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Saddle Fitting

The Importance of Saddle Fitting

Saddle Fitting for Gaited Horses, Stock Horses and Mules

Saddle fitting gaited horses and mules is ourspecialty. At Crest Ridge Saddlery, we approach business a bit differently thanother companies. We are not here just to sell you a saddle. We want you to havea saddle that is correct for your horse and comfortable for you. We want you totell your friends "this one fits!"

For the horse to perform at his optimum levelit is your responsibility as an owner to make sure of his comfort. Thefollowing is a very basic guide in simple terms that most anyone can understandto insure that the saddle that is placed on a horse will fit reasonably well.

Do you have a saddle fitting problem?

Is your horse:

  • twitching its tail back and forth under saddle
  • doing its best to nip you during saddling?
  • trying to lower its head while being ridden?
  • trying to run out from under the saddle whileyou are mounting?
  • developing white hairs under the saddle area?
  • showing uneven sweat patterns or ruffled hairson the horses back after being ridden?
  • showing uneven muscling?
  • showing atrophied withers?
  • sore backed?

Ifyou answer yes to any of these questions, then the very first thing you shouldcheck is saddle fit.

Saddle fitting can be a nightmare for severalreasons. One of the most frustrating aspects is that many times saddles thatappear to fit while the horse is standing still proves to be ill-fitting whenthe horse in motion. It becomes even more frustrating because the saddleleather itself is covering what you need to see.

Western Trail Saddles and Saddle Fit

Most standard Western saddles have 6 partsthat are assembled and made into one tree.

·2 Bars




·Seat Strainer

·Horn (optional)

Saddle fit is affected by:

Bar angle and the shape of the bars

The bars and the angle at which they are assembled are themost important part of the tree. You can have a gaited horse and a foundationbred Quarter Horse standing side by side with both having a 7-inch gullet.Typically the gaited horse will require a 12-inch spread in the shoulder areaof the bar while the Quarter Horse will require 13. If you put a saddle madefor the Quarter Horse on the gaited horse it will fit at the top (or in thiscase gullet) but there will be no support at the shoulder. With the addedweight of the rider the saddle will pinch at the top of the wither (or gullet)because there is no support at the bottom where the shoulder is. So in reality,gaited horses do not need a wider gullet like most people assume. Rather theyneed a narrower shoulder on proper bar angles so that all of the rider’s weightis distributed equally.

A mutton-withered horse has less surface areafor the bars to rest on. Therefore there is less surface area to equally dividethe weight of the rider throughout the tree. Upon your inspection it willactually feel snugger in the front of the bars than compared to a horse withadequate wither. Be sure to check that the saddle is level on the horse andthat it follows the shoulder angle closely.

The rider’s weight is carried mostly on theribcage of the horse’s back and the bars of the tree must match that shape veryclosely. It is only when you reach your hand up and under those bars that youcan feel how closely they come in contact with the horse.

Poor Saddle Fit: The Bar and Shoulderare at different angles.

Correct Saddle Fit: The Bar is at the SameAngle as Shoulder

Rock - the amount of bend in the bar.

Rock is determined by the amount of bend inthe tree; the more rock, or rocker, the more extreme bend is needed within thebars to insure good contact throughout the length of the tree. To make itsimple, the rock, or rocker, must match the shape of your horses back at restand in motion.


The edges of the bar on a gaited horse treedo not just end on a blunt edge. Instead the edges gently taper away from thehorse and front of the bars have a bit more bend on the front edges so that themuscle just ducks in and out of the tree without impeding the gait.

Spine & Clearance

There should be at least 1-inch clearance ona Western Saddle between the bottom of the swell and the horse’s wither and nomore than 2 inches unless your horse is mutton withered. A mutton-witheredhorse naturally is going to have more clearance because there is less witherthere.

At no time should any part of a saddle comeinto contact with the spine of a horse. Some horses have a pronounced backboneor prominent spine. To check the horse’s spine, observe if is well hidden andprotected in the meat of the muscle or if it is bony by running your handsalong the spine. In any case care must be given to insure a proper channel downthe gullet from front to rear of the saddle.

Length of Bars

A well designed gaited horse tree typicallyhas 1-3 inches shorter bar than a traditional stock tree so that at no time isthe tree interfering with the point of hip so as not to impede the gaitingaction of the horse. Stock horses do not generally extend themselves as much asgaited horses.

The rider's position in the saddle greatlyinfluences how well a saddle fits. A rider in a saddle with too large of a seatcannot help but slide back and forth in the seat. Over time this will cause thesaddle to move out of its proper position. If the rider slides to far back, thesaddle will lift up in front transferring all of the weight to the rear of thesaddle, potentially causing pressure points. If the rider is pushed too farforward, all of the riders weight is transferred to the shoulders. The tablebelow gives general guidance on the proper seat size.