The Savvy Station

Essential Checklist: Ensuring Optimal Shoulder Clearance Before Riding with Parelli Saddles

bij Parelli Natural Horsemanship op May 13, 2024

Essential Checklist: Ensuring Optimal Shoulder Clearance Before Riding with Parelli Saddles

Ensuring proper shoulder clearance is an indispensable step before every ride with your horse. It's a crucial pre-ride ritual that should be as ingrained as cinch tightening in three stages. 

Double-checking the quality of your horse’s shoulder clearance is paramount before every riding session. It's a crucial pre-ride ritual as important as adjusting the cinch in three stages. Even if you have a custom saddle regularly checked by a fitter, verifying shoulder clearance remains essential. Parelli Saddles, founded 20+ years ago, stemmed from recognizing the limitations of traditional thinking. Our focus lies in ensuring equipment fits the horse dynamically, accommodating their movement and expansion.

HERE’S HOW: To guarantee your horse has the necessary space for comfortable movement, there is one simple check you can perform before swinging a leg over. Regular checks are essential; changes in your horse's physique, slipped-out-of-positions shims, or the absence of shims altogether can significantly impact your horse’s comfort and quality of your ride. Addressing any issues before you mount can make a profoundly positive difference!

Stand next to your horse’s shoulder and face the saddle. 

  1. Slide the flat of your hand along your horse’s body underneath the front region of your saddle pad (up in the region of your saddle’s tree bars)…all the way back behind your horse’s scapula’s back edge.
  2. Does your hand feel pinched really tight?...enough that your horse’s shoulders would be restricted as they bulge far back under the saddle during stride?
  3. If you feel some resistance but it isn’t severe, perform one more check. Ask your horse to take a few steps forward (as you walk backward to keep up) and feel if the shoulder has room to move under the saddle.
  4. If your hand can feel the shoulder isn’t pinched hard while it’s moving, go ahead and mount up.
  5. If your hand feels crushed tight, it’s worth the effort to loosen your cinch and experiment with adding a thin tapered foam shoulder shim on top of the pad, directly under the saddle. Set it about 5” behind the front edge of the saddle and retighten your cinch. Double check the feel of the clearance again by feeling under the pad along your horse’s body. If it feels like your horse’s shoulders have room, you can go ahead and ride. The saddle will hold those extra shims in place and you can install them inside the pad pocket next time.

Inadequate clearance or pinching becomes evident when your hand struggles to move freely under the front of the saddle while your horse walks, indicating constriction or compression. This can lead to muscle atrophy, a poor topline, negative behavior, pain, and more.

Saddle fitting, much like horse training, blends art and science. Our 22 years of research involving tens of thousands of horses have led us to a simple approach called the 4 B’s. Saddle your horse with these simple principles and practices every time: 

1. The Bone - Locate the back edge of the horse's scapula bone while standing still. Slide your hands behind the shoulder until you feel the curved edge of the top of the scapula.

2. The Bulge - Assess your horse in movement by lifting the front leg and locating the bulge of muscle created as the scapula is drawn rearward. (This simulates a stride forward). Your saddle must accommodate this expansion to prevent muscle atrophy or pain.


3. Behind - Use the lifting power of a tapered foam shim placed behind the backswing bulge. This will usually be about a hand’s breadth behind the scapula’s standing back edge. The thin shim may be all you need.

NOTE: often, the standing scapula appears to be an exaggerated bulge and the muscle behind it looks hollow or flat. Even a custom fitted saddle will benefit from at least a slight lift of pressure off the working shoulder so that the flat muscle can re-develop. A Versafit™ tapered foam shim is not your ordinary one dimensional foam or felt shim. The right blend of squishy substance and support make these shims unique by focusing on the lift where it needs to be and offering a comfortable tapering transition along your horse’s body. If a shim is the same thickness on both ends, you’ll create pressure where you don’t want it (often by sitting on the back edge of it under your saddle). 

Place the shim BEHIND the bulge of the working shoulder (not in the “hollow”, if your horse has one behind the standing shoulder). This simple adjustment will create room for the horse’s moving/bulging shoulder and enable such a hollow to re-develop into nice plump muscle. 

4. Balance - Your balance point plays a major role in your safety and effectiveness as a rider as well as your horse’s comfort and ability to calibrate his balance to carry you. If you’re unstable or ineffective in your position, that could be an unenjoyable ride for both of you. Use another tapered foam shim if necessary to re-balance your seat: Add a rear shim if the front of the saddle is too high and tilts you rearward when you lift pressure off your horse’s shoulders with your primary shim…or add another shoulder shim if you have a significantly downhill horse and you still feel like your balance is too far forward even after lifting the front of the saddle off your horse’s shoulders with your primary shim.  

You may be thinking the pad and shim will take you too far from your horse’s back. Our specialized impact deflecting, custom-conforming saddle pad cores will compress to keep you extremely close to your horse’s body while providing the perfect comfort cushion underneath the saddle. This revolutionary, scientifically advanced saddle fit system will enhance the experience for yourself and your horse every time. It’s worth the effort to experiment with it to enjoy your maximum benefits.


For any issues, extreme situations, or further information, contact our dedicated customer service team via email at to inquire about our FREE Saddle Fit Evaluation. Your horse’s comfort and performance are our top priorities. Helping ensure the quality of experience for both of you is the joy of our lives.


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