A good saddle should be comfortable for both you and the horse. This can happen when you take the correct measurements of the horse to determine size. Shape is also a factor that must be consider when finding the right saddle. With the right information, you can get the best possible saddle for whatever breed or type of horse you may have.
Here are the steps that you’ll want to take to make sure your measurements are as accurate as possible.
#1. Create a saddle-fitting measurement tool.
Get yourself a length of stiff wire that is at least 16-inches. You will then take this wire and mold it to the shape of your horse. It must be able to retain the shape after you remove it from the horse. Mark the exact middle of the wire because you’ll be placing that point over the withers.
If the wire is struggling to maintain its shape, then you can affix it to a piece of cardboard or some heavy-weight stock paper.
#2. Mold the measurement tool to your horse.
Make sure that your horse is standing on a level surface. Then locate the back edge of the scapula (shoulder blade) with a couple of fingers and keep them at that point. With your other hand, place the measurement tool over the withers, with the marked center of the stiff wire so that the remainder goes over the withers on each side.
Press the wire gently down on each side so that the wire is in direct contact with the skin of the horse. The wire should be running along the immediate back edge of the shoulder blade. Make sure that the wire is sitting flat on both sides of the horse so the measurement is as accurate as possible.
Once you’ve obtained the correct shape, remove the measurement tool and keep it in the shape you’ve just molded. This is the form that will be used to determine the size and shape of the saddle that you’re going to need.
#3. Now you’re ready to measure the exact dimensions of your horse.
Take the wire in its molded shape and trace the wire onto a sheet of paper. Then take a ruler and measure down 3-inches from the exact middle of your measurement tool. You’ll then need to measure the distance between the two sides of the stiff wire at that location. This will be your first measurement, determining the gullet.
Then you’ll need to measure down 8-inches from the exact middle of the measurement tool. Record the distance between the two sides of the tool as you did before. This will give you the bar width measurement of the horse through the shoulder.
Once you’ve finished with the measurements from your tool, you’re ready to look at the length of the back for your horse. The length of the back from the peak of the withers to the point of the hip should be 1/3 of the horse’s overall body length. Take a measurement of the full body length and then measure the two points.
If this measurement is about 1/3 of the total length, then a standard saddle should work fine. More than 1/3 means the horse has a longer back, but this should not affect the saddle measurements any. If the length is less than 1/3, then this is considered a short back and may require an adjustment in the structure of the saddle itself to prevent rubbing.
If the measurement is excessively short, defined as less than ¼ of total body length, then the horse should probably not be ridden because it will have a higher risk of spinal arthritis development.
#4. Determine what the seat size of the saddle needs to be.
Most riders already know what seat size makes them comfortable when in the saddle. The only problem is that not every standard saddle seat size will work on an individual horse. There are some guidelines that should be followed so that you can get a saddle that has the proper fit.
- You should be able to lay your hand flat behind the pommel, with your handing being able to touch it and almost touch your pants.
- Your legs should have at least 2-inches of clearance from the pommel as they are hanging down.
- You should be able to sit comfortably in the saddle without sliding back and forth. Saddles seats that are too large can create pressure points, saddle sores, and other issues which can trigger negative behaviors within the horse.
When measuring a saddle seat, it is important to remember that the distance is determined from the base of the horn to the cantle.
Sit in a chair with your feet flat on the ground. You’ll want to make sure that your knees are bent at a 45-degree angle. Make sure your buttocks are touching the back of the chair. Then take a measuring tape and run it along your thigh. Measure from the end of your knee to the back of your buttocks. Take this measurement in inches.
Then use these comparisons to determine what your specific saddle size needs to be if using an English saddle.
- Measurements which are less than 16.5 inches require a 15-inch saddle.
- Measurements between 16.5-18.5 inches require a 16-inch saddle.
- Measurements between 18.5-20 inches require a 16.5-inch saddle.
- Measurements between 20-21.5 inches require a 17-inch saddle.
- Measurements between 21.5-23 inches require a 17.5-inch saddle.
- Measurements more than 23 inches require an 18-inch or 19-inch saddle.
Western saddles tend to have a larger cantle when compared to English saddle. If you prefer a Western saddle, then these measurements will still apply. You’ll just need to subtract 2 inches from final saddle size.
So in this example, if the knee-to-buttocks measurement while sitting was 17 inches, it would require a 16-inch English saddle or a 14-inch Western saddle. General seat sizes for most saddles tend to be 14-19 inches in size, but custom-made options may be available from some vendors.
Please note: These are only guidelines. Please consult with your trainer, a local professional, or other personal resource to make sure you have the right size for yourself and your horse.
#5. Look at the shape of the withers from your measurement tool.
Many horses have what are called “average” withers. This means they have a somewhat refined body with definition, like a Thoroughbred or a Quarter Horse. This would mean a medium or regular saddle tree would likely provide the best fit.
For horses that have withers which are wider or more “blocky,” then a wide tree is a better solution. You’ll notice that there is more of a rounded shape in the measurement tool than a triangular shape. This generally occurs for horses that are considered to be a “Foundation-type” horse.
Draft horses and their offspring crosses tend to have withers that are quite wide, with withers that are flat. There may also be a flat back. For this reason, most draft horses have their own draft tree that works best for their shape. You may also be able to use an extra wide tree to meet your needs.
Some horses have a very prominent and narrow wither. This occurs when there is a lack of muscle definition behind the shoulder blade. You’ll notice a sharp triangular shape in the measurement tool in this circumstance. Should this happen, you will likely need a shoulder bridge pad for your saddle after you complete your measurements.
The opposite is also true. Some horses have large muscles behind their shoulder blades that interfere with a standard saddle fitting. You may wish to use a flexible tree in this circumstance. You may also need to use a wider tree with bridge padding to create a customized experience.
#6. Fit the saddle properly before using it.
Once you’ve received your saddle from the measurements taken above, it is important to fit is properly to make sure it meets the requirements of the horse. Have your horse stand on level ground. Use the saddle pad that you intend to have work with your new saddle. Thicker pads tend to work the best with Western saddles.
Place the saddle onto the pad and then slide it down until you reach its natural resting spot behind the shoulder blade. Then you can pull the pad up into the gullet and then girth up the saddle. Check to see if it is level by looking at the skirt to see if it is straight from front to back. Correct any slanting that you may see. Then check to see if you can slide a hand under the saddle on both sides of the withers.
You should also have enough space between the hip and saddle so there isn’t any rubbing from a ride, which is particularly important if you have measured an Arabian or a Morgan horse.
Knowing how to measure a horse for a saddle will help you both be comfortable when it is time to ride. Use these steps to get the measurements you need so that you can find or make the saddle that will work best for you.