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
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
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.
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here are some examples of the kinds of pictures we’re looking for:
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
For general inquiries please email
email@example.com or call the store at 425-454-9453