Saddle Fitting Secrets

A properly fitting saddle is very important to a horse’s health. Bucking, rearing, head tossing, poor performance and even some lamenesses can be attributed to poor saddle fit. It is important to evaluate new saddles prior to purchase, as well as occasionally evaluate your current saddle. Each time your horse has gained/lost weight or muscle then his back and therefore saddle fit may have changed. Saddles can also change over time, particularly English ones where the flocking may get shifted or flattened.


Do you know how to recognize a proper vs. poor saddle fit? Here are a few tips for evaluating the fit of your current saddle or one you are considering buying:
Be sure and analyze saddle fit while your horse is stationary and moving.

English saddles are designed to sit behind the shoulder blade as opposed to on top where movement will be restricted. Western saddles should have the concho sitting behind the shoulder blade.

The shoulder angle and the angle of the tree should match on English and Western saddles.

Check the tree size, sit in your saddle and place your fingers vertically under the pommel. For and English saddle, if you can fit 4+ fingers then the tree is too narrow and may pinch your horse. Less than 2 fingers means your saddle tree is too wide. When not in the saddle wither clearance is extremely important. There should be 2-3 fingers clearance all the way around.

Check channel width by looking through the saddle from front to back. The saddle should be off the spine all the way back.

It is important to have your weight distributed evenly over your horse’s back. The deepest point of the seat should be in the middle of the saddle. A pencil placed across the saddle should rest on the deepest part of the seat.


The panels should have even contact on both sides all the way from saddle to bar to the back of the saddle. If the panel of the saddle curves more than your horse’s back, the back will rock which will cause the saddle to move forward as the horse works. Or it may be that only the front and back has contact and the middle section bridges, this too causes pressure points.

Every horse has its own confirmation so special attention needs to be given to saddle sharing.

Locate the edge of the shoulder blade and put the front edge of the saddle just behind that point. The steel points of the saddle tree should not rest on the shoulder blades nor point into them on English saddles. All saddles should fit between the back edge of the shoulder blade and the last rib. If the tree extends past the last rib it sits on the muscles along the lumbar spine which cannot properly support the tree nor distribute weight properly. Damage to the muscles and spine are possible. A Western saddle’s skirt sometimes is a consideration as well. There are times when a long skirt can interfere with the pelvis thereby limiting motion and causing pain.

The tree size and shape must conform to the horses’ shape and allow for proper movement or it will cause painful pressure points and possible trauma to the shoulder, spine and surrounding musculature. Indications of a tree size that is too wide or too narrow can be patches of white hair or swelling around the withers. But don’t wait until this happens!

Dr. Debra has a secret weapon for testing saddle fit. By using thermography, she can view any high-pressure areas where a saddle might be causing pain to a horse. These “hot spots” can suggest a chronic lesion on a horse’s back that is caused by poor saddle fit. Most horses with these “hot spots” do not show any sign of resistance when being saddled. The underside of the saddle and pad are also scanned as they too can tell part of the story. Rider position is also evaluated. The scan not only tells the story of static saddle fit but also what happens during work as pre and post-work images are done.

32-fr-IR_1964-PostRide ALT-23-fr-IR_1900

Stay tuned for an article on treeless saddles, coming soon!

For a saddle fit evaluation appointment, contact Dr. Debra today!