The Right Saddle

Courtesy of America’s Horse Daily

For horseback-riding success, finding the right saddle is important for you and your horse.

Comfort is the most important factor when buying a saddle. You must be able to relax when you ride so you can enjoy it. The comfort of the seat is just as important as the comfort of your clothes or footwear.

When you put a saddle on your horse, there should be about a three-finger distance from the horse’s withers to underneath the front swell of the saddle. The saddle should not rock or bridge. Sometimes a special pad can be used if you don’t have the three-finger rule under the front swell. The saddle should be level when cinched up. If your horse has a short back, a round-skirted saddle will fit better so the bars of the tree won’t put pressure on the kidneys.

If the rear of the saddle is up after you cinch the saddle on your horse, or if the saddle wants to roll when you try to get on, it does not fit your horse.

Most saddles will fit the same if used on the same horse. Some “flex” saddles have neoprene rubber under the skirts between the woolskin that helps the saddle conform to different horses’ backs. It also makes the saddles lightweight and good for trail riding.

Seat Measure
Seat size is measured by putting the end of a ruler below the horn, parallel to the seat, and measuring back to the stitching on the back cantle to measure the size of the tree. Some companies make the tree  a half-inch larger so that the seat size measurement is where you actually sit.

Seat sizes are available from 13 inches to 18 inches. There are some specialty saddles made in 10-inch, 11-inch, 12-inch and 19-inch seats.

Seat size will not vary in different types of saddles, but the comfort of fit can change with seat size. Some barrel racing and trail saddles have 5-inch cantles, and some roping saddles have 3 ½-inch cantles. Always sit in your saddle before purchasing it. Expert advice and saddle fittings are available at many stores.

Your Seat Size
To determine your seat size, sit in the saddle and see whether you have approximately a two-finger distance between the front swell and your leg. This is a good rule of thumb for trail and pleasure riding. Ropers and barrel racers might want to feel more secure, so a one-finger distance would work. Show saddles have center pocket seats and put the rider in the proper position in the saddle so the two-finger rule is not that important. Just make sure it feels comfortable.

Stirrup Length
The average stirrup leather and fender on 15-inch and 16-inch saddles fit a 34-inch inseam when the Blevins buckles are in approximately the middle hole. There is a 3- to 4-inch adjustment up or down. On 13- and 14-inch saddles, the fenders and stirrup leathers are approximately 3 to 4 inches shorter, and for 17- and 18-inch saddles, they are approximately 3 to 4 inches longer.

When trying out a saddle, always set the stirrup leathers and fenders to the correct length and make sure you are comfortable. Then take your feet out of the stirrups and see whether the saddle still feels good.

Quarter Horse Bars
Always determine the type of tree you need by trying it on your horse, because if it is too wide, the saddle will be down in the front, and if it is too narrow, it will be up in the front.

Quarter Horse bars are contoured and shaped to fit most horses. Some companies flare out the front just a little to help fit more horses. Most gullet widths are 6 ½- to 7 inches on a regular Quarter Horse tree. Most gullet widths are 6 ½ inches on semi-Quarter Horse trees or extra wide trees.