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Measuring and Fitting Your Horse for a Saddle

Sierra L |

Measuring your horse for the right saddle can be a lengthy process. Many different measurements need to be taken for you and the horse to have a properly fitted saddle. An ill-fitting saddle can drastically impede your riding technique, be uncomfortable for your horse, and even presents dangers because it is most likely unstable. Take some of the frustration out of buying a saddle for your horse by following this guide to measuring and fitting your horse for a saddle.   

Fitting Your Horse  

Many different saddlemakers will have slightly different sizes to choose from. The goal is to remember sizing tips for a few key areas of the horse.   

Wither Measurements  

Measuring the withers of your horse will be one of the most important steps in saddle fitting. Use a wire to bend around the horse’s withers just two inches behind its shoulder blades. Without changing the shape of the wire, move the wire to a piece of paper where you can trace the inside of the wire. Once you have traced the wire shape, measure the wire to obtain the measurement of the withers.   

Different types of horses can usually fit into specific types of saddles based on their withers. Quarter Horses, Thoroughbreds, and Tennessee Walking Horses commonly have a more defined definition in their withers and usually fit in a medium or regular saddle. Draft Horses typically have wide and flat withers, which requires an extra-wide saddle.   

Body Structure Measurements  

Your horse’s body structure is an important consideration when buying a saddle. The body type of your horse can help determine what size gullet your saddle will need. Horse body types range from pony to draft horse. Here is the common sizing of gullets based on body type.   

Gullet Size  Body Type 
5”–5.5”  Pony 
6"   Narrow Build 
6.5"  Average Build 
7"   Wide Build 
8"   Draft Horse 

Gullet Measurement  

The withers measurement and body structure measurement will provide you with the gullet measurement of your horse. The gullet size is the width of the horse’s withers and shoulders. Another tip for fitting your horse’s saddle based on gullet size includes having two to three fingers’ worth of space between the top of the wither and the gullet of the saddle. If you can fit only one finger between the horse and the saddle’s gullet, then the gullet is too big. If you can fit your whole hand, the gullet is too narrow for your horse.   

Measuring Back Length   

Your horse’s saddle should not be too long for their back. Most saddles are designed without this problem, but for some horses with shorter backs, you will need to measure for a properly fitting saddle. A saddle that is too long will cause irritation and pain for your horse. Measure your horse’s back from the top of the withers to their last rib bones. A saddle can be shorter than this length, but the measurement should be used as the maximum length your horse’s saddle can be.   

Common Topline Tips  

The topline of your horse refers to the muscles that support your horse’s spine from their neck to their croup. A healthy, ideal topline features withers and croup that are the same height. However, every horse is different, and different toplines will impact fitting your horse properly for a saddle. If your horse is built with higher haunches or has a sloped posture from croup to withers, the saddle can put too much pressure on the withers. This type of build might require a protective pad for your saddle to protect the withers from irritation. When the “bars” of the horse make contact with only the front and rear ends of the saddle, this is called bridging. This is a common saddle-fitting problem that can be remedied with a bridge pad.   

Evaluating the Saddle  

Gullet clearance, levelness, and sweat patterns can all be used to determine if the saddle you have chosen fits your horse properly. As previously mentioned, test the gullet size by fitting two to three fingers between your horse’s back at their withers and the gullet of the saddle. The levelness of the saddle can be determined by taking a step back and looking at the saddle on your horse’s back. The saddle should be leveled. If the saddle is not leveled, it may just need a few adjustments, like sliding it forward or backward. If adjustments do not level the saddle, it is most likely not the right size. Sweat patterns are the last indicator of a good-fitting saddle. A saddle that fits properly should leave even sweat patterns without dry areas that expose pressure points, rubbed off hair, or ruffled hair. Saddle pads can help level the saddle out and create even sweat patterns.   

Fitting the Rider  

Fitting the rider for the right saddle is just as important as fitting the horse. The first thing to consider, of course, is what type of discipline you plan to ride. Different disciplines will use specialized saddles. While rider preferences vary, there are still some general fitting tips to follow. Approximately 4 inches should be between the front of your body and the swell of the saddle, and your backside should rest at the base of the cantle without pressing against the back of it. While preferences vary, it is always best to buy a slightly larger saddle than a small one if you are unsure of sizing. When testing saddles, adjust the stirrups to the correct length for your height to get a good feel for the saddle and make sure your thighs are not touching the back of the swell to avoid discomfort.   

Finding the right saddle can be a long, difficult journey. Measuring and fitting your horse for a saddle requires many measurements, such as wither length, back lengths, and gullet size. Your fit should also be considered when buying a saddle for your horse. A well-fitting saddle should be comfortable for both you and your horse. Check out Coolhorse saddles for your next saddle purchase.