Growing up as a young rider, most of us saddled up with whatever saddle was available never thinking about saddle fit. Unless you grew up with someone knowledgeable about it, those white spots that appeared on the horse’s withers weren’t alarming. Today as more emphasis is placed on the horse’s comfort, those white spots are like smoke coming out of a burning building – HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PROBLEM! At Circle Y, we believe achieving proper saddle fit is the first step to an enjoyable ride. Our introduction to saddle fit will get you on your way to understanding and deciding if you have a saddle fit issue.
Trees are designed for the majority of horse conformations. However, there is no standardization in the industry of what is a semi, full, draft, or gaited fit. At Circle Y, we do our own research and tailor our trees based upon the hundreds of horses we individually fit each year. That is why you’ll find several tree fits that work well on many types of horses.
The gullet measurement is important, but it is the most misunderstood. It is not the defining factor of saddle fit. Most importantly, not every saddle with a specified gullet measurement will fit the same. The angle and twist of the bars affect how the saddle will fit. Additionally, the way a saddle maker takes the gullet measurement is on the bare tree and not with the leather on the saddle. If you’re looking to purchase a used saddle and the seller provides a gullet measurement, understand that measurement can vary greatly depending on where he/she held the measuring tape and is not the true gullet measurement.
The front of the saddle tree bar (approximately the front edge of the concho) should be behind the shoulder blade (scapula) to allow for freedom of movement. Placing the saddle too far forward over the scapula can cause unnecessary rubbing and pressure (white spots). The blanket or pad and the skirt of the saddle can cover the back of the scapula but the bars of the tree must be behind the shoulder blade. This is important as a saddle will travel back/forward to settle into this sweet spot.
THE ILLUSTRATION EXPLAINED
The illustration below is a simplified view of the goal of saddle fitting: to achieve bar contact between the tree and the horse. With a good fit, the bar angle matches the angle of the horse for maximum contact, and there is sufficient clearance between the wither of the horse and the swell of the saddle.
When there is little bar contact and the pressure is concentrated in a particular place, the result can be pinching, rubbing, or white marks. Note that pinching does not always mean the horse needs a wider fit – in fact, concentrated pinching often means the fit is TOO wide, as seen in the Tree Too Wide illustration.
The rock of the tree should also match the rock of the horse (amount of curve in the back). A horse with a very straight back may have issues with the saddle rocking from front to back and require a mule tree which has less rock, or corrective padding. Likewise, a horse with a swayback will require a bridge pad to keep the saddle from bridging. Bridging occurs when the tree does not make contact in the middle because the back is dropped. A bridge pad will fill in the gap between the horse and saddle. A horse with high withers and hollows behind the withers will also need a corrective pad – see the full collection of bridge pads to find your horse’s pad solution. Watch this helpful video to see how a bridge pad aids the comfort of your horse and if you might need one.
For more detailed saddle fitting information, please visit our Saddle Fitting Made Simple page.