Saddle Fit How-To Guide

Fitting The Rider:
This way of fitting the rider is specific to our saddles. Most other western saddles have a built up seat in the front and often require a larger seat size. We discourage oversized seats to keep you as far forward on the horse as possible, but still be comfortable and properly aligned for the type of riding you do. We encourage you to ride with as long of stirrup length as possible, so we want to make sure we make you the proper stirrup leather and fender length.

If you are interested in one of our saddles use the pictures below for how to measure the rider and make tracings of your horse/mule or group of horses/mules.

For the Rider we will need:
Thigh Measurement
Leg Length out of your stirrups
Stirrup Length you are currently riding
Rider age, shoe size, height & weight
Type of Riding & If you rope

For the horse/mule or horses/mules we will need:
Breed of Horse
Age of Horse
Tracings
Emailed picture of the whole horse from the side without a saddle, not too far away

Thigh Measurement:
sit in a saddle, on a horse, with your legs out of the stirrups, with your legs/knees as straight down as possible. Very important is your heels need to be in line with your shoulder! To help get in that position, over stretch your upper leg way back then relax. How you sit and position your body makes a big difference in the seat size you need. We are most concerned with the size of the opening between the base of the cantle and the bucking rolls or fork in our saddles. Most saddles with the built up seats encourage/teach you to sit back on your pockets, your knees/legs more forward and your stirrups shorter which requires a bigger seat. We believe a saddle should make it easy for you to ride centered where your weight is on the inside of your thighs and feet, not your pin bones and knees. It may feel strange and take a little retraining of your pelvis muscles to sit more centered/straight but it is sooo much more comfortable for you and the horse once you get used to it, for most people it is a quick process!!

You want a fingers thickness space between the bucking rolls and your thigh. Ropers sometimes like a little more.

Leg Length:
Sit in a saddle, on a horse, with your legs out of the stirrups, with your legs/knees as straight down as possible, ideal is your heels in line with your shoulders. Place the tape measure at your inseam and run down the inside of your leg to the edge of the ball of your foot with the type of riding boot on you usually wear. It is best to have someone read the tape for you!
Stirrup Length you are currently riding: measure on the saddle you are riding from where you sit in the saddle seat down to where your foot rests in the stirrup so we know the length you are riding now.

Fitting the Horse:
This is critical for the horses comfort, attitude and being able to perform to their maximum potential without interference from the saddle.

Use the pictures below for guidance, We will need:
Saddle Length
Tracings of the Withers, Rocker & Top Line

How To Take Tracings of a Horse/Mule Back:
The horse needs to be on level ground with all 4 feet flat on the ground with the head in a normal riding position when you take the following tracings.
There is no perfect way to fit a saddle to a horse/mule but we have found this to work really well for us and our customers! We don’t encourage one saddle for a horse, they change just like us! We help you choose the best saddle width for your horses/mules and with our remuda saddle fitting pad sets you up with a very versatile saddle that will fit many horses/mules of all kinds. We will take into account if we see any muscle atrophy in the withers or if their top line/spine is dropped, you want a saddle that gives the horse room to fill back out if they can.

First you have to determine where the “sweet spot” is located. This is right behind the shoulder blade where the front of the bars of any tree Western or English is meant to go. It is soft. Some horses it is easy to see especially if they have some muscle atrophy there.....this horse you can only feel but not see it.

Proper saddle/tree placement:
*It is fine if the leather from the saddle goes beyond this point in front but not the end of the tree bar.

You will need a high tech saddle fitting tool! You can buy from us for $10.00 or make your own. We use a 24” piece of 12-2 Romex housing wire (has just the right of flexibility but holds its shape), put electric tape on the ends, mark left/right & front/back on the ends and there you have a high tech saddle fitting tool. This process is called lofting.

Wither Tracing: Shape the wire over the withers, 3” behind that “sweet spot”. Take your time and make sure the wire is exactly the same shape as the horse. Lay the wire on a piece of paper and trace the shape......see photo. You need to label left/right on the paper.

To help this make sense, we drew the shape of the saddle tree bars onto the horse so you can see the idea. On most saddles, if you search a little, you can see the front end tip of the tree bar and feel underneath the sheepskin for where the rest of the tree bar is located.

Rocker Tracing:
Rocker= The shape/curve of the back from the withers to the flank/cowlick. Saddle tree bars have different rocker shapes, some straighter/flatter, some more arched/curved.
You bump the wire right behind the shoulder blade in that “sweet spot” 4 1/2” down parallel to the spine/center of back. Lay the wire on a piece of paper and trace the shape......see below. You need to do both sides and label which is front/back, which is left/right..

Here again you can see how where we are taking the tracing relates to the saddle tree bars which is the most important part for the horse. All of your weight is distributed on these bars and you want as close to 100% in contact as possible, otherwise you get excess pressure points that are painful.

Top Line Tracing: Place the wire in the center of the spine with the end of the wire even with the “sweet spot”. Lay the wire on a piece of paper and trace the shape......see below.

Tracing Wire Shapes Onto a Piece of Paper:
Any paper will do as long as we can read it. You can even piece/tape together grocery sacks or newspaper! Now you have a record of your horses back! You can do this for each horse or mule and then compare them to see how much they are alike or different. It is good to recheck this several times in a riding season as the horses change with exercise etc. You can add new updated tracings to the same paper and date each one and watch for improvement or see if the problem is getting worse.

Proper Saddle Placement:
Proper saddle placement in the front for riding and to check the saddle length: You want the front of the tree bar right behind the shoulder blade for the rest of the saddle tree bars shape to fit a horse correctly. It is fine for the leather of the saddle to go beyond this point.

Saddle Length:
This saddle is 24” long. With any saddle on your horse in the correct forward position with the saddle tree bars right behind the shoulder blade as shown above....measure straight across from the front of the tree bar to the longest point of the leather in the back running the tape at about the base of the cantle to the base of the fork. Nothing including the leather in the back should go past the “cowlick” (at the flank where the hair goes in the opposite direction). If the leather does go past this point the saddle starts riding up on the hip/hind quarters, is too long, will interfere with the hind quarters, will tend to “bridge” where most the of the pressure will be in the front and the back not even including the middle which will cause pain from pressure points and rubbing the top of the hind quarters. Interfering with hind quarters besides being painful will inhibit things like proper propulsion, turning and stopping. Bob likes to say it is driving with your brakes on or running with your pants down......you can do it but it isn’t easy!

Here you can see using the tape as a line only there are several inches before the saddle touches the “cowlick”. If the only saddle you can measure is too long tell us how many inches past the cowlick the saddle goes.

Rigging Position:
This picture is showing an example of the rigging position being a little too far back, the saddle will tend to want to work its way too far forward. We find the 7/8 rigged position to be the most universal.

Checking Saddle Fit: Any Saddle, Any Horse:
Ideally you want 100% of the whole surface of the tree bars in contact with the horse back so the weight and pressure is evenly distributed over a large surface for maximum comfort, fit and stability on the horses back.

Once you have the shape of your horses back in the wire, you lay the wire in any saddle and check to see exactly how it is fitting your horse. This takes all the guess work out of saddle fitting, you can see exactly how the whole tree is fitting. This will work with any type of saddle English or Western on any horse or mule! Armed with your wire and your paper with the tracings of the horses back you can go to any saddle in say a tack shop, turn it over and see what kind of contact/fit you would have. You can take your horse with you to go saddle shopping!

**We can’t stress enough.....the first thing you MUST look for when taking the shape of your horses back is to decide is the shape HEALTHY?? The majority of horses we see have some degree of muscle atrophy/dished in withers and their top line is dropped from being ridden with saddles that the angle of the tree bars is too narrow and possibly the saddle is too long. When a saddle is pinching a horse in the withers the horse will tend to want to hollow his back/drop his top line and shoulders to get away from the pain. Ill fitting saddles will DEFORM a horse’s back to the shape of the saddle they are forced to wear! Many people think dipped in/distinct withers is a sign of “good/high withers” or there is some “Thoroughbred” in them and that “they will hold a saddle well” where in fact the majority of the time they have a damaged UNHEALTHY back! A good fitting saddle will stay in place!

You DO NOT want a saddle to fit to the shape of a DAMAGED back or they will never have a chance at a healthy back.

If you realize there is a problem, shape the wire to what the withers should be shaped like not how the horse is and then evaluate the saddle to see if there is enough room for their shoulders to fill out and their top line to come back up. At first the saddle may be too wide and the rocker angle too straight but you can correct that with using our remuda saddle fitting pad and put shims to fill in until their back recovers if they are able to or permanently if necessary.

Checking The Wither Angle/Shape:
it helps to have someone hold the skirts down out of the way, then just lay the wire in the saddle 3” back from the end of the tree bars which is the same place as on the horse (3” back from the shoulder blade). Don’t push down on the wire just lay it in and compare the horse (wire) & the saddle tree bar angle.

Improper Wither Angle/Shape:
This is what we see with 90% of the saddles made today! The angle of the tree bars is too narrow! All the pressure is put in only about 40% of the bars, near the back bone there is no contact.

Many saddle makers in an attempt to correct this have made the gullet width wider but leaving the angle the same which just puts the pressure point lower down on the withers, causes the saddle to want to sit “down hill”and then you also can have a problem with not having enough clearence/gullet height.

Depending on how deep that gap is our remuda saddle fitting pad can correct or at the least improve the problem to a point. In this situation you would put inserts in the middle and back NOT the front pockets.

Proper Wither Angle/Shape:
As you can see the horse (wire) shape/angle is the same as the saddle tree bar angle where you have 100% percent contact! The shoulder blade can rotate under the bars. The horse will want to take longer strides, want to round their back and collect without pain or restriction!

Checking the Rocker: Just lay the wire in the center of the tree bar, which equals the 4 1/2” down from the spine on the horse, with the tip of the wire at the end of the saddle tree bar in the front, which equals right behind the shoulder blade on the horse. Then compare your shapes.

Improper Rocker Angle/Shape:
Here the horse has more dip/curve to his back than the saddle bars. We see this often also due to horses dipping/dropping their top line in an attempt to get away from the pain of an ill fitting saddle. This can be corrected up to a point with our remuda saddle fitting pad. In this case if it is the only problem you would put shims in the middle only the same thickness as your gap.

Proper Rocker Angle/Shape:
Here the horse’s back shape and the tree’s shape are the same giving 100% contact, no pressure points!

**Horses of all breeds in general have gotten wider, flatter and shorter in their back shape over the last few decades! The majority of horse owners and the saddle making industry including custom makers have not realized this change. We are also finding there are so many damaged backs now the industry see these unhealthy shapes as “normal” and continuing to build saddle trees to that shape which is encouraging the problem to continue and get worse.

See also our Saddling Fitting Information/Philosophy page!!

We hope this information will be helpful to you and your horses/mules! If you have any questions please give us a call. It is our passion and goal to help as many horses as possible to become pain free from saddle fit! They are a gift in our lives and deserve the best and to be comfortable!!