety with horses should be your number one priority.
First we have to address the simplest and most obvious cause. Your girth or cinch is loose. It is extremely important to check your girth before mounting, after mounting, after just a short walk away from your mounting block, and again after 5 minutes or so. During a long trail ride, check periodically. There are some saddle pads with foam or other inserts and they compress after you settle in the saddle, and can compress further after a long ride. Your horse may sweat during work, and your girth may need tightening after several hours in the saddle.
The next issue is saddle fit. A saddle that is too narrow or too wide will slip side to side and even forward or backwards. If your saddle has a tree, it must be the right size and fit your horse. There is no way around it.
Another common cause of saddle slip is while mounting. The way in which you mount your horse can effect how easily the saddle slips. For instance, how much you pull on the horn, pommel, cantle or seat. Mounting from the ground is putting torque on the saddle tree (if there is one) and possibly tweaking your saddle and the leather. As a daily ritual, mount from a mounting block. It will help your saddle, tree or no tree, last longer. It is also safer.
When out on trail, carry a step stool, search for higher ground, a log, a rock, anything to gift you a boost. There are saddles on very round horses that do indeed fit the horse, but still will not stay put for mounting from the ground. It also depends on the weight of the rider. More weight, more slip. Safe Rider makes a Trail Mounting Aid that keeps the saddle in place while mounting.
Saddles slipping side to side can also be caused by the rider. It is more common than you think that you ride with more weight in one stirrup than the other. Many times your stirrups are not level. The best way to tell if your stirrups are equal length is to take them off and put them side by side. It might surprise you. To tell if you are weighting one stirrup more than the other, have a friend stand directly behind you while in the saddle. They will be able to see if your saddle is off center. You can also look down at the pommel and see if it is lined up with your horse’s neck. It may be necessary to ride without stirrups, or drop the longer stirrup to train yourself to stop putting more weight in it. It may take awhile to self-correct, however, it is worth the effort for both you and your horse. Your horse’s musculature will compensate for your unevenness, and your spine will suffer if you continue to ride with one collapsed hip.
You also should rule out any lameness. According to the British Equine Vet Association, the saddle will slip to the lame side. Your horse also may also be asymmetrical in his muscle development, shifting the saddle from the more built up side to the weaker side. Shimming the saddle pad may be necessary to even things out.
So – when you rule out a loose girth, uneven stirrups, ill fitting saddle, unbalanced riding, lameness, and asymmetrical muscles, there are ways to combat saddle slipping in any direction.
Your choice of saddle pad plays a big part in saddle slip. Fleece is not a good choice, neither is felt. That rules out lots of saddle pads. You can try putting a non-slip, thin, inexpensive saddle pad under your other saddle pad. It kind of looks like shelf paper, but is more substantial. It’s only 18” x 22”, but worth a try since it is under $10. The HAF Saddle Pads from Italy have a pebbly, egg carton underlay that is helpful. There is also the Getta Grip Non-Slip Western Pad, and the Tacky Tack Western All Purpose Saddle Pad. I personally use a Dixie Midnight Saddle Pad under my other saddle pads, and even though the Dixie Midnight company does not make a claim for non-slip, I find it does help.
Your girth or cinch choice is also a factor. Mohair is pretty grippy, so is neoprene, synthetics with egg carton looking underlay, and girths and cinches that are wider in the middle. Again, fleece or felt is not a good choice as a non-slipping material.
Breastplates and breast collars are designed to stabilize your saddle. The English style breastplate attaches to the D rings on either side of your saddle and to the girth stabilizing side to side movement, and preventing saddles from sliding back when going uphill. The western breast collar functions the same way and attaches to each side and it often has a neck strap to aid it in staying in place. I recommend either of these for all trail riders.
The back cinch of a western saddle can also help the saddle stay in place, but some horses are not used to them so a breaking in period may be necessary. To avoid the back cinch sliding too far back and becoming a bucking strap it must be attached to the front cinch with a connector strap or flank cinch hobble strap.
Lastly, cruppers prevent the saddle from sliding forward going downhill. They can be used on western or English saddles and are made of synthetic material or leather. Word of caution – some horses will come UNGLUED when you put one on, so a training period is needed. However, some horses will never tolerate one – proceed accordingly.
To sum it all up, as with everything involving horses, it is a case by case situation. It is necessary to evaluate your horse, your riding, your saddle and all your tack and equipment to come up with a working and safe solution to keep your saddle in place.