Whether you’re hitting the trail or cruising around the show ring, saddle fit is important.
Saddles need to fit both horse and rider; an uncomfortable team will not be able to perform its best. Western saddles are available in different seat sizes, in half-inch increments, which normally range from 12 to 18 inches. You can measure the seat size on a Western saddle by measuring from the base of the horn, straight back to the rear of the seat (where the cantle begins). This measurement, in inches, is your saddle’s seat size.
General rules-of-thumb on seat sizes is as follows:
- Youth 12"- 13" seat
- Small Adult 14" seat
- Average Adult 15" seat
- Large Adult 16" seat
- Extra Large Adult 17" seat
A note: if you know your English saddle seat size, you can figure out your Western size by subtracting 2 inches. So if you ride in a 16" Close Contact, you will ride in a 14" Western saddle.
When sitting in a properly fitted Western saddle there should be approximately 4 inches between the front of your body and the fork on your saddle. Of course, everybody is built differently and some riders prefer looser saddle fits, while others may prefer a tighter fit. One thing to keep in mind, if you are between sizes and one size seems too small but the next size up seems too big; it is generally a better bet to go with a saddle that feels a little too big.
The saddle also needs to fit the horse. The tree, which the saddle is built on, is available in different widths, to fit different size horses. The two most common tree sizes are the Quarter Horse Bar and the Semi-Quarter Horse Bar. Following is a general guideline for tree widths.
Semi-Quarter Horse Bars usually have a 6 ¼" gullet, and Quarter Horse Bars usually have a 6 ½" to 6 ¾" gullet. Designed to fit the average horse, one of these two widths will fit approximately 80% of horses comfortably.
Full Quarter Horse Bars usually have a 7" gullet. They are designed for mutton-withered horses with broader backs.
Arab saddles, usually with 6 ½" to 6 ¾" gullets, are for Arabians. They have a shorter gullet.
Gaited horse saddles feature a higher gullet, usually 8 ½", to accommodate higher withers. They also have gaited bars, which usually have a 6 ¾" to 7" gullet.
Haflinger saddles are made for that breed, or other short-backed, mutton-withered horses, with a 7 ½" gullet.
Draft horse saddles feature an 8" gullet, and are made specifically for large Draft horses and Draft crosses.