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saddle sweat marks

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  • saddle sweat marks

    Does anyone "read" the sweat marks under the harness saddle? Is there any point in doing so?

    My horse has broken withers and a very sensitive back as a result. When he was a riding horse, I lived and died by reading dirty saddle blankets and sweat marks.

    Recently, I got a Comfy fit harness for my guy so I don't have to labor with leather all summer and to enjoy some of the fit features like the curved breast collar, etc.

    I had the saddle of the Comfy fit harness custom made for my guy in the end. He requires an unusually wide saddle (6") and unusually wide gullet (4"). The Comfy fit people were great to work with.

    Due to his sensitive back, he doesn't like things rolling around on his back, aka a saddle sliding to and fro. I girth him quite tightly, not quite riding tight, but tight enough that the saddle won't slip around (he is built like a 50 gallon drum). I use a thin pure felt pad under the saddle.

    The Comfy fit saddle seems to have a strange tree, its treed but not stiff, like it has a spring in the middle/gullet, it flexes wide vs narrow and is very springy. It widens and fits him well once girthed up, but its not the kind of tree I can bend to suit.

    I have noticed when I untack, my horse has two dry spots right under where the main padding of the saddle sits... two large rectangles, one on either side of his spine.

    The horse has been happy with the saddle, so perhaps the point is moot (trust me he would tell me if it bothered him, princess and the pea he is), but dry patches would be something that would send me up the banana tree were he a riding horse.

    Any insights on dry patches under a harness saddle? Am I concerned for nothing?
    Being terrible at something is the first step to being truly great at it. Struggle is the evidence of progress.

  • #2
    Since i know you have a carriage with independent shafts, you only have the weight of the shafts on the saddle... Which i'm assuming are under 50lbs. This seems light enough to me that it wouldnt cause too much of an issue if the tree fits. Regardless of dry spots... Though i have to say, i've never seen dry spots under the harness saddle and it would leave me scratching my head and thinking the saddle wasnt really fitting...

    I'm curious about how the tree flexes though. I wonder with any bounce if it's flexing and creating a gap causing your dry spot?
    Your Horse's Home On The Road!


    • Original Poster

      Thank you so much!

      The shafts are surprisingly heavy, I'd say closer to 75# each, though I really think this must be a saddle thing since I drove this vehicle with his former leather harness and never had this issue. I also have changed padding though too, I used to drive him with sheepskin padding, now using wool felt.

      I'll have to take a picture to show, the dry spots are peculiar. I am thinking the saddle for some reason is pressing down hard enough that its stifling his ability to sweat.

      Bouncing is a clever thought, but with as firmly as I girth him I can't imagine there is any gap going on. If there was, he'd be upset anyhow, he can't stand slop of any kind on his back. He much prefers to be girthed snugly over loosely.

      You know though, this tree has keepers for the overgirth tabs (from the tugs) to go through to keep it lined up with the girth. It means the shafts can't swing around as much, so I wonder if there is extra pressure on his back from the shafts trying to turn the saddle? I don't know if that made sense but its the only design difference between this and his former leather harness. Hmmm.....

      The tree is strange, if you put it across your lap and push down on the top (water hook area) it will bend right open, as if its treeless, but if you try to flex it any other way you can tell its treed, its like it has a springy hinge in the middle. My friend said its a spring tree, which I didn't know they made in driving saddles.

      When I go to put the saddle on him, it starts out looking far too narrow, but then when I girth it, it spreads and makes a perfect fit.

      He's comfortable, or at least not acting uncomfortable and he knows all the buttons to push if he's not happy about something but something is definitely goofy.

      I only notice the patchy sweating on short or easy drives too, if we drive long/hard enough that he's drenched in sweat I don't see the patchiness too much if at all. If he's only lightly sweating I see dry rectangles right under the saddle panels.


      Thanks for your help!
      Being terrible at something is the first step to being truly great at it. Struggle is the evidence of progress.


      • #4
        Sounds like you are pulling it down into place, tree spread, then saddle tries to go back to the "unspread" narrow shape. So pony is in effect, wearing a "clamped on" saddle. Held in place with firm girthing.

        I would agree that pressure on him, is creating the dry spots. Works that way with every other thing we put on a horse back, so the big dry places are your warning sign that fit is NOT working here! Sometimes those dry places go white, hair follicles are damaged with that pressure.

        You say he doesn't seem to mind, would show if he was not happy. I have seen a lot of animals accept things that WE THINK they should have reacted to, but never do so we know fit is wrong! It is good you are looking, he doesn't sound like he is helping you figure this out!!

        I can see independent shafts giving an extra bit of pull downward on the spring tree, each stride if they are truly that heavy. Sounds way overbuilt, at 75#. I am figuring weight is for both shafts together, solid metal in one-piece design. He isn't carrying vehicle weight on his back, just those shafts.

        Have you considered using the waffle pattern synthetic pad under the saddle? I am suggesting this because they don't soak up any moisture, spread any dampness under the saddle itself. Should not let him sweat in patches, he will be all wet, short trip or long. Might spread out the weight a little better, might not.

        The synthetic felt might work the same way in spreading heat all over the back surface, not absorbent, not be as crushable as the waffle pads. You would have to cut the felt and fit it to the harness saddle yourself. They sell it in Western Saddlepads, various thicknesses. Also you might find it in leg wrapping pads for bandaging, but it would be thinner stuff, 1/4"-3/8", probably lots cheaper than a whole saddle pad though. I would start with a thin layer, see what happens on the sweat patches.

        I am still getting a mental picture of a spreading and then clamping tree on him. The clamping action is what is not allowing sweating, pressure is pushing too hard. Think of a spring clothes pin, opens to go on, then tightens on barrel when you let go (girth up). Not what I would want on my harness saddle, but a method that would allow one tree to be used on a lot of equines.


        • Original Poster

          Thanks so much, just typing quickly before I have to go feed, but have you ever heard of a spring tree in a harness saddle before?? Is this how they work?

          I would be more concerned about the "clamping" of the saddle down on him but A) nothing could possibly clamp on this horse he's built like an oil drum but mostly B) the amount of pressure needed to press open the saddle is a mere pound or two, its not at all a vice-like grip The saddle spreads easily whether I girth him firmly or loosely, he just prefers a firmer girthing as it keeps everything from sliding around.

          Shafts are surprisingly heavy. I remember when I ordered them from Pacific we discussed the weight charge for the shipping, I was SHOCKED it was pushing 200# in freight. I remember thinking "well Gee, there goes the lightness of the vehicle!" I was so excited it was such a light carriage.

          But I think this is more of a concern to overall weight than weight on his back, since the shaft sits in a hinged receiver, the actual weight on his back is more or less what I feel in my hand as I hitch him no? Which is just a couple of pounds.

          I have not tried a synthetic padding no, his current pad is a pure felted wool pad, and as you suggested, its a western saddle pad liner, its 3/8" and I trimmed it down to fit neatly under the saddle. I love th sheepskin but I was getting tired of him looking like he was wrapped in sheep with the new harness and all I was seeking a sleeker look not that it really matters. I am going to try the sheepskin and see if that makes a difference, though I've always been a wool felt fan so I'd be shocked if there was.

          I'm also going to try our old saddle with the felt pad and see if anything changes.

          Thank you for the thoughts, I appreciate the opportunity to brainstorm.

          While he doesn't seem uncomfortable, I agree this isn't normal and I do want to get to the bottom of it.

          thank you!
          Being terrible at something is the first step to being truly great at it. Struggle is the evidence of progress.