Saddle Shopping Tool Kit

Whether you’re in the market for a brand new, fully custom saddle or you’re looking for something more economical, you have choices. And lots of them! This page is designed to help you find the perfect saddle.

In this guide:

Before coming into the store, it’s often helpful to ask yourself the following questions so that we can help you determine which saddles are worth riding in and which are a waste of your time:

  • Why do I need a new saddle?
    Being able to accurately describe the situation you’re in makes it easier for us to help you select saddles to try. Has your horse’s behavior changed recently? If so, have you ruled out everything it might be (lameness issues, teeth needing to be floated, etc)? Does your horse appear to have developed sensitivity to girthing? Does he attack the cross ties when you approach him with a saddle? Is his back suddenly sore? If so, where? Does it feel like you’re not balanced in the saddle? How are you imbalanced, and why?

  • What kind of saddle do I need?
    Determining the seat size, flap length/forwardness, tree width, and panel shape you and your horse require before coming into the store expedites the saddle search immeasurably. You’ll be able to rule out all the saddles that won’t work quickly. On average, a horse with a defined wither will require more of a medium to medium-wide tree, while a horse without much of a wither will need a wider tree. Keep in mind, however, that every tree is different, so don’t allow yourself to become pigeon-holed to one particular size tree – you ultimately won’t know until you try it out on the horse.

  • What is my price range?
    It is always better to go with a high quality used saddle than to buy a cheaply crafted new saddle. You might be surprised to find that some of our new custom saddles are affordable, offering you and your horse a wonderful fit without breaking the bank.

  • What saddles are available?
    Browse through our website. All of our saddles, both new and used, are listed here. If you have a few picked out before you come in the store, you can call ahead to make sure they’re available for trial. Presenting us with a list of saddles that you’re interested in further speeds up the process so that you’ll be well on your way to riding in a saddle that works for you.

  • Do I have a wither and back tracing to bring with me into the store?
    Having these tracings on hand is a great idea, as we can actually take your templates and hold them up into the gullet of the saddle to get an idea of tree width and even the shape of the panels that might be best for your horse. Instructions for a proper wither tracing can be found here.

When you come into the store, make sure you let us know a bit about your horse’s history.

  • Has he had any lameness issues?
  • Is he a young horse, or a horse that has been out of work for a while?
  • What style and level of riding are you doing? What are your goals?

The more we know about your horse the easier it will be to assess the kind of saddle that will benefit you the most.


Taking Photos

  • Perhaps the most helpful thing you can do during your saddle search is to bring us photos. This is useful both when you're starting your search and when you are taking saddles to try.

  • The horse must be standing squarely for these photos, with his head in a neutral position, looking forward. Take shots from both the right and left, keeping the camera level.
  • The next shot should be of the back, where the panels lie against the horse. Be careful when taking this shot if your horse tends to be worried about what’s behind him. Make sure that he’s looking forward, so that his spine appears straight.
  • If you would like us to assess the fit of a current saddle, take the same photos as above with no pad, and girthed. We will also need to see photos of the saddle from the front at each shoulder, so that it is possible to see if the tree points are lying in the proper place.

  • If you would prefer to email us photos, simply contact our saddle fitter at c.dale@olsonstack.com.

Here are some examples of the kinds of pictures we’re looking for:


Conformation Pictures:

Conformation photos are extremely helpful when used in conjunction with wither and back tracings. Have the horse stand squarely and provide a profile of both the right and left sides, along with a photograph of the shape of his back.

conformation-left
conformation-right
conformation-behind



Saddle Pictures:

When taking pictures of how the saddle fits on the horse's back, the horse MUST be standing squarely. His head should be in a neutral position and facing directly forward. Take shots from both the right and left, keeping the camera level. Use a straight line from a wall, if possible. Take a photo of the front of the saddle from each shoulder, so it is possible to see how the tree points are lying against his sides. Finally, take a photo from behind him, facing forward so we can see how the panels rest against his back.



Important things to remember:

  • Your horse must be standing squarely for a proper saddle fit analysis. It is very helpful to have someone with you to help with this.
  • When taking photos of a saddle, it should be put on 3 fingers behind the shoulder blade, no pad, girthed snugly.
  • The more photos the better! When we can see the saddle from multiple angles it is easier to determine if it is properly fitted. We love videos too!
  • Different styles and brands will fit different horses better or worse. Don't get caught in the brand trap! Instead, pay close attention to your horse's reaction to different saddles and find one that is comfortable for both of you.


Why is proper saddle fit so important?

  • If your saddle does not fit your horse well, you have a much higher chance of having him develop lameness issues, not just a sore back.

  • If he’s uncomfortable because of a pressure point digging into his back, he’s going to instinctively brace himself against the discomfort. This bracing ultimately adds extra strain to his legs and joints, and over time you can wind up with arthritic changes, tendon and ligament injuries, and even muscle tears.

  • In addition, where there is a pressure point on the horse’s back, there is limited blood flow to that muscle. Not only does this make him sore, but it eventually causes deep tissue damage and can result in muscle atrophy if not caught quickly and addressed.


What do we look for in proper saddle fit?

  • A correctly fitted saddle must provide total clearance of the horse’s spine and must not interfere with the movement of the horse’s shoulder blade. Assess the symmetry of the saddle’s fit on both the right and left side of the horse. The saddle panels should be even and symmetrical on both sides. If a horse has a history of one-sidedness or previous injury which has left him/her asymmetrical in musculature, then it may be appropriate to consider therapeutic padding to ensure that the correct saddle fit is achieved.

  • If the tree is too narrow, the angle of the point will dig into the muscles, and the saddle will look “perched;” the pommel will appear too high in relation to the cantle. If the tree is too narrow, there is nothing you can do to make the horse comfortable. The horse will need a saddle with a wider tree. Lifting the saddle at the cantle with a riser pad will only force more weight onto the wither area, causing pain and muscle atrophy.

  • If the tree is too wide, the tree points will end up dropped around the shoulder, and the gullet of the saddle will be too close to the withers. In this instance, the cantle of the saddle will appear too high in relation to the pommel. To help adjust the fit, you can use padding up by the pommel to lift the saddle in the front. While not ideal, it can be beneficial if you anticipate that the horse’s shape will be changing or if you cannot buy a new saddle.

  • Note that not all tree shapes are appropriate for any horse. A horse with a swayed back will not do well with a saddle that has a flat, broad tree. Rather, it will benefit the horse to have a tree with a deeper seat and “banana panels.” Conversely, a horse with a broad, flat back cannot go well in a saddle with a deep and more arched design, as there will not be enough surface area on the panels to disperse the rider’s weight evenly.

  • When placed upon the horse’s back, the saddle must be evenly balanced—not tipping forward or backward. The deepest part of the saddle’s seat should encourage the rider to sit within the center of the horse’s movement. The saddle must remain balanced and centrally located on the horse’s back free of the spine and shoulder blade. It should not sway side to side or exhibit any rocking or rotating when on the horse’s back. The girth should fit within the girth groove and when tightened it should not pull the saddle forward.

  • Not only must the saddle fit the horse correctly, but you as the rider need to be comfortable and balanced. If you have to continually shift around to get into the right position, then not only are you going to be off on your aids, but your horse ultimately has to absorb your extra movement, which inevitably affects his/her back and legs.

  • Finally, make sure that you’re paying attention to how the horse behaves and moves under saddle. Sometimes it appears as though the saddle is fitting, but once in motion, the saddle ends up being inappropriate. It is for this reason that a “cross tie” fitting cannot be relied upon exclusively.

  • It is important to note that a horse’s body shape and musculature will change with training and conditioning and that saddle fit should be periodically evaluated to ensure the horse’s comfort and saddle performance. It is common for saddle fit to need some adjusting as horses come in and/or out of conditioning. For this reason, we recommend that riders frequently inspect the fit of all saddles and equipment on a regular basis.

  • For more questions on saddle fit, or to arrange a fitting with Courtney Dale please email her at c.dale@olsonstack.com.

    For general inquiries please email info@olsonstack.com or call the store at 425-454-9453