Bridging saddles shim for saddle fit swayback horse

Bridging saddles shim for saddle fit swayback horse

Swayback. The horses’ back dips in the center of the top line. It can be caused by a poor saddle fit. Proper muscle development is key to reversing hollow horses.


Bailey 001Most sway backs are not congenital, not a true sway. Often the sway is the result of lack of muscle across the top line: building back muscle will reduce or eliminate the sway if it is not congenital and will improve it even if it is.

Swayback is common in aged broodmares, who have had the added weight of a pregnancy stressing the back. Letting the horse get too fat obviously contributes to strain on the back. Proper riding and saddle fit are the biggest keys to comfort and performance.

Conformation also plays a role. Horses with long backs prone to back problems in general, including swayback. Horses with high-set necks and a high head carriage may be at greater risk because this way of moving tends to hollow the back.


Western Saddles

are the most difficult for horses with a swayed top line as the trees tend to be much flatter than english or endurance saddles. Take a look at these saddle pads. One is designed for horses with a low wither and a flat back, the others are designed to follow the natural curve of a horse with lower backs and perhaps peaked withers.


7334M ProTechSq New web
Wither and Contour Design


English Saddles

and subsequent pads are a little more forgiving to the sway back but generally require shimming with a bridging shim as well. You should only shim from the bottom up. Try to stay away from pads with either built-in shims or pockets and velcro at the top as these place pressure directly on the most delicate top portion of the horses back.

70 booster shim full WEB

A swayback can create soreness in a horse’s back because most saddles will “bridge,” putting the rider’s weight only on the front and the back of the saddle, creating abnormal pressure points, especially over the shoulders and loins. On the other hand, poor saddle fit can also contribute to swayback, as the horse will alter its stride and movement, including hollowing its back, and raising its head to avoid pain.

Shimming to create comfort for the swayback horse is not complicated but riders need to know what is important.

  1.  The saddle pad should have an open pocket, allowing you to place the shim exactly where it is needed. Saddle fitting pads with either closed off pockets or bridging shims sewn-in can actually cause more damage if the placing of the shim and the thickness of the shim are not perfect for your horse.
  2. The shims should be available in varying thicknesses and should have the ability to be stacked.  If you correct the painful saddle fit your horse should begin creating a healthier top line.  The goal is for you to reduce the amount of shimming.
  3. Less is more. Start slowly. Use one set of shims, if the saddle is still bridging add a second set of shims and continue slowly. Over shimming will make the sway worse. 

ThinLine has invested years in understanding how materials and designs can be effectively used to make swaybacked horses more comfortable or just to make any saddle fit better on the average horse.

Shimming for protection and saddle fit:

Underneath the ThinLine layer is a pocket to insert saddle fitting shims. If you need help with minor saddle fit adjustments, purchase these bridge pads for swayback horses and use it alone or add shims. Either way, your saddle will fit better and your horse will use his back better and stay sounder longer. Shims are made of the same amazing ThinLine material.

Western Saddle Fitting Shim Poster

Money-Back Guarantee:  

We are riders making products for riders. We understand how important the time we have with our horses is. We want every ride to be the best ride.  If you feel ThinLine is not delivering what you need all products may be returned for a full refund within 30 days. Of course, we would prefer you give us a call and tell us what is and is not working for you.  Around the world, this product has helped both riders and horses work happier together. We hope our 30-day satisfaction guarantee will help you have the confidence to try this amazing material.

Signs of Poor Saddle Fit on Swayback Horse:

  1. Saddle Sores: caused by friction (movement of the saddle) or pressure. Girth and/or saddle are too tight or too loose and begin to rub the horse. Friction can also be caused by an imbalanced rider or incorrect saddle placement.
  2. White Hairs: are caused by too much pressure in a small spot. The pressure stops blood flow, kills the sweat gland and causes hair to turn white.
  3. Dry Spots: after you ride the horses back should be evenly wet where the saddle lies. Dry spots suggest there is either too much pressure or not enough contact in one spot.
  4. Muscle Atrophy: your saddle is probably pinching the horse. This could also be caused by poor riding or riding too long on unfit horses.
  5. Bridging: this is when the panels at the center of the saddle do not have even contact with the horses back.  This indicates that either the saddle tree is too straight for the horse’s back, or if the saddle fits otherwise correctly, the horse is showing signs of a swayback.

Bailey 007

There are ways to accommodate saddle fit for a saddle that bridges. If a slight bridge exists, then use a shimmable pad with bridging shims inserted to “fill in” the gap. Contact of the saddle panels on the horses back must be even.  If the horse is a true sway, then this will make the horse more comfortable and offer a more permanent solution. If the horse is only displaying signs of a sway from lack of correct muscle development, then using the shims will allow the horse to move more comfortably and correctly so that those muscles can be developed and the shims may eventually be removed.



ThinLine has several thicknesses of shims and they may be stacked so riders can remove a layer at a time when the horses back begin to strengthen and lift.

Proper saddle fit, for a horse with a swayback or not, will equal a safe, relaxing ride. You don’t have to be an expert to tell if you have a bad saddle fit for but it is always advisable to have a professional check. If you’re certain you have a saddle with the correct gullet size for your horse, paying attention to how your horse acts and how your body feels will let you know if you’ve got the right fit.

Exercise caution using bridging shims. Over shimming can actually cause the horse to move away from the pressure created when over shimming the center of the back. Your saddle will rock forward and backward if you over shim. 


ThinLine offers all our customers a money-back guarantee.
Our products are here to help you and your horse work happily together.

All our pads, except the basic ThinLine, are available with bridging shims.

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Bridging saddles shim for saddle fit swayback horse