Standardbreds Stand Out!

The following is a Facebook post from a parent who is delighted with her daughter’s relationship with her new Standardbred. Carissa’s aunt (who owned a Standardbred named Treasure that Carissa admired) got her a Standardbred from the Standardbred Retirement Foundation in NJ. Carissa asked permission to use the same name, and appears that it was the perfect choice.

“The more I learn about the horse breed Standardbred the more I love them! Treasure is a Standardbred and won almost $500,000.00 during his racing career. He is not awesome because he won so much money, he is awesome because he takes care of Carissa and he is so patient and calm with her. He is the best thing that has ever happened to Carissa!! We were blessed to find such a great horse!”



CCRC High Point Standardbred Award





Cumberland County Riding Club held its annual awards banquet on Sunday,
October 20, 2013.  SPHO-ME is the sponsor of the high point Standardbred
breed award for this and several other equine organizations across Maine.
The purpose of the sponsorships is to help create awareness and promote the
Standardbred horse through different organizations and venues around the


SPHO-ME Members Get-Together

Hey, have you “herd?”

It’s time to round up your partner for an

SPHO-ME summer get-together.

Summer Get Together - Version 6

Members, join us September 7, 6 PM, at Bayley’s Seafood Restaurant


Ambassador Horse Attends “Back to the Track Day”

On Saturday, July 6, Scarborough Downs hosted Back to the Track Day as a national recognition of harness racing. Members Marilyn Ives and Margie MacDonald took Naughty Narcissist, our current Ambassador Horse in training, to join in the celebration. Naughty was quite attentive to his surroundings and the first few races, but then preferred interacting with the many people who came to meet him with carrots, questions, and pats. Despite blowing napkins, frolicking children (some playing with whips!), bicycles, and mulling crowds, Naughty remained cool and calm. Several people recognized and remembered him and Naughty had a special visit from his former race driver, Drew Campbell. Drew showered him with affection and then slid onto his back for a photo shoot!

Naughty Narcissist is well on his way to becoming a pleasure horse with his easy-going manner, love of people and attention, acceptance of a rider, and beginning training in pleasure driving. Volunteers in the SPHO-ME Ambassador Horse Program are working with and caring for him in hopes that he will soon be adopted by a lucky new owner for a life of pleasure.







Saddle-Fitting for Standardbreds

By Lori Pennell

When trying to fit a saddle to a horse one must always consider the horse’s anatomy, because there is nothing that a person can do to change that anatomy.  Over time the horse may gain and lose weight or muscle, but the true internal structures that make up the horse will never change.  Neither will the application of force according to the laws of physics upon that anatomy.  A person sitting on a horse’s back will always create a dilemma between our needs as riders and the horse’s anatomical needs.  It is important for the horse person to be able to accurately judge the affects of the saddle on the horse.

 The Horse’s Back

The horse’s back is very different from the human back.  The horse’s back is composed of multiple vertebrae lying side by side literally bridging the span between the hindquarters and chest.  While human vertebrae lie sitting on top of one another, the horizontal placement of the horse’s back literally suspends it from both ends of the horse, being held up by strong muscles and connective tissue.  The fact that the horse can withstand the added weight of a rider on this otherwise fragile area is amazing.  While humans are flexible enough to perform movements for activities from gymnastics to yoga, horses only have true flexibility at their neck and tail.  The part of the back that humans sit on to ride has limited flexibility.

If a person rubs his/ her hand on the horse’s back, one is likely to feel a raised surface.  This raised surface, the visible portion of the spine, is called the spinous process, which is a narrow projection off the top of the vertebral body.  The muscles of the back attach to this area; the latissimus dorsi being the main muscle that lies across the back and on which the saddle sits.  But no muscle acts alone and every muscle in the horse’s body, including the latissimus dorsi, is connected to other muscles, layers of connective tissue, and tendons.  It is important to remember that if one area of the horse’s body is affected, other areas will be as well, including the joints.

The back is an important structure because it ties the power of the hind end with the horse’s front end.  Any impedance to the muscles of the back will greatly affect the system that allows the horse’s muscles to support and absorb the energy from the impact of not only movement from the hooves, but from the rider.  An ill-fitting saddle, which causes contractions and fatigue in the back muscles, will impair the horse’s forward motion.  The pain in the back will be transferred to other parts of the horse’s body and can be visible as all sorts of ailments or lameness.  Many humans with back pain also experience pain in other joints, such as the knee, ankle and hip because of compensation by other muscle groups to alleviate the stress on the back. A proper fitting saddle is necessary, not only to achieve optimal performance from the horse, but to treat the horse in a fair and kind manner.

 Types of Saddles

A rider will exert a certain amount of force on the horse’s back.  The job of the tree and panels or bars is to distribute this weight over as much area as possible and to avoid direct pressure on the spine itself as well as to avoid pressure points along the muscles of the back.  There are two basic saddle designs used today, the English and western saddle.

English saddles and western saddles are two very different entities.  They are built on different trees, which are meant to put the rider in different positions on the horse’s back.  The traditional English saddles have a wooden tree covered with wool-flocked panels.  Newer versions sometimes have foam or even air filled panels.  The beauty of this type of saddle is that the panels can be adjusted to some degree to fit the horse’s back.  A saddler can examine your horse’s back and replace the wool to so that it fits the contours of the back.  The downside of this is that the wool can pack or compress over time and create uneven areas on the saddle, which allows the horse to develop saddle sores.  Looking at the underside of an English saddle can sometimes identify areas of compression, but they are not always visible.  The new air panels are designed to alleviate this problem by always conforming to the horse’s back and rebounding to its original shape after each use.  The air panels do conform to the horse’s back, but don’t necessarily remove all chances of pressure points.

Western saddles are indeed a different creature.  The western saddle starts with a tree made of wood, fiberglass, or ralide.  The tree is often covered with leather.  The seat, pommel, and skirting all attach to the tree. The tree consists of two bars that start behind the withers to create the gullet, and rests along either side of the spine on the lattisimus dorsi muscle.  The western trees vary in width at the gullet as well as the angle of the bars. Picture a triangle, with the spine at the top and the sides of the horse at the sides.  Wider horses are more like a flat triangle and will need bars that are less angled, while narrow horses are like steeper triangles and need bars that are more angled. The bars also have some curvature to match the curve in the horse’s spine from the withers to along the back.  This is known as the rock of the bars.  Some horses have higher withers and more curvature to their spine and will need a saddle with more rock, while other horses have lower withers and their back ties into the neck at a straighter angle creating a need for a saddle with less rock.  All of this affects the fit of the saddle.

 Types of Western Saddle Trees

There are certain trees that come standard in the world of western saddles.  The first widely manufactured tree was a tree with quarter horse bars.  This became the industry standard in the late 1800’s.  Saddle makers now had a standard for tree production that would fit most horses at the time.  As the quarter horse breed changed and became larger muscled horses, the standard quarter horse bar tree became slightly wider than the first design and remains that size today.  A saddle with quarter horse bars still fits a wide majority of horses today.  As quarter horse owners began crossbreeding with mustangs to produce larger horses, a wider saddle was needed.  That was when the saddle with semi-quarter horse bars was developed.  Now the semi-quarter horse bars are designed for cross breeds, such as quarter horse and thoroughbred crosses, but are still slightly wider than a tree with quarter horse bars.  Trees labeled as full quarter horse bars are even wider than semi-quarter horse bars.  There are also saddles with draft trees as well as extra wide trees.  Gaited horse bars tend to be narrower in the front and have less rock so as the horse moves it provides movement for the shoulder during its specialized gaits.  It is also more of an A-frame shape to fit the backs of gaited horses.

 Fitting a Western Saddle

How does one know what saddle to get?  First start by looking at your horse’s back.  Is the horse narrow or wide?  This can be examined by looking whether the spine and withers are pronounced or not.  Many standardbreds have high withers and a visible spine.  They also often have a longer back and a visible bump along the thoracic lumbar vertebrae, which is genetic and sometimes called a roach back.  How the horse’s withers and neck tie into the back, location and angle of the shoulder, as well as the length and curve of back will all greatly impact the fit of the saddle.  A narrow horse will likely need a narrower tree such as a tree with quarter horse bars, while wider horses will need the semi-quarter horse or full bars.

To fit the saddle to the horse, start by placing the saddle directly onto the horse’s back.  If it is a new saddle, always put down a clean cloth, such as an old sheet, onto the horse’s back first, to keep the saddle clean.  Examine how the saddle sits on the horse’s back.  Is the pommel (front) too high or too low?  Is the cantle (back of the saddle) resting on the muscles or lifted into the air?  Does any part of the saddle appear to be directly touching the spine?  Where does the end of the saddle reach?  Is it too long on the horse’s back?  Place your hand under the saddle and run your hand between the saddle and the horse’s back underneath the bars.  While the skirting comes fairly low onto the horse, the bars are above the ribs near the spine, so to feel under the bars, be sure to place the hand high enough on the back.  Feel for areas of pressure or areas where the bars are not making contact with the horse’s back.  Optimally, one should feel even contact with the bars along the entire length that the saddle touches the horse’s back.  As you feel under the front of the bars, be sure the saddle will not interfere with the horse’s shoulder as he moves.

If the saddle feels that it fits fairly well, place a regular pad under the saddle and cinch it up.  As the saddle is cinched notice any changes in the positioning of the saddle.  The placement of the rigging can also affect saddle fit.  The rigging is the part of the saddle that allows it to be fastened to the horse, namely the cinch (or girth) and flank cinch. The most common place for rigging is 7/8.  This means that 7/8of the mass or length of the saddle lies behind the rigging and only 1/8 lies in front.  A ¾ rigging is placed further back, meaning more of the saddle mass is placed in front of the rigging than the 7/8.  Most roping saddles have forward rigging to deal with the physics of the pull of the rope on the horn.  These saddles are usually used with a second strap further back, near the flank.  Barrel saddles tend to have rigging that is further back and centered on the saddle.  Imagine the forces on a horse that is spinning around a barrel and it is easy to see why one would want the attachment to be more centered.  Some saddles also come with two D rings to alter the rigging, which allows the rider to adjust the rigging to best fit the horse.  This is ideal, but not always the case, with most off the shelf saddles.

The next important piece is to sit in the saddle and examine the fit with the full weight of the rider.  Be aware that leather saddles and synthetic saddles can have a very different fit.  The heavy leather skirting will help spread the weight of the rider over the horse’s back.  A synthetic saddle has cordura, or some other lightweight fabric, for the skirting.  The saddles themselves are often very lightweight.  When these synthetic saddles are first placed on the horse they may have a very different feel than when a rider is sitting on one.  The synthetic saddles tend to compress more with the weight of the rider so look very carefully at the fit while a rider is in the saddle.  With the rider’s weight note the clearance at the front of the saddle.  The rider should be able to put the hand into the area under the horn at the gullet of the saddle.  Also check the back of the saddle.  Be sure that the back of the saddle is not sitting directly on the spine.  This is very important since any contact directly with the spine cannot be tolerated.  This includes stitching and fabric that may be pressing onto the spine.  One way to check that the spine is cleared along the length of the saddle is to place a string or small rope between the saddle pad and saddle.  While sitting on the saddle, grab onto the end of the string and it should be easily pulled with no resistance from under the saddle.

 A Good Fitting Saddle

What does a good fitting saddle look like?  When looking at a saddle that correctly fits a horse on will see a saddle that sits evenly.  The pommel (front) will be level with the cantle (back).  The saddle will not appeared tipped forward or tipped back.  The bars will make contact with the length of the horse’s back.  The back of the saddle should not be tipped into the air.  The tree should keep the saddle clear of the spine.  The front of the saddle will rest easily along the withers by not pinching the shoulders and raising the pommel too high.

But what if the saddle doesn’t fit?  If the saddle is too wide, some pads exist that build up the area behind the withers to lift the front of the saddle.  Also be sure that the bars are not too wide along the rest of the length of the saddle.  If the saddle is too narrow and is pinching at the shoulder, there is nothing that can be done and the saddle should not be used.  Adding a thicker pad will only make it pinch worse.  It is like trying to add thicker socks to shoes that are already too tight.  A problem that is common for standardbreds is bridging.  This happens when the horse’s curve of spine is greater than the rock of the saddle and the saddle touches in the front and the back, but not in the middle.  This causes intense pressure points on the horse’s back, seriously stressing the musculature and resulting anatomy.  There are pads that are sold that are thicker in the middle to help this problem.  The last common problem is rocking.  This occurs when the horse’s back is straighter than the curvature of the saddle and the saddle rocks on the horse’s back.  This is similar to walking in shoes with an arch that is too high and always pressing on the sensitive part of the foot.  Either get a different saddle or find pads that will build up the front or back of the saddle to alleviate the rocking.

 Saddle Pads

The last part of saddles that affects fit is the pad.  New technologies are around every corner, but there is little research on how effective these technologies are.  There are air pads, honeycomb pads, and the standard wool pads.  Look for a sturdy pad that will not collapse under pressure.  Soft pads may feel nice, but will quickly collapse and not help alleviate pressure points.  Try the saddle with different pads and pad widths, if possible.  Be aware not to use a pad that is too thick for that particular saddle, thereby making the saddle pinch in the process.

Can’t find the right saddle?  Try as many saddles as possible.  Borrow saddles from friends.  Even though two saddles say they have the same tree, how the skirting and seat are attached to the saddle can make two otherwise identical saddles fit differently.  Also, seat sizes can affect how a saddle fits a horse.  A larger seat size will place the person’s weight differently on the horse and will affect the shape and size of the tree.  The best advice is to try saddles until you find one that fits!


The saddle's bars do not have enough rock for this horse's back. When the rider sits in the seat, it will cause the saddle to rock back onto the horse's spine.

The saddle’s bars do not have enough rock for this horse’s back. When the rider sits in the seat, it will cause the saddle to rock back onto the horse’s spine.

As expected, the back of the saddle presses directly onto the spine where indicated. Over time, this will cause discomfort and damage to this horse's spine.

As expected, the back of the saddle presses directly onto the spine where indicated. Over time, this will cause discomfort and damage to this horse’s spine.

This saddle clears the spine on this horse. The weight of the rider is being supported by the muscles on either side of the horse's spine.

This saddle clears the spine on this horse. The weight of the rider is being supported by the muscles on either side of the horse’s spine.

The gullet is a good fit for this horse.

The gullet is a good fit for this horse.

This saddle is too wide for this horse, even with a wither pad.

This saddle is too wide for this horse, even with a wither pad.

The position of the rigging can affect the fit of the saddle. This shows a nice centered rigging on a barrel saddle. The girth falls in the correct position on the horse.

The position of the rigging can affect the fit of the saddle. This shows a nice centered rigging on a barrel saddle. The girth falls in the correct position on the horse.


Lori Pennell has a B.S. in Zoology and teaches Anatomy and Physiology at Massabesic High School.

Sources Used:

Wyche, Sara. The Anatomy of Riding. Ramsbury: Crowood, 2004. Print.

Thank you to the folks at Double G Ranch who provided most of the information on saddle fitting for this article through personal interviews and lots of help with fitting my own horse for a western saddle in the process.


Information can also be found in Retraining the Harness Racehorse, by Mary Anne Donovan-Wright and Robyn Cuffey for sale on the Shop Books page of this Web site.

While SPHO-ME website provides information on saddle fitting and SPHO-ME makes every effort to ensure the quality and accuracy of this information, please be fully aware that the information provided on our website appears in summarized form only and as such is not to be considered complete, exhaustive or authoritative.  The information provided, and the website itself, should not be used as a substitute for professional care or consultation. Although all the information on this website are based on sound and accepted practices, the author cannot be held responsible for the final outcome of the recommendations, or any liabilities associated with their application.


Five Star Reviews for the AHP Fun Day Sampler!

5-stars“…thank you and the SPHO for a great day. …it was a great learning and training experience & just what I needed for my horse right now….Today, I will be purchasing balloons and pinwheels to put up around the paddock… “

“…I liked it all and had lots of fun…how about a ‘scavenger hunt’?…”

“…had lots of fun and wouldn’t change or add anything…”

“…loved it all and hope to do the jumping next year…”

“…I had so much fun and especially liked the relaxed atmosphere…”

“…a great way to get out with my horse and try new things with no pressure…”

“…the obstacles were terrific and would like even more next time…”


Photo Contest Results!

Thank you to Dusty Perin, professional photographer, for judging the SPHO-ME member photo contest! You may visit her online at

Photo Contest Action 1 Photo Contest Action 2

ACTION:1st Place
Photo by Wendy Flowers

First Place goes to Entry #4 Nice composition, the flowing mane shows the action as does the rider’s position, good sharpness and nice non-distracting background.

ACTION: Runner Up
Photo by Robyn Cuffey

1st Runner up #5 nice blur, good action and background, I wish the horse had been a bit more side view to show the motion, but overall a wonderful artistic picture.

 costume1 costume2

COSTUME: 1st Place
Photo by Wendy Flowers

Great color, good composition.

COSTUME: Runner Up
Photo by Marilyn Ives

Runner up goes to entry #1 nice job I just wish the person had been closer to the horse.

 cute1 cute2

CUTE: 1st Place
Photo by Lori Pennell

First place #8 who can resist a cute foal in a meadow of green, nice colors good use of composition to include the red barn in the distance.

CUTE: Runner Up
Photo by Wendy Flowers

First Runner up #4 very sweet shot good sharpness and composition.

funny1 funny2

FUNNY: 1st Place
Photo by Lori Pennell

First Place #5 I love the hay bed head look and for using flash this came out very well.

FUNNY: Runner Up
Photo by Christine Vito

First runner up #8 very comical the only distraction is the tree behind him, if the background had been less distracting this would easily have been a first place.

snow1 snow2

IN THE SNOW: 1st Place
Photo by Wendy Flowers

First place #6 great shot, captured the moment of play, nice off center composition, tells a story – good job!


IN THE SNOW: Runner Up
Photo by Gloria Steiger

 First Runner up #7 very artistic composition, good sharpness I can tell by the streaks of snow that this was a slow shutter speed and you did a good job of holding it steady.


SPHO-ME National News

The Standardbred Pleasure Horse Organization of New Jersey is host to the National Award Program for Standardbreds competing as pleasure horses. Each year, exhibitors from as far away as Kentucky participate in the program, which recognizes the top competitors in some 20 different divisions.

The SPHO Awards Banquet for the 2012 show year was held Sunday, February 17th at the Holiday Inn in East Windsor, N.J. More than 200 people attended the event to celebrate the accomplishments of both horse and rider/driver. Four members of SPHO-ME were on hand to share in the celebration — Jessie Flaherty, Jill Flaherty, Jen Flanigan, and Wendy Flowers — which included a red carpet with professional portraits, a banquet with exquisite, towering vases of white lilies, attractive linens and place settings, a generous selection of raffle and auction items, and, of course, the awards presentation. From bronze horses to blown glass, the awards were unique and gorgeous.

Maine exhibitors received accolades in several divisions:

Jessie Flaherty received a tremendous trophy as the Overall High Point Junior Exhibitor, who showed Southview Sabre. Congratulations Jessie!

The Overall High Point Standardbred Reserve Grand Champion was Southview Sabre, shown by Jessie Flaherty and Jen Flanigan. In third place was Panzo Two, shown by Wendy Flowers.

Southview Sabre and Jen Flanigan were also the Reserve Grand Champions in both the Equitation and In Hand divisions.

Panzo Two and owner/rider Wendy Flowers took home top honors in Pan’s division, Senior High Point Horse, as well as General Grand Champion showcasing the versatility of the breed competing in events such as barrels, pole bending, games, and trail. They also were the Reserve Grand Champions both in Demos — for demonstrations and educational events promoting the breed as a pleasure horse — and in the Versatility division. This was Pan’s second year under saddle, showing as a 6-year-old OTT Standardbred. Pan has been a regular envoy for SPHO-ME since starting his second career as a pleasure horse, traveling around Maine with Wendy and family to showcase and promote the breed.

Congratulations to all of our Maine competitors!

If you are thinking of adopting a horse, we recommend that you consider the Standardbred pleasure horse – an intelligent, tolerant and willing breed.

SPHO-ME Year End Banquet, Awards & 2013 Events

SPHO BanquetThe annual meeting and banquet of the Standardbred Pleasure Horse Organization of Maine was held Sunday, January 13. New officers were welcomed into positions, including Wendy Flowers as President, Jen Flanigan as Secretary, and Barb Pretorious as Treasurer.

Brenda Bryant was honored with a Service Award

Brenda Bryant was honored with a Service Award

Brenda Bryant, outgoing president, was honored with a service award for over 25 years dedication to SPHO-ME and back-to-back terms as club president. Congratulations and thank you, Brenda!

Member Pam Rhodes produced a wonderful2012 year-in-review movie for fellow members to enjoy.

The Ambassador Horse Program Committee reported record-breaking horse wreath sales in 2012 – great work! These funds go directly into the AHP program for the purpose of retraining former racehorses for use in a variety ofpleasure disciplines, and placement with new owners in responsible homes. Also, Ambassador Horse Nichols has been sold!

Jessica Flaherty and Wendy Flowers

Jessica Flaherty and Wendy Flowers

Plans for 2013 are well underway, including some interesting and unique new programs. One such event is a May fun day with various stations for trying your hand at things like dressage, versatility, carriage driving, and jumping. Two trails rides are also being planned. And clinics are scheduled for March 17 – a spring tune-up riding clinic – and April 21 – a carriage driving clinic, both of which may be found in the events calendar of this issue. The SPHO-ME/SMDA dressage show is scheduled for July 14.

Robyn Cuffey

Robyn Cuffey

As part of our outreach program, SPHO-ME is sponsoring several new High Point Standardbred year-end awards for the 2013 show season. These awards will be given to members of fellow organizations, including Cumberland County Riding Club, Mousam, Southern Maine Dressage Association, and Maine Dressage Society. In addition, two additional organizations are looking at adopting the SPHO-ME awards.

The 2012 High Point Standardbred Champion is Panzo Two, owned and ridden by Wendy Flowers. The Reserve High Point Standardbred Champion is Southview Sabre, shown by Jessica Flaherty. The High Point Rookie of the Year is Southview Sabre, shown by Jessica Flaherty and Jen Flanigan. Congratulations!

Service awards were presented to Robyn Cuffey, Lanie Buskin, Wendy Flowers, Lisa King, Derek Rouleau, and Laura Rouleau. A huge thanks to all of our hardworking volunteer members and friends – this organization exists because of your enthusiastic commitment and dedication.

All are welcome to our monthly meetings and events. For more information, please contact Wendy at If club members have equine news or life events to share, please contact Wendy.