When and How to Shim, it is a question that has crossed the mind of many riders as they saddle up.
Shim only as a last resort to fine tune an already well-fitting saddle. Shimming is not meant to take a saddle that doesn’t fit a horse and make it fit.
Shim AWAY from pressure, in the hollow spots where there seems to be no pressure or significantly less pressure. Shimming is also used to help even out a saddle that fits almost everywhere but one or two places.
Once you start shimming you MUST recheck your saddle fit at least every 30 days to be sure that the shims in those areas are still needed. As the horse no longer feels pain, they will use those muscles more. They will build up and the shape of their back will change again. Which is why you need to check your shims and their fit regularly. At least every 30 days, or shimming could cause more problems than what you started with.
When I Fit Saddles
When I arrive at a fitting, the first thing I do after greeting the horse and handler is look and feel the horse’s back and shoulders. I may even fully palpate the horse to see if there is any readily evident pain to address first.
Then I like to see the client saddle their horse up, pad and all. This is so I can see what they have been using and see if and why it is failing for them and their horse.
Then I have them take it all off and we put just the saddle on without a pad or at the very most a sheet or pillowcase and proceed through the Basic Saddle Fitting process. This process allows us to determine where the areas are that need shimming.
The system has three sets of shims that can be used with the pad. Fronts, Middles and Rears. The correction pad is made to order and comes with one set of shims of your choice. Because most of the time a person only needs one set to cover the area that they are trying to even out for their horse. The other positions can be purchased separately.
Once you have completed your basic saddle fitting session, you should find only one area that seems to have a gap on one side or both. My rule of thumb is that if there are more than three areas that need shimming the saddle just doesn’t fit well. Which means it’s time to look for a saddle to invest in.
When Shimming Can’t Help
If the back of the saddle jabs into the loin area due to length and how the horse moves or if the shoulders are too narrow and the saddle just seems to sink over the withers. There are some things that a shim just can’t fix when you’re fitting a non-flexible panel saddle.
How to Apply the Shims
Now that you have determined that there is only one maybe two spots that seem to have less pressure than the rest when there is weight in the saddle. It’s time to grab the correction pad and place it on the horse’s back. Put the saddle on and lightly girth so that it doesn’t move, but don’t snug it up for riding or work just yet. Have the helper put weight in the saddle and check again. The pressures you felt before without the pad should still be there even if they are muted by the pad.
You can use tailors or chalkboard chalk to mark your pad where you want to place your shims. These marks will brush off cordura easily after you place your shims.
When placing your shims ALWAYS start with the largest shim that you will need to fill the gap closest to the horse. Then layer the smaller shims on top of that in shrinking order so that the smallest one ends up on top closest to the tree of the saddle.
Have your helper put some weight in the saddle and check under the entire saddle again. If the pressure appears even all the way around under the saddle with weight in the saddle, it is time to test ride. So fully cinch or girth up and hit the trail or arena. Usually, the issues that were there before the shims go away when the horse realizes they aren’t feeling the same discomfort as before.
At a recent fitting, I saw just this kind of thing. I had been called because the horse didn’t want to canter and would buck when asked. It was known that the horse was asymmetrical in the shoulders and likely this was the cause of the issues.
They knew that I had a pad that might do the trick with the adjustable shims. I brought over the loaner correction pad that I have. Then we fitted her mare with shims on the shoulder that was smaller.
My client was eager to give it a try. She hopped on and her mare trotted out freely. Then OFFERED the canter, no prodding or asking and there was no buck either! I didn’t know at the time that the mare had done that transition on her own. Although I could tell by the look on my client’s face that the mare was much more comfortable. Then did a few more rounds at a lope just because she could.
I made a custom purple correction pad for her. The look on her face was priceless and the kind of payment money just can’t buy. Since I was informed later that the first canter transition was the horse’s idea! That kind of reaction from a horse is just so rewarding.