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How to Measure a Western Saddle Seat – Fit for Rider & Horse

If you’re in the market for a new saddle, or a used saddle, it’s important to learn how to measure a Western saddle seat, both for your sake and your horse’s sake. The reason the saddle has to fit you correctly, is so that you can maintain correct posture, sit in balance, and sit the stop (especially if you’re participating in rodeo events).

The reason the saddle has to fit the horse correctly is so that the horse doesn’t end up with a sore back, blisters and soars. So I’m going to give you some helpful tips that will help you learn how to measure a Western saddle seat before you make your purchase.

How to Measure a Western Saddle Seat for the Rider

If you have the fortune of being able to sit in a saddle while saddle shopping, it’s to your advantage. If you’re not, you can still benefit from the tips I’m about to share with you. 

Here’s how to measure a Western saddle seat to make sure it fits you.

First, sit in the middle of the pocket with your stirrups adjusted correctly. You want to look at how much space you have between your thigh and the edge of the swells. 

You should be able to get two to three fingers between your swell and your thighs. But, what if your hands are bigger, or smaller? If the measurement is between one and three inches, it can be okay.

But what’s really going to dictate your seat size is the measurement from the edge of the cantle to the edge of the saddle (at the swells).  In addition, you should be able to fit approximately 4 fingers between the back of your seat and the top of the cantle.

Angle of Cantle

Keep in mind that another thing that dictates the seat size is the angle of the cantle. For instance, let’s say you have a 17-inch saddle. If the cantle was more upright, it might measure only 16 or 16.5 inches – even though nothing else has changed.

It’s also important to keep in mind that saddles vary in width.  A slim rider with a narrow pelvis might be more comfortable in a narrow seat.  And a heavier rider might feel more comfortable with a wider seat.

How to Measure a Western Saddle Seat for the Horse

The type of horse and the shape of its back will determine what type saddle seat you’ll need. But it all starts with the tree. Your saddler will help you decide what kind of tree you’ll need based on the shape of your horse’s back and its withers.

Many horses with defined withers do well with a regular tree.  If you have a horse with wide or rounded withers and a flat back, your horse needs a wide tree.  

Some horses, such as draft horses, need an extra wide or draft tree. You can always use an extra pad to fill in the space if a horse has narrow withers.

Full Quarter Tree Horse with Rounded Withers
Semi Quarter Tree – Horse with Defined Withers
Swayback Prominent Withers

Place The Saddle Tree On Your Horse’s Back

To make sure you have the correct size saddle for your horse, place the saddle or saddle tree on your horse’s back. If you can place two or three fingers in between the horse’s gullet and your horse’s withers, that means it’s a good fit. 

However, if the space is larger, that means the tree is too narrow.  And if you can fit only one finger (or less) in the gap, that means the tree is too wide.

Construction of Tree Bars

The bars of the saddle are made up of the two slats that lay against the horses back on either side of his spine. Correct saddle fit for the horse means that the bars need to be at the correct angle.  

The correct angle will ensure that the bar is distributing the weight of the rider evenly over the horse’s back. There shouldn’t be any gaps when you lay the tree saddle on top of the horse’s back.

For certain horses, like gaited horses, I would get a custom designed saddle.

How to Measure a Western Saddle for Gaited Horses

If you have a gaited horse, such as a Tennessee Walker or Fox Trotter, you might need a tree designed especially for these horses.  The trees for saddles made for gaited horses have a higher gullet. 

In addition, the bars of the tree for this particular type saddle have flare in the front of the bars in order to allow free and greater movement of the horse’s shoulders, and more rock, or curvature in the bars to conform to the horse’s back.

Of course, every horse is different. What’s super important is that you buy your saddle from a reputable online dealer. Be sure the saddler has a money-back guarantee policy as well as excellent customer service.  For more information on how to measure a Western saddle seat, click here.

Have you ever had difficulty finding the right saddle fit for you and your horse?  Please share your experience. I’d love to hear from you.

30 Comments

  • Ruthlyn says:

    WoW, I did not know there was so much in choosing a saddle, I have never ridden a horse but I always thought you just put a saddle on the horses back and that was all, well, I have certainly learned something Thank you for your post.

    • Shalisha Alston says:

      Hi Ruth. Thanks for commenting. Yes, so much goes into choosing a saddle. Many horseback riders get it wrong. That’s why I have this blog.

  • Christine says:

    This was very interesting and really well explained. When I rode horses – a long time ago, I was a teenager – I was instructed in what to pay attention to when choosing a saddle, but all saddles belonged to the stable and sometimes we were just given saddles without comments or questions. So, that is why I did not know all of the information you shared here. It is important to also consider the hores’s back, you don’t want him or her to get blisters. I think that this info is great for anyone who is starting to ride a horse.

    • Shalisha Alston says:

      Hi Christine. Thanks for your feedback. Yes, when we (or I) go to a horse riding stable just to ride horses leisurely, it’s usually to go trail riding. That’s the kind of riding discipline it is. Certainly not rodeo events. So of course, you won’t know the type of saddle you’re supposed to be riding because you’re given the correct saddle for that event. But yes, there are several disciplines in Western riding, and you need a saddle to fit that discipline.

  • Satz says:

    Correctly fitting a saddle is probably the most important part of any ride. Saddling a horse incorrectly not only influences your own riding technique but it can also be dangerous for both you and your horse. You have outlined some major points which will be of great help for horse riders. Thanks for sharing.

    • Shalisha Alston says:

      Hi Satz. Yes! Correctly fitting a saddle is the most important element in riding. Imagine this – you’re a very tall guy, and you’re getting into a car to drive it after someone short just finished driving it. You have to adjust the seat so that you can drive the car comfortably, right? Same concept here.

  • khalli2999 says:

    Bad saddle fit for the horse is like us walking around in shoes that are too large or too small for our feet for hours. Can discomfort be the cause of our horse as a result of poor saddle fit? this causes  unwanted behaviour.

    The muscle structure and contour of a horse changes with or without exercise over time, so it would be helpful for you and your horse find the right saddle.

    • Shalisha Alston says:

      Hi there. Thanks for your feedback. Yes, a poor saddle fit is like walking around with shoes that are too large or too small.  People don’t understand that. I’m glad you do, and I’m glad my article was helpful. 

  • Joe says:

    An interesting read on a topic which I am very unfamiliar on but I am hoping to learn more about as I am keen to get in to horse riding myself. I was not aware of the potential harm/discomfort that a saddle which is poorly fitted can have. Like I said, I am keen to get in to horse riding and I’m currently looking for a western saddle, so your tips have been a huge help.

    Thank you.

    • Shalisha Alston says:

      Hi Joe. Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Most people aren’t aware of the importance of saddle fit and the harm an ill-fitting saddle does to the horse. Thanks for your comment.

  • Fabrizio Parker says:

    Nice description, I am not an expert in the field but I guess this can help a lot for someone that is interested in determine what type of saddle sit he/she might need. Pictures help to better understand on how to measure a western saddle, important also to consider the type of horse and the shape of its back which I previously taught was a standard measurement. Nice info thanks for sharing!

    • Shalisha Alston says:

      Hi Fabrizio. Thanks for commenting. I like to use pictures in my articles because they help tell the story better sometimes.  

  • trudnocairoditeljstvo says:

    an excellent and very practical article that gives a lot of useful information to everyone when going shopping for a horse riding saddle. Taking the right measures is of paramount importance, and many do not understand it, and few can give them good advice, they need to be an expert. For the sake of yourself and the wonderful animal, care should be taken that this saddle fits both and contributes to the best comfort and proper posture.

    • Shalisha Alston says:

      Hi there. Yes! It is so important to take the right measure for the seat. Otherwise, you’ll be sliding all over the place, or you’ll be trapped in too tight.  

  • Castle says:

    I used to photograph horse taking part in carriage driving in the Uk. For that saddles aren’t used on the horses. The saddles in Europe are drastically different that the ones used in the USA. Is it basically the same when measuring a saddle in Europe compared to a Saddle from the USA. I have never thought of this before.

    • Shalisha Alston says:

      Hi. I’m not sure about whether the measurements would be different in Europe. I’m thinking, the principle is the same. What matters in terms of measurement is the riding discipline and the size and weight of the rider. 

  • Don Herman says:

    Thanks so much for all the details! It’s almost impossible to find clear advice with great diagrams like these. And considering the price of a saddle, getting the wrong size (especially for the horse) would be a horrible mistake. 

    One thing that would help me more would be a little “glossary of terms.” I’ve ridden quite a lot, but never my own horse and I don’t always know all the terms you use – like “cantle” and “swell” and “tree.” I hate to ask when I’m out because I don’t want to look like a goofball! But having it in an article would be really helpful.  

    But thanks for the great information. I’ll share it with my other friends.

    • Shalisha Alston says:

      Hi Don. Thanks for your comment and your suggestion. In one of my next posts, I will post a glossary of terms. It’s funny, I assume people know what the terms mean. But, just because I ride a motorcycle, doesn’t mean I know what all the parts are called. Thanks again. 

  • Affiliate for Amazon says:

    I have ridden a horse once in my life, it was fun while I was on, but after that, I wouldn’t dare go on another.   Now I know why, because I was sliding sideways, and could not hold up.

    Reading this post gives me more understanding on getting on a horse, it’s all in good measurement in saddle, the type of saddle, size of the rider both in width and slender.  And this is not only for the rider, but the well being of the horse.

    This is a great topic, and good knowledge to know before going for a horse ride.  Thanks for sharing.

    • Shalisha Alston says:

      Hi there!  Yes, yes, yes.  The type of saddle and the seat size matters so much. Maybe you’ll try again?  I hope so. 

  • Collins says:

    Thanks a whole lot for sharing this masterpiece of information here. I didn’t really know much about measuring a western saddle seat fit till I came across this article it was really educating and also an eye opener. I had to share this with my family and friends and they liked it as well

    • Shalisha Alston says:

      Hi Collins. Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I’m so happy you found this information useful enough to share it with family and friends. 

  • Fay says:

    Hello, this is a very awesome piece and a very detailed one. I’m really happy I came across this as the information I’m getting from here is standard.  To be honest, I’ve never ridden a horse once so all these information are pretty new to me. Although, it would serve very useful when I eventually have the courage to get on a horse. I still get scared whenever I want to try it. 

    • Shalisha Alston says:

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting Fay. Hopefully, you’ll get over your fear of horses and try again. 

  • Nelson says:

    I have riden the horse on two different occasions when I went to be beach. This was just before the pandemic and lock down. It was a nice experience, being my very first time. I did not bother to know much about anything concerning the horse saddle, I was just so eager to get on the horse. Well, I feel glad reading this article as I have gotten to learn more about horse saddle. 

    • Shalisha Alston says:

      Hi Nelson. Thank you for your feedback.  Hopefully, the next time you decide to ride, you’ll use a saddle. 

  • NatiOH says:

    Very interesting article! The few times I’ve ridden a horse I didn’t pay attention to the saddle and now that you mention it is really important and should make a great difference not only to the ridder but also to the horse. Excellent tips next time I will pay attention to!

    • Shalisha Alston says:

      Hi there! Thanks for your comment.  Most people don’t know that there are different types of saddles for different events.  Glad you now know and can make better choices. 

  • Katrina says:

    Shalisha,

    I love this article! I’ve ridden a lot of horses, but I’ve never had to buy one a saddle or fit the saddle. The last time someone taught me about saddles was when I was just 8 years old My Aunt down in VA has a farm with a lot of horses and my cousin was teaching me all about horses then. I don’t remember much about the lessons, but that was 32 years ago….so.

    I definitely never knew that there was wood in the saddles, but makes sense to hold the weight and distribute it.

    Great information! Thanks for sharing all this.

    Katrina

    • Shalisha Alston says:

      Hi Katrina. Thanks for your comment and thanks for stopping by and sharing your heartfelt memories. Yes, many saddles are made from wood, but since the advance of technology, many saddles are made with other types of material such as fiberglass and plastic. It really depends on what you’re looking for. The most important thing is to get a saddle that’s made from high-quality material and fits you and your horse.

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