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How to Properly Fit a Western Saddle for You and Your Horse’s Comfort

If there is one piece of tack worth investing in as a horse owner, it’s a properly fitting saddle. A saddle that fits both you and your horse will make rides more comfortable and enjoyable. Poor saddle fit, sadly, can lead to saddle sores and even lameness — and that’s just for your horse! If you’ve ever dismounted and discovered sore knees or a bruised buttocks, then you know firsthand why the saddle must also fit the rider.

There are many styles of western saddles available. From round-skirted barrel saddles to heavy roping saddles, it’s easy to find a saddle specialized to your discipline. Luckily, regardless of saddle style, the same basic fitting principles apply to all western saddles.

Fitting the Horse for a Western Saddle

Western saddles are built around a form called a “tree,” which must be shaped to fit your horse’s back. Some horses have narrow withers, and others have wide withers. Some have flat backs, while others have a bigger “dip” in their backs. The two key elements to consider when sizing a saddle to your horse are therefore tree width and curvature.

Selecting Saddles to Try

When shopping for a western saddle, you first want to make a short list of likely candidates to try. For a horse with a flatter back, look for saddles with a flatter tree from front to back. For those with more of a curve to their backs, look for a saddle with more curvature from front to back. 

You can also make an educated guess as to the tree width your horse needs. Here are the most common tree widths western saddles come in:

  • Full Quarter Horse Bars: These saddles have approximately a 7″ gullet and are designed to fit a stocky quarter horse with flat withers and a wide back.
  • Semi-Quarter Horse Bars: These saddles have about a 6 1/2″ gullet and fit an “average” horse. This is the most common tree width.
  • Arabian Bars: These saddles have a narrower gullet to fit high-withered, short-backed breeds like the Arabian.
  • Draft Bars: These saddles have an extra-wide gullet to fit drafts and draft crosses.

Assessing Saddle Fit

Ultimately, you need to try a saddle on to see if it fits. Follow these steps to evaluate western saddle fit. Please keep in mind these saddle fitting instructions are basic and a good place to start, but there are always exceptions to the rules. We strongly suggest you counsel with a professional trainer to help with this.

  1. Place the saddle on your horse’s back without a saddle pad.
  2. Make sure the saddle sits flat on the back. If it slumps down in the front, it is too wide. If it rocks back and forth, it’s too narrow.
  3. Slide your hand under the bars of the saddle. They should make even contact with your horse’s back all the way down. If the middle of the saddle does not touch your horse’s back, the tree is too flat.
  4. Make sure you can fit two or three fingers between the gullet and withers. Less than this, and the saddle is too wide. More, and the saddle is too narrow.

If the saddle appears to fit based on the assessment above, add a saddle pad, and go for a ride. After your ride, examine the sweat pattern on the saddle pad. If the saddle fits, there should be no dry spots. Dry spots represent pressure points, which will become painful if you continue to ride in that saddle.

Fitting a Western Saddle to the Rider

Luckily, fitting the horse owner is often easier than fitting the horse. Western saddles are sized to the rider primarily by seat size. Most average adults fit in a 15″ seat. Larger adults need a 16″ or 17″ seat, while petite adults often ride in a 14″ seat.

Here are three signs that a western saddle fits you:

  1. Your buttocks rests gently against the base of the cantle but does not press against it. You do not want the saddle pushing you up or forward or both. Have someone take a photo of you sitting in the saddle before you purchase. You should be sitting “in” the saddle not “on” the saddle.
  2. There are approximately 4 inches between your thigh and the swell of the saddle’s pommel.
  3. The fenders are fully between your knees and your horse when your stirrups are adjusted to the correct length.

You should know within a 15-minute ride whether a western saddle fits you adequately. If you feel “locked in” and like the saddle is pressing on you, it’s too small. If you feel like you’re sliding around, it’s too large.

It can take some time to find the perfect saddle to fit both you and your horse, so be patient. Sit in as many saddles as you can before buying to see how they fit and find which ones “feel” good to you. A good way to expedite this process and make sure you get it right is to hire a saddle fitter. They can take precise measurements, recommend good brands, and catch any fit issues before they lead to injuries. Some saddle makers/retailers will let you try the saddle for a 5-day or so period before purchasing. It is good to ask if this is possible.

Once you have a well-fitting saddle, you’re ready to ride. If you’re looking for new exercises to enhance your routine, check out Easy Horse Fix. Just like a good saddle, our training videos support a healthy relationship between horse and horse owner.

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