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Saddle Fitting

Updated: Jun 14

Saddle Fitting is important when purchasing any saddle. Our horses work hard for us and being educated is an asset to both the horse and the rider. The purpose of any saddle (Dressage, Jumping, Racing, Endurance, Specialty Saddle, or Western Saddle) is to fit both the horse and the rider correctly being balanced and comfortable.


Malik and I enjoy horseback riding for hours at a time so our tack is extremely important because we ride miles and miles in one ride. If you want to know if your tack is a perfect fit, put it to the test with a longer ride! At the end of the ride if both you and your horse walk away with no sores and rubbing, feeling just as comfortable as you did when you started; then you have the perfect saddle. If not, there are a few tips from years of experience that can help you change up your saddle for a more enjoyable ride.



Saddle Fitting

Saddle Evaluation

You may now be wondering how often to have a saddle fit evaluation. Bodies change all the time and depending on what kind of work your horse does will determine how fast and often the change occurs. Age also plays a large role in body function. Based on my experience and research, the minimum to have your saddle re-checked and fitted is twice a year. The key here is to know your horse and to be aware of the changes. There is a NO “one size fits all” or even a “few sizes fits all” saddle. Every horse and human is unique. There may be similarities but every body is very different. There are now companies out there that make custom fitting easier than ever before for equestrians.


Horseback riding should not hurt and there are still too many people and horses suffering in silence! Men and women are built differently. Do you know the differences between a female and male saddle fit? Click Here for More


Owning a horse is a huge responsibility, in time and money. We owe it to them to be educated, to keep the saddle clean and to get them what they need.


Saddle Fitting Tips

Saddle Fitting Tips that helped me with me selecting the best saddle for Malik and myself was the Schleese “9 Points of Saddle Fit”



Saddle Fitting

1.Saddle Balance

A saddle too high in the pommel and too low in the cantle causes pressure on the horse’s back. It will be very difficult for your horse to engage his back because too much of your weight is on his last 2 floating ribs.


If your saddle is too low in the front it will pinch into the horse’s shoulder – which is very restrictive for your horse. Your saddle is too high in the back so your leg goes forward and you fall into a chair seat to balance which can strain the discs in your lower back. It should sit so that the pommel and cantle are even.


(This dressage saddle shows where the center of balance is.)

English Balance Video: Click Here

Western Balance Video: Click Here



Saddle Fitting

2. Wither Clearance

The saddle should have 2-3 fingers clearance on the top and around the side of the withers. The saddle must have an opening (clearance) on the sides of his withers to accommodate the shoulder rotation upwards and backwards during movement.


A horse whose saddle pinches his withers may be reluctant to go forward. Other more extreme signs of insufficient wither clearance are patches of white hairs (not scattered individual white hairs) or sores on the top or on one or both sides of the withers.



(The distance between the top of the withers and the sides of the withers should be 2-3 fingers all around.)

English Wither Clearance Video: Click Here

Western Wither Clearance Video: Click Here



Saddle Fitting

3. Channel / Gullet Width

A saddle with a channel or gullet that is too narrow or too wide can cause permanent damage to your horse’s back.

The width of each horse’s spine will determine how wide his saddle’s gullet must be, and it must be the same throughout the entire length of the saddle.


(This saddle has a wide gullet channel with good distribution of the rider’s weight on the horse’s saddle support area.)

English Channel/Gullet Width Video:

Click Here

Western Channel/Gullet Width Video: Click Here



Saddle Fitting

4. Full Panel Contact

Ensure that your saddle’s panels make contact with your horse’s back all the way down to distribute the rider’s weight over an area that equals approximately 220 square inches and ends at the last rib. Ensure that it doesn’t bridge or rocks (contact only in the middle.)


This saddle is positioned behind the shoulder but a) is too long for the horse’s back as it extends past the 18th thoracic vertebra and b) the billets are too far back and will pull the saddle onto the shoulder in motion.


English Full Panel Contact Video: Click Here

Western Full Panel Contact Video: Click Here



Saddle Fitting

5. Billet Alignment

Billets should hang perpendicular to the ground in the girth area. If the billets hang too far back, gravity will pull the billets (and the saddle) forward into the girth area.


The girth will always find its position at the narrowest point of the rib cage, driving the saddle forward onto your horse’s shoulders.


If the billets hang too far forward into your horse’s elbow area, they may make him sore in the elbows. Gravity will drag them (and the girth and saddle along with them) back into the girth area. There will now be too much pressure on the panels at the rear of the saddle.

This saddle is positioned behind the shoulder but a) is too long for the horse’s back as it extends past the 18th thoracic vertebra and b) the billets are too far back and will pull the saddle onto the shoulder in motion.

English Billet Alignment Video: Click Here

Western Billet Alignment Video: Click Here

Girth/Cinch Placement Article: Click Here

Girth/Cinch Gulls: Click Here



Saddle Fitting

6. Saddle Length

The length of the saddle support area will determine how long the panels must be. The saddle must sit behind the shoulder. A saddle that is too long often will get driven forward into the shoulder. The saddle cannot extend past the last floating rib at the 18th thoracic vertebra.

English Saddle Length Video: Click Here

Western Saddle Length Video: Click Here

Saddle Length Article: Click Here





Saddle Fitting

7. Saddle Straightness

Straightness means that the center of the saddle is in alignment with your horse’s spine. Horses are by nature uneven. Most horses have a left shoulder that is larger and more developed than their right shoulder. The larger shoulder kicks the saddle over to the other side during motion.


A rider who sits unevenly can compress the stuffing more on one side of the saddle, and drag it over to that side.


This rider is sitting on a saddle which has shifted to the right – presumably having been moved by the larger left shoulder during movement.

English Saddle Straightness Video: Click Here

Western Saddle Straightness Video: Click Here




Saddle Fitting

8. Tree Angle

The angle of the tree (at the tree points for the gullet plate) must be adjusted to match the angle of the horse’s shoulder. As the horse moves, his shoulder rotates upward and backwards. Check if the angle of the piping on the saddle matches the angle of your horse’s shoulder. If it does, the angle of your saddle’s tree is correctly adjusted for your horse.

The angle of this saddle is the same as the shoulder angle of the horse which is desirable.


English Tree Angle Video: Click Here

Western Tree Angle Video: Click Here

Tree Angle and Tree Points Article: Click Here





Saddle Fitting

9. Tree Width

The tree width at the gullet plate must be wide enough for the horse’s shoulders to rotate freely under the tree. If the tree width is too wide, the entire saddle may rock or slip from side to side when it’s being ridden, or the back half of the saddle may twist to one side or the other.


Tree width and tree angle need to be adjusted together. Adding flocking to or removing flocking from the vertical panels of the saddle will not solve the problem – it is the gullet plate that needs to be adjusted. Some of the self-adjustable gullet plates will accommodate angle adjustment, but will not allow width adjustment (over the wither area).


The three diagrams on the left illustrate identical tree angles with different tree widths; the three on the right illustrate identical tree widths with different tree angles (such as can be effected with the ‘self-adjusting’ trees of various companies – but changing angle without changing width is not always a good thing).

English Tree Width Video: Click Here

Western Tree Width Video: Click Here




Why is Saddle Fitting So Important?

A long term ill-fitting saddle takes a huge negative toll on a horse's entire body as well as the equestrian sitting in it. Just a few things that can happen with continued use of a poor fitting saddle; damage to shoulder cartilage, impingement of the spinal processes and or ligaments, permanently pinched and numb nerves, and in many cases can end a career. These things can also affect a rider in much of the same way. Back issues, knee and hip soreness from horseback riding. The right saddle and tack can make the difference for any equestrian.


So for maximum comfort and performance, taking the time to get a proper Saddle Fitting is worth it!



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Additional Resources

English Saddle Fit

English Saddle fit series to read: Click Here

English Saddle fit series to watch (Videos): Click Here


Western Saddle Fit

Western Saddle fit series to read: Click Here

Western Saddle fit series to watch (Video): Click Here

The difference between English and Western Saddles: Click Here

Saddle trees and why they are created differently Click Here

Saddle Fit Expert Guide: Click Here for PDF

Saddle Pain and Male vs Female Saddle Fit Video: Click Here

Are you a Woman Riding in a Saddle Made for a Man? Video: Click Here

Why Female Riders Struggle with "Chair Seat" Video: Click Here

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