Western Saddle Fit – the Essentials
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Western Saddle Fit – the Essentials

August 16, 2019


To make sure your Western saddle is fitting, follow these three Basic Principles plus one. The first principle is Position. The front of the bar of the saddle tree needs to be behind the shoulder blade of the horse. Here is where the shoulder blade lies inside your horse. You have a thin outer layer of muscle over the shoulder blade, and it feels firm when you’re over it. You can find the back of the shoulder blade by feeling for it where it goes firm to soft as you come off the back corner of the shoulder blade. This is where the front of the bar needs to sit. This is a tree. It has a cantle, a fork, a horn and two bars that go along the horse’s back. You can find the front of the bar in your saddle by feel either under the skirts, or by looking between the skirts and the front jockey on your saddle. When you put your saddle on the horse feel for the back of the shoulder blade and line it up with the front of the bar. The leather ahead of the bar will extend over the shoulder blade but the bar has to be behind it. If your saddle fits your horse, it will stay in this position. Ideally. ride without a breast collar. But if you must use the breast collar, make sure it is not putting pressure on the saddle unless the saddle is being pulled backwards, and that it is not going over the point of the shoulder, because that will pull the saddle forward as the horse moves. If you have the tree up on the shoulder blades, not only are you compressing muscle between the bar and the bone, but you have created a bridge of non contact behind the shoulder blade and are putting high pressure on the back of the bars, maybe causing them to dig in. People are so used to seeing saddles up on the shoulder blades that it may look right to them but this is where it belongs. If the position is wrong, nothing else will be right. The second Principle is to distribute the pressure over as wide a surface area as is practical to decrease the pressure in any one area This means that the tree extends onto the loin of the horse and that is OK. All western saddles extend onto the loin and have for hundreds of years. But to distribute the pressure evenly over the whole saddle, two things must be considered. First, the rigging has to pull evenly over the whole tree. If the main pull is primarily at the front of the tree, then you have to use a back cinch. And for that back cinch to be any use at all, you have to do it up snug to the horse. As the horse moves, the flank cinch will get looser. It will never be tighter than when you just cinch it up, so do do it up snug. Second, the rider needs to be sitting central and balanced in the saddle. If the rider slouches into the back of the saddle with their feet forward, they put extra pressure on the back of the saddle. The seat has to be made to enable the rider to sit properly. To do this the low point of the seat must be ahead of the points of the cantle and there must be enough room for the rider in the pocket of the seat. A bad seat has the low point right at the base of the candle and a rise that forces the rider to sit back on your pockets. Where the stirrups are hung relative to the low point of the seat also affects how the rider can sit – if you can sit up straight, or if you’re forced back into the seat. The only way you’re going to know how the saddle fits you is to sit in it, preferably on a horse if you can, because the stand doesn’t necessarily hold it in the position like it would be on a horse. The third principle is no Poking which means no high pressure areas. Check the bottom of your saddle for lumps, bumps, and other protrusions. Especially check underneath conchos and strings where screws, nails or poorly installed strings can come through. Also, check under the stirrup groove where the stirrup leather comes up, over, and underneath the bar to make sure there’s no ridge of pressure there. With your saddle up on the horse with no pad, check to see how stable it is. If it slides all over the place, the shapes don’t match. Next try to rock your saddle from front to back. A little movement is okay. Too much isn’t and that could be caused by quite a number of reasons. Check for clearance, not just under the front of the gullet, but all the way underneath and even under the front of the seat. A saddle must never touch the top of the spine anywhere along the horse’s back. Check under the cantle and the back of the skirts under the lacing, especially if your horse is more “A” shaped. Next run your hand under the edge of the skirts all the way around looking for high pressure points. Run your hand under the front bar tip from top to bottom. You are looking for even contact – even pressure from top to bottom. If the angles don’t match the horse, you will have higher pressure in one place compared to another. Feel under the tree in the saddle from front to back under where the bar sits. Is there even contact top and bottom, over all the bar all the way back? The angle has to match all along the bar. Is there even contact all the way from front to back? Or is there little to no contact in the middle of the bars and more contact on the ends? Or is there contact along the front of the saddle and it lifts off at the back? Ideally you want full even contact of the bars all the way along the back. Especially check the front and back bar tips for high pressure areas. Even if all the bar is not in full contact with the horse it is OK as long as there’s no high pressure areas. Lastly, Padding is an essential part of the western saddling system. How big a pad? You want it to expand an inch or two around the outside of your saddle. How thick? A half-inch would be minimum to protect the horse, and an inch would be about maximum. More than that and your saddle will be less stable, and you’ll have to over tighten the cinch to stop it from rolling. If you follow these three Principles plus one: proper Position, distribute the Pressure, no Poking and use clean good-quality Padding, your saddle will work well for your horse. Thank you for watching our video, but that is just scratching the surface. If you want to learn more, visit our website westernsaddlefit.com, by clicking the link up top. Or if you want to learn about or buy our 67 minute video, Western Saddle Fit – The Basics, you can click the link again or just scroll down. You can also learn about our longer video, Western Saddle Fit – Well Beyond the Basics, by continuing to scroll or by clicking this link. You can read some of the many articles we’ve put up over the last few years about how a western saddle fits and functions on a horse by clicking on this last link. We hope this information helps both you and your horse have a good ride. westernsaddlefit.com

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  1. Great basic information for any discipline. I love that you discussed the importance of the riders position-often overlooked. And saddle placement! Virtually all people put the saddle too far forward! Lots of information packed into seven minutes! I know the full video is going to be awesome!

  2. Excellent video- clear, concise and easy to understand for anyone interested in western saddle fit. Great job guys! Can't wait to get mine!

  3. Concise, well structured, clear – I think, an excellent summary. That you Ben Longwell for the pointer from "Thoughtful Thursday"

  4. Would be nice if retail saddle shops would have the bare trees for every type of western saddle they sell so prospective buyers could take the tree home to try it on their horse before buying the saddle they're interested in!

  5. Having ridden english my whole life I'm getting into western and new to western saddles. Some of the basics are the same but this is SO helpful for the details, thank you!  Do you have a video discussing tree widths and bars? What is the difference between a tree and bars in sizing ("bars" is not an english saddle term), e.g., are "medium tree" and "semi QH bars" the same thing, and are "wide tree" and "full QH bars" the same? Also, how do you feel about flex trees?  Thank you!

  6. I wonder if a flexible type of poly or plastic can be used as a saddle tree instead of a hard material(wood).
    That way it moves with the horses body….

  7. interesting… Jochen Schlese says the back cinch should never be tight and that rigging more in the middle of the saddle will mean the cinch will not run perfectly vertically and will slide forward, causing the saddle to be pulled forward.

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