Position your horse squarely on an even surface and use one or two fingers to mark the back edge of their scapula (shoulder blade). Next, shape and mold wire into an exact outline of their withers.
Be sure to inspect if there is sufficient clearance between your horse’s withers and the gullet of their saddle – 2 to 3 fingers should suffice for comfort.
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An excessively long saddle can create multiple issues for horses. First, it can place unnecessary pressure on their back; secondly, it may cause the saddle to “rock,” in which its front tips forward and presses against their withers, creating great discomfort for them. Furthermore, too long of a saddle could shift rider weight onto their lower back instead of onto their withers which in turn leaves the horse sore and unhappy.
An important first step to creating a happy and healthy horse is ensuring their saddle has the appropriate length. A typical saddle should measure 9 inches from its base at the withers to its girth area.
To do this, stand your horse squarely and apply gentle pressure with one hand to locate and mark the back edge of his/her shoulder blade (scapula). Mark this point using washable chalk before placing a piece of wire around its withers and molding it around both sides until contacting both immediately behind their withers; leaving an evident center point that shows where both the back edge (scapula) and bottom of his last rib (sternum) intersect; measure that point for back length measurement.
Once this step is taken, you can determine the tree size required to fit your horse. Factors like its withers shape (high and sharp or low and round), spring of its last ribs and springing of last ribs all have an impact on determining this number. Trial different sizes and types of saddles until finding one suitable to your horse.
When testing various saddles, be sure to ride them on bare horses without pads and look out for:
Girth area measurement of your horse is essential to successful saddle fitting. A suitable girth must accommodate its withers while leaving room for movement, yet remain tight enough to keep the saddle securely in place and avoid discomfort for either rider or animal. Therefore, taking accurate measurements of their girth area is the first step of saddle fitting.
Start by finding your horse’s heart girth, usually four inches behind his elbow. Look for a subtle curve in their stomach area to locate this point and measure to the second hole of their billet straps (keep in mind that different saddles have differing lengths of billet straps); remember if measuring an older girth that it may have become stretched over time!
At this stage, having someone assist by holding the tape from the other side is helpful in holding it still for measurement. Also using washable chalk will allow for accurate markings. Once done marking, remove your tape measure and measure distance – keeping in mind most girths are sold as even numbers.
Next, it is necessary to locate your horse’s withers. To do this, bend a piece of wire around his withers before lifting off without altering its shape – this will provide an approximate measurement for measuring width of his withers.
Once you’ve identified the withers, it’s important to determine the gullet width. This can be accomplished by placing your hand between the gullet and withers; there should be at least a two finger gap so as not to pinch your horse under its saddle; for optimal results wider gullets will allow easier breathing.
The withers are more than just an aesthetic feature on a horse’s back: they play an essential role in stride length, movement and balance by connecting key muscles and transmitting energy from hindquarters to forequarters. Ensuring your horse has healthy withers is of the utmost importance and should be evaluated regularly – otherwise any sore spots or soreness can result in performance-impacting saddle fit issues and reduced saddle health.
Start by taking a piece of masking tape and marking both sides of the horse for three tracing areas:
Under your shoulder blades, mark 2 fingers-worth of space behind them with tape – this will mark where the point of your saddle tree should rest.
Mid Back – Start by having the horse stand squarely, then using tape to mark the center of its back on both sides. Make sure the center is directly underneath the curve of its wither; its top should be about an inch above its bottom line.
LAST RIB – Locate and mark each horse’s last rib on either side. Next, mold a flexible wire coil along the top line from wither to last rib until its end lands directly above your initial mark at wither for vertical drop measurement.
After you complete tracing your horse’s back, arrange all of your tracings so they are easily read and compared. Next, put the saddle on and ensure all panels apply even pressure across his entire back; any spaces where no contact exists between any panels and his back can lead to soreness and rubs.
Examine the front of the saddle to make sure it does not protrude too high from your seatpost. If it moves more than half an inch when rocked from back to front, this indicates too small of a saddle and should be either shimmed up or moved forward to accommodate for it.
People often assume that saddle size alone should be taken into account when purchasing one for their horse, however other aspects such as the gullet and panel shape must also be taken into account to ensure an appropriate fit between rider and animal.
The gullet is the space between your horse’s withers and the bar of his saddle, and can help avoid pinching and rub marks in its use. To take accurate measurements of this opening, stand your horse squarely on a flat surface, locate the back edge of their withers, firmly grasp their shoulder blade (scapula), then gently position a measuring tool over it so as to form an arch over their withers – ideal measurements should leave two-three fingers worth of space between their withers and its opening at all times!
Saddle gullet sizes depend on a horse’s body structure. Quarter and refined paint horses typically have more rounded withers that fit comfortably in standard or medium tree saddles; Draft Horses tend to have wider withers that need an extra-wide western saddle with extra wide bars.
Once you have determined the appropriate gullet size, place the saddle on your horse and rock it from side to side. Make sure the front cinch tight but not so much so as to cause unnecessary pressure on his back. If the saddle rolls backwards or forwards too easily, adjustments may need to be made with regard to pads, gullet and front cinch in order to prevent further damage to his body.
Make sure that the panels of the saddle press evenly against your horse’s back to reduce soreness and discomfort for them. Also make sure that it isn’t too high in front or back; too high of an elevation can cause discomfort for both horse and rider; an ideal saddle height would be 1-2 inches above withers and 2-4 inches below cantle.