How to fit a saddle

1. Place the saddle on the horse and girth it up securely on the recommend girth straps. Making sure the saddle is placed 2 fingers behind the scapular/shoulder.

2. Check the balance of the saddle to see if it is level, you can do this by placing a rolling object on the seat it will roll to the lowest point. If it runs to the front of the saddle the saddle may be too wide if it runs to the back of the seat the saddle maybe too narrow. Riding in a new saddle can change the balance as the saddle beds in.

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3. Check the wither clearance this can be 2 – 4 fingers, it will come down considerably once the saddle is ridden in.

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4. Run your hand down the front of the panel (see next photo) this should be easy to do, if it feels tight it could be that you have placed the saddle too far forwards against the scapular/shoulder blade or that you need a different tree width. Tightness can be caused both by the saddle being too wide so all the weight is concentrated at the top edge of the saddle either side of the withers, or by being too narrow which means the panel will feel too tight lower down near the end of the tree points located under the point pockets.

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5. Check for bridging; this means there would be a noticeable gap between the horses back and the centre of the saddle panel, this would indicate that the horses need a different tree or panel shape, a smaller seat size, more flocking in the centre of the saddle or a wider saddle. The girth must be firmly done up before you check for bridging.

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6. Make sure the saddle is not sitting past the last rib – find the last rib low down on the flank and follow it up diagonally.

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7. Now check for pivoting by placing your hands on the pommel and cantle and seeing if there is any excessive movement from back to front. If there is excessive movement you may need a flatter tree, a less curved panel or the saddle could be too wide at the front or requite flock balancing.

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8. With every saddle fitting or saddle check you will have been told which girth straps to use. All our saddles have four girth straps including point and balance, see photo to the right.

We recommend that most New Forest ponies, Exmoor ponies, Connemara ponies and all small M&Ms often need the 1st & 3rd girth straps.

Large cobs, Traditional cobs, Welsh cobs or horses where rolling is a problem often need 1st & 4th girth straps. Large draft horses can often need 1st & 4th or 2nd & 4th. In some case where the horse has an asymmetry we may advise girthing asymmetrically.

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9. Once you are happy the saddle is suitable try using the saddle in walk, trot and canter, it’s best to ride at a walk for 10 minuets then check the girth before trot and canter as the saddle can bed in and leave the girth quite loose. The saddle needs to be stable in all paces – excessive movement at the back indicates that either the tree is too curved or possibly to wide, or that the saddle panel needs some adjustment for your horse.

10. After riding check the horse’s coat under the saddle; swirled or ruffled hair means the saddle is unstable, the hair should all be smooth.

Disclaimer of Liability
The authors and publisher of this basic saddle fitting guide shall have neither responsibility nor liability to any entity or person with respect to any loss or damage caused or alleged to be caused directly or indirectly by the information contained in this guide. While the information is as accurate as the authors can make it, there may be errors, omissions and inaccuracies.

How to fit a saddle

1. The angle of the saddle’s tree must correspond to the shape of the horse’s back, behind the shoulder. If not, the saddle will move around excessively and cause pain and discomfort.

2. The saddle must have bearing surfaces (the panels on the underside) that are as big as possible, that sit evenly, and come into even contact with the horse’s back. A saddle that ‘bridges’ – where the panels don’t follow the outline of the horse’s back – will create severe pressure-points.

3. It should be possible to place a flat hand between the front of the tree and the horse’s shoulder, immediately behind his scapula, and to slide the hand evenly from top to bottom. Tightness at the top or bottom indicates that the angle of the tree and the angle of the horse’s shoulder blades are not compatible. This test should be carried out when the saddle has been correctly positioned on the horse but has not been girthed up.

4. The gap across the gullet area must be sufficiently wide to prevent the edge of the gullet pressing on the side of the vertebrae throughout the entire length of the saddle.

5. There must be adequate clearance under the saddle arch, above and either side of the wither and throughout the entire length of the gullet. The amount of space will vary according to the horse’s conformation and the design of the saddle. Checking for adequate clearance should be only be carried out when the saddle is girthed up and the rider mounted.

6. The saddle must be correctly balanced, with the cantle slightly higher than the pommel. The rider should be comfortably in the centre of the saddle in all paces.

7. There should be no adverse movement, such as the saddle moving up and down or to either side. Note: Even a very well-fitting saddle will move slightly.

8. The rear of the saddle must never extend beyond the horse’s last rib (the 18th).

9. The saddle tree and saddle panels must be entirely symmetrical, and the stirrup bars identically positioned.

10. The saddle must not interfere with the movement of the horse’s scapula, which rotates in a backward direction.

Trying to figure out how to size a western saddle for your horse but aren’t quite sure where to start? We’re here to help you out. A proper western saddle fit is absolutely critical. Imagine if you were forced to wear clothing that was two sizes too small — you would be extremely uncomfortable. That’s how it feels to your horse if you put them in an ill-fitting saddle. This western saddle fit guide will go over the basics of how to fit a western saddle properly to ensure that your horse is comfortable and less likely to get injured.

Why Is a Proper Western Saddle Fit Important?

When trying to imagine how the wrong western saddle fit feels, think about wearing a pair of shoes that is too big, too small or so short that it pinches your toes. Not only will your feet hurt, but you might also resist working, start limping, grow stiff, get sores or even cause permanent damage like hammertoe or bunions. That’s why knowing how to measure a western saddle properly is crucial to caring for your horse.

Proper western saddle fit can maximize your horse’s comfort and performance and decrease behavioral problems. Your horse’s saddle should encourage comfortable movement and responsiveness to leg cues. Taking the time to select a saddle that fits properly will help keep the lines of communication open between you and your mount. If you take your western saddle fit for granted, it’s probably time for a review.

How to fit a saddle

What Size Western Saddle Do I Need?

The western saddle seat size refers to rider fit and does not correspond to fitting a western saddle to the horse. But it’s still important because if the saddle doesn’t fit the rider, it will affect their balance and stability. If you can fit three fingers (about four inches) between your thigh and the saddle’s swell, and you can hold your hand vertically between the cantle and your seat, your saddle fits you perfectly.

How to Measure a Western Saddle

When asking yourself, “What size western saddle do I need?” the first thing you need to figure out is the saddle tree size. This is determined by the angle of the saddle bars.

How to Fit a Western Saddle to a Horse

Each horse is unique, so figuring out the correct western saddle sizing can be a challenge. Here are some key considerations when determining how to fit a western saddle to a horse:

  • Seat Size – The seat of the saddle should go beyond the horse’s last rib.
  • Skirt Length – The saddle skirt should end before the point of the hip and not stick out.
  • Saddle Width – The width of the saddle is determined by the size of the gullet. You should be able to place several fingers between the saddle and the withers.

Make sure the saddle is centered and level on the horse’s back. You want to sit as close as possible to the horse’s center of gravity because that is the strongest point on its back. Don’t try to use a saddle pad to fix a poor western saddle fit.

How to Measure a Western Saddle Gullet

The gullet is the tunnel below the fork that runs along the horse’s withers. This space allows the horse’s shoulders and back to move freely. If it’s too narrow, the saddle will pinch the horse’s back. If it’s too wide, the saddle can slip or rub and cause saddle sores. The vertical gap should be a minimum of two and no more than four fingers wide, and you should be able to see a bit of light shining through the gullet when looking from the back of the horse to the front.

You can also measure a western saddle gullet manually by measuring the distance from screw to screw at the point where the front conchos attach to the saddle. Keep in mind, this measurement can be used as a rough indicator for bar angle, but it is never a guarantee. That is because the saddle industry does not have standardized measurements for different bar widths and angles. Still, if you know what size gullet fits your horse best generally, this measurement can help you buy a properly fitting saddle sight unseen online. However, you should still aim to secure a trial period for any new or used saddle in case it does not fit you or your horse properly.

Signs of an Ill-fitting Western Saddle

Horses can’t speak up if their saddle hurts, so you need to pay attention to their body language and look for physical signs of improper western saddle fit. Each horse is unique, so figuring out the correct western saddle sizing can be a challenge. Here are some key considerations when determining how to fit a western saddle to a horse:

  • Resistance to cues
  • Saddle sores
  • Irritability manifested as tail swishing or ear pinning
  • White hairs suddenly appearing
  • Back swelling after the saddle is removed
  • Thickened skin or scars in the saddle area

Your saddle should sit level on your horse’s back, and the front of your saddle should be positioned behind the withers. Make sure the bars don’t pinch. The saddle is too narrow if the front rides high. Conversely, it’s too wide if the front of the saddle is low.

Find the Ideal Western Saddle Fit at NRS

Now that you know how to size a Western saddle for your horse, it’s time to tack up. Choose from our extensive Western saddle collection and accessories for roping, barrel racing, pleasure riding and more. From Quarter Horses to Morgan horses, we have the Western saddle sizes you need.

But don’t worry — if you still have questions, our team will help you determine the correct Western saddle size for your animal. Shop our selection of Western saddles today!

Does your horse object to being saddled? If he does, don’t assume he’s trying to get out of work. He’s much more likely, in my opinion, to be tryng to tell you that the saddle itself, where it sits, or how it fits hurts his back.

How to fit a saddleCheck for back pain |

Of the horses brought to my practice with what their owners describe as performance problems, I find that an average of 23 out of 25 have at least moderate back pain related in some way to their saddles. That’s the bad news. The good news is that once the pain is relieved, in nearly every case the performance problems disappear–sometimes overnight.

1. Rest your fingers on your horse’s spine and reach your thumb down to the hollow just behind the withers, about four or five inches down on most horses. That’s the starting point of the acupuncture pathway…

2. …along which you’ll test for back pain. Mark the point with your thumb (if he’s a little dusty, so much the better)…

3. …and then press into the muscle every inch and a half or two inches along the pathway. If he feels tense and tight, he’s sore; if he “splints” (stiffens) his back, he’s really sore.

First check your upside-down saddle for symmetry: The panels should be the same shape and fully stuffed.

1. Turn your saddle right-side-up and look at it from the front to see that the tree is symmetrical.

How to fit a saddleCheck your saddle

2. Then, looking down on the saddle as you brace it against your thigh, make sure that the buttons are perfectly parallel (if not, the tree is twisted) and that the flaps are straight (if not, the tree may be twisted).

Most horses–in every sport, with the possible exception of dressage horses–wear their saddles too far forward.

To place your horse’s saddle properly, put it up by his withers but then slide it back to where his conformation stops it naturally. That will get the tree off his shoulder blades and leave him free to step out. (Having the flaps over the shoulder blades, as many jumping saddles do, is OK; they’re soft, so they won’t dig in or restrict his movement.)

To check that the saddle’s in the right place, look for a flat area on his underside three to five inches behind the elbow, just in front of where his belly starts to widen. If your girth crosses this spot, the saddle is where it should be.

1. With your saddle correctly positioned, put your hand underneath and slide your fingers along the panel. If it doesn’t feel equally snug from front to back, it’s “bridging”–and the places where it’s tight will becomes sore from the extra pressure.

How to fit a saddleCheck your saddle

2. To check the fit of the saddle tree, position one crop or dressage whip against your horse’s wither and one along the line of the tree (which usually follows the seam of the saddle). If the tree fits your horse, the whips won’t cross.

3. If they cross above the withers, like this, the tree is too wide (a problem you can usually correct with padding).

4. If they cross below, like this, it’s too narrow–a problem padding can’t fix. A new saddle is the only solution.

–Photos by Mandy Lorraine

Dr. Joyce Harman is a veterinarian and respected saddle-fitting expert certified in veterinary acupuncture and veterinary chiropractic; she is also trained in homeopathy and herbal medicine. Her Harmany Equine Clinic is in northern Virginia, and she is the author of The Horse’s Pain-Free Back and Saddle-Fit Book available at

Excerpted from “Seat of the Problem?” in the January 1994 issue of Practical Horseman magazine.

Fitting your saddle featuring the EASY-CHANGE® Fit Solution

How to fit a saddle

It’s always recommended that you seek professional advice on your horse’s saddle fit, where possible. However, the following information can assist you in not only assessing your saddle fit, but understanding when simple adjustments should be made. In order to check the clearance, bearing and balance of a saddle it is important that the saddle is initially positioned correctly.

How to fit a saddle

Ensure your horse is standing square and is on level ground. In order to check the clearance, bearing and balance of the saddle, it’s important the saddle is initially positioned correctly. Locate your horse’s shoulder and check to see that the nail of the saddle is approximately three fingers distance from the edge of your horse’s shoulder.

How to fit a saddle

Checking for sufficient clearance

Sufficient clearance of your horse’s wither across the width and length of the spine should be maintained at all times. Check to see that the channel of the saddle is clear of your horse’s wither and spine through the length of the saddle.

How to fit a saddle

Checking for even bearing

Your saddle should bear evenly on your horse’s back, providing a close fit. Run your hand between the horse and the panel of the saddle to check for even bearing.

How to fit a saddle

If your saddle features the CAIR® Cushion System it’s important that a rider sits in the saddle to check the bearing, as the air panels become dynamic under the riders weight.

How to fit a saddle

Checking for balanced seat

Check that the deepest part of the saddle is central and level to ensure perfect saddle balance.

Should your saddle require further adjustments to your saddle, select the optimal combination of EASY-CHANGE® Risers to achieve sufficient clearance, even bearing and perfect balance.

NB: Whilst the innovative EASY-CHANGE® Fit Solution offers unsurpassed flexibility in achieving an optimal fit, no one saddle can claim to fit every horse. It is recommended that you seek professional advice on selecting the best saddle and fit to meet the unique needs of each horse and rider combination.

Finding a saddle that fits your horse takes some work. Even though saddle manufacturers make saddletrees in different sizes (wide, medium, and narrow), each horse is an individual and may not fit into a saddle that corresponds to the apparent width of the horse’s back. (A saddletree is the wooden or fiberglass frame on which the saddle is constructed. It determines the fit of the saddle on the horse’s back.)

For that reason, when you buy a saddle, take it on a trial basis so you can be sure that it fits. During that trial period, follow the steps outlined in the sections that follow to determine the saddle’s fit and enlist an experienced horse person to help you determine the fit of the saddle. Saddle fitting can be tricky, even for the most experienced riders.

English saddles

1. Put the saddle on the horse without using a saddle pad.

2. Tighten the girth so that the saddle is comfortably secure.

3. Have someone sit in the saddle with his or her feet in the stirrups.

4. Using a flat hand, slide your fingers underneath the pommel, near the horse’s withers (the rise as the base of neck, where it joins the back).

Your fingers should fit comfortably between the horse and saddle. Be certain that you can place at least three fingers between the horse’s withers and the arch below the pommel.

5. Have a helper lift the horse’s left foreleg and pull it forward while your fingers are in between the top of the horse’s shoulder blade and the pommel.

As the horse’s shoulder moves, make sure the saddle doesn’t impede shoulder movement. Perform the same test on the horse’s right side.

6. Stand behind the horse and look through the saddle (between the underside of the saddle and the horse’s back).

If the saddle fits, you should see a tunnel of light shining through. If you don’t see any light, the saddle is too snug. You likewise need to make sure that the saddle isn’t too long for the horse. The seat panel shouldn’t reach past the main part of the horse’s back onto the loins.

Western saddles

1. Place the saddle on the horse’s back with a one-inch thick (or so) saddle pad underneath it.

2. Tighten the cinch so that it’s snug but comfortable.

When you try to tighten the cinch, you may find that it’s too short for the horse’s barrel. Don’t reject the saddle simply because the cinch is too short. If you really like the saddle and it fits, you can always buy a longer, replacement cinch. Meanwhile, borrow a cinch that fits so you can continue to try out the saddle.

3. Have a rider sit in the saddle with his or her feet in the stirrups.

Be sure that you can fit at least three fingers between the arch of the pommel and the horse’s withers.

4. Examine the width of the saddletree, or frame, as it sits on the horse and compare it with the shape of the horse’s back.

On a horse with a wide back and lower withers, the tree needs to be wide. On a narrower back with higher withers, the tree shouldn’t be too wide. Place your fingers sideways (on a flat hand) between the saddle and the top of the horse’s shoulder to help determine the width of the tree. If the fit is so tight that you can’t squeeze your fingers between the saddle and the top of the horse’s shoulder, the tree is too wide for your horse. If you can put your entire hand between the saddle and the top of the horse’s shoulder, the tree is too narrow.

A properly fitting saddle is a key to good horsemanship. Audrey Samara, master saddle-fitter for Prestige Italia, explains that proper saddle fit is a vital part of your horse’s welfare, comfort, and performance. Samara demonstrates her process for fitting a saddle for both the horse and the rider and discusses signs to look out for that indicate you might have an ill-fitting saddle. If you are looking for a new or used saddle, she recommends that you be sure to talk with the person who is showing you the saddles to understand what their qualifications are, how long they have been fitting saddles, and the results they typically get.

  • Fitting the Horse
  • Saddle Tracing
  • Fitting the Rider
  • Signs of an Ill-Fitting Saddle
  • Best Practices

This video is brought to you by Prestige Italia, the Official Saddle of US Equestrian.

Thank you to Alison Robitaille, U.S. Jumping athlete and Prestige Italia ambassador, for donating her time and letting us film at Newstead Farm in Wellington, Fla. for this video.

Additional Information

About The Expert

How to fit a saddle

Audrey Samara is a master saddle fitter with Prestige Italia and is based out of Chicago, Ill., and Wellington, Fla. Samara has been fitting horses for saddles for over 12 years and became a certified master saddle fitter for Prestige 10 years ago. She has worked with riders of all levels to find the perfect saddle for their horses, from amateur riders to the elite competitors heading to events like the Olympic Games and FEI World Cup qualifiers.

Samara attended the University of Illinois and earned her Bachelor of Science in Animal Science. She is a lifelong horsewoman and got her first horse at the age of 12.

How to fit a saddle

If your blue jeans were two sizes too small, it’s likely your body would show signs of (major) discomfort, such as pinching and red marks. Now, unless they’re the last pair to your name, you’re likely not wearing those jeans again, let alone tomorrow, the next day, or for days to come.

Now, imagine how your horse might feel, if he is consistently ridden in an improperly fitted saddle.

How Does Your Saddle Fit Your Horse?

How to fit a saddle

Your horse’s comfort, happiness and your proper positioning as a rider all weighs on your saddle’s fit. An improper saddle fit causes your weight to be distributed unevenly, which can result in pressure points, rub marks, soreness, or the development of white saddle spots on your horse. Monitor your horse’s attitude and behavior while riding, which can clue you in on a painful saddle fit, but keep in mind: some horses are more stoic than others. It’s best that you take a step back and take a close look at your horse while he is saddled to determine fit.

Your saddle fits just right if it sits level on your horse’s back and the bars of the tree do not pinch. The front of your saddle should be positioned behind your horse’s shoulder blade, allowing him freedom of movement.

Your saddle is too narrow if the front of the saddle sits high. When the saddle is sitting directly upon the horse’s withers, pinching can often occur.

Your saddle is too wide if the front of the saddle is low. This also results in pinching but at the top of the saddle’s bars. In this scenario, the gullet of the saddle may be too low and rest on your horse’s withers causing pain and discomfort.

Learn more about the saddle that is pictured on the right, crafted by internationally renowned trainer and clinician, Julie Goodnight, and tune into this video below as she shares insights on saddle fitting.

Continue reading for additional guidance to help ensure you and your horse enjoys the most comfortable and secure ride possible.

What to Consider When Selecting a Saddle Pad

Selecting a saddle pad is an important decision that should not be based on look and color patterns alone. Some saddle pads are uniquely designed and contoured to fit your horse’s back immediately, relieve wither pressure and wick away sweat and moisture.

Be sure to avoid over-padding your horse, a common practice that can result in your saddle rolling and sliding more easily. Choose a saddle pad that offers your horse the support he needs. Shop saddle pads and blankets

How to Measure For a Cinch

For your saddle’s fit and proper positioning on your horse, it is important that your horse’s cinch fit well, too. In the video above, Professional’s Choice representative and professional rodeo cowboy, Brodie Poppino, shares how to properly measure and fit a cinch to your saddle. Keep in mind, though: non-nylon cinches could stretch up to a full size, so based on your preference, consider the material before ordering a cinch for your horse.

What to Consider When Choosing a Cinch

When choosing a cinch for your horse and saddle, keep in mind there are two different types of cinches: Western cinches and roper cinches. A roper cinch is wide and contoured, so when they are cinched up and stop quickly, the weight is distributed more evenly over a wider area of the horse, reducing uncomfortable pressure on the horse’s abdomen. When tightening your horse’s cinch for an everyday ride, consider how tightly you wear your belt, and offer your horse the same level of comfort. Overtightening a cinch can add pressure and discomfort for your horse before you even step into the stirrups.

Remember that the longevity of your saddle and tack all depends on how well it is cared for over the years. Cleaning and oiling your tack regularly helps to prevent cracking and protect the leather. Oiling your saddle also aids in a safer ride, as dry, cracked leather can result in breakage, which can potentially lead to a mishap and rider injury. For safety, closely observe your tack and the quality of your leather pieces. Are they oiled and secure, without any sign of dry rot or cracking? If so, happy trails. If not, for the safety of your ride, it is time for repair or replacement.

How to fit a saddle

horse saddle fit, properly fitting saddle, how to tell if my saddle fits, does my saddle fit correctly? schleese, saddlefit4life

By Jochen Schleese, CMS, Equine Ergonomist

Q: I ride a Thoroughbred with a moderately roached (convex or round) back. How should I determine if my saddle fits correctly?

A: The nine main points of saddle fit are absolutely common to all saddles and all horses – if you want to determine whether and how well your saddle fits, these points should be considered, and each of these points has video instruction on our website at The convexity of this particular horse’s back will lead to rocking if the saddle panels are not properly fitted.

#1 – Balance: When on the horse’s back, the center of the saddle (seat area) should be parallel to the ground.

#2 – Wither Clearance: Clearance at the withers should be the width of two to three fingers for normal withers; mutton withers will have more clearance while high withers will have less clearance. Clearance should be all around, not just at the top.

#3 – Gullet Channel Width: The gullet should be wide enough to not interfere with the spinal processes or musculature of the horse’s back (width of three to five fingers).

#4 – Full Panel Contact: The panel should touch the horse’s back evenly all the way from front to back; some panels may be designed up at the cantle to allow the horse’s back to come up during engagement.

#5 – Billet Alignment: The billets should hang perpendicular to the ground so that the girth is positioned properly and not angled either forwards or backwards. The girth will always find its position at the narrowest point of the rib cage behind the elbow.

#6 – Saddle Length: The shoulder and loin areas should not carry any weight of the saddle and rider. Rider weight should be on the saddle support area only.

#7 – Saddle Straightness: The saddle should not fall off to one side when viewed from back or front. The tree points should be behind both scapulae (shoulder blades).

#8 – Saddle Tree Angle: The panel tree points should be parallel to the shoulder angle to position the saddle properly.

#9 – Saddle Tree Width: The tree width should be wide enough for saddle to fit during the dynamic movement of the horse.

Main photo: In addition to two to three fingers-width of clearance on the top of the withers, a saddle must allow enough clearance on the sides of the withers to accommodate the shoulder rotation and allow full and free range of motion. Photo courtesy of Schleese Saddlery