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The hand – The perfect measuring unit in the stable

How high should the noseband be? Is there enough shoulder clearance in front of the saddle? Is the girth too far forward? You can find all this out by simply using your hand. Here, we've compiled a list of everything you can use your hand for when determining if your horse's equipment is properly fitted. Don't hesitate to use it before you hastily consult a saddler, buy a new bridle, or seek advice from someone else.

Of course, all these rules should be taken with a grain of salt. They mainly apply to horses and large ponies, and there are naturally many more factors to consider if you want to accurately assess whether the horse's equipment fits perfectly. Nevertheless, the hand can be a good indicator.


The hand as a measuring unit

When using your hand as a measuring unit, stretch it out, bring your fingers together, and use the width of your flat hand, including the thumb. A hand's width is often around 10 cm for a woman and 11-13 cm for a man. Here, we're basing our calculations on a woman's hand.

How long should the mane be?

Place your hand flat and horizontally along the horse's mane. This will tell you how long it should be when you take out the scissors, at least if you're following traditional show jumping and dressage fashion.

Does the saddle size fit the horse?

Place a saddle on your horse without a pad. Place your flat hand vertically right behind the rear part of your saddle. Make sure your hand is fully extended and note whether it also aligns with the horse's last rib. It's crucial that the saddle doesn't extend further back than that.

Does the saddle size fit the rider?

Saddle up your horse and sit comfortably in the saddle. Place your flat hand on the cantle behind you, so one side of your palm aligns with the top edge of the cantle. The other side of your palm should just touch your buttocks. If not, the saddle is too large; if your palm is pressed under your buttocks, the saddle is too small.

Where should the girth be placed?

Place a saddle on your horse without a pad and tighten the girth as usual. Place your flat hand between the girth and the horse's foreleg. If you can't fit your hand there, the distance is too short; if there's a lot of space, the girth (and saddle) may be too far back.


Do the saddle pads make contact with the horse?

Place a saddle on your horse without a pad and place your flat hand under the saddle. Place your other hand on the pommel of the saddle and press down. Simultaneously, let your hand under the saddle slide down along the horse to feel if there's contact with the saddle pad all the way down. There should be.

How wide should the saddle chamber be?

Hold your saddle with the bottom facing you. Slide your palm down through the saddle chamber. If your hand gets squished at any point, the chamber is too narrow. This rule applies to many horses, although some may need even more space.

Where should the hanoverian noseband be placed?

Put a bridle on your horse. Place your palm between the top of the horse's nostrils and the bottom of the Hanoverian noseband. The width of your palm should fit precisely there.

How loose should the jaw strap be?

Put a bridle on your horse. Place your hand vertically between the horse's jaw and the jaw strap. This ensures it doesn't bother the horse. You can also use a fist as a measuring unit.

Two fingers as a measuring unit

To use two fingers as a measuring unit, bring your index and middle fingers together and stretch them out. Together, they give a width of about 3.5 cm for most women and 4 cm for men. Again, we're basing our calculations on a woman's hand.

Where should the saddle be placed?

Place a saddle on your horse without a pad and tighten the girth. Find the horse's shoulder blade and place two fingers vertically behind it. Your saddle should not be closer to the horse's shoulder blade than these two fingers; otherwise, it's too far forward.


How much space should there be for the withers under the saddle?

Place a saddle on your horse without a pad. Determine if the withers have enough clearance by placing two horizontal fingers between the withers and the saddle right above where the saddle pads start. There should be room for 2-3 horizontal fingers on each side.

Where should the English noseband be placed?

Put a bridle on your horse. For it to fit correctly, there should be room for two vertical fingers between the noseband and the horse's cheekbone (as shown in the article picture).

Does the browband fit?

Put a bridle on your horse and tighten all the straps. Insert two vertical fingers under the horse's browband. There should be plenty of room. If not, the browband can push the bridle forward, affecting the horse's ears and their ability to rotate.

How tight should the noseband be?

The Danish Equestrian Federation prescribes that there should be at least 1.5 cm between any noseband and the horse's nasal ridge. This corresponds to the width of one finger. However, a good old rule of thumb tells us that the noseband should not be tighter than allowing two vertical fingers in between. Check this by first putting a bridle on your horse. Insert two fingers between the noseband and the horse's nasal ridge and turn them so they are vertical along the nasal ridge. If this is not possible, the noseband may be a bit too tight.


One finger as a measuring unit

Here, you should use your index finger for measuring. It's usually somewhere between 1.5 and 2 cm wide for a woman.

How much space should there be between the snaffle and the curb bit?

Put the double bridle on your horse. Open the horse's mouth corner and measure if there's room for one finger lengthwise between the two bits. If not, either one or both bits are too tight or loose.

Is the bandage too tight?

Wrap a bandage on your horse as you usually do. Then insert a finger between the bandage and the front of the horse's leg (not by the cannon bone). You should easily be able to insert your entire finger.

Where should the headpiece be placed?

Put a bridle on your horse and tighten all the straps. Place a horizontal finger behind the horse's ear. There should be a minimum of one finger's width between the ear and the headpiece of the bridle. You can also measure this by placing your extended hand vertically between the headpiece and the base of the horse's ear.


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