Saddles aren’t just a tool for comfort, but for safety and control as well. Just like a pair of shoes, a saddle needs to be fitted properly that can last years if it’s regularly maintained.
Although it can be a hefty investment, having the perfect saddle will greatly maximize your experience and success on horse riding. As your horse ages, it will go through several saddles that will change in size and shape.
A poorly fit saddle can lead to sores, bruising, and lasting wounds, so it’s best to get a size based on you and your horse’s needs.
What size saddle do I need?
By and large, the most important step you can take when deciding which saddle is best is to measure it against your horse. If possible, get advice from a shop employee who can properly size your horse with several saddles, but we know you won’t always have that kind of access.
Even if you have access to an expert, it’s important to know how to do the measurement for yourself down the road. Whether you’re looking for a Western or English saddle, your first step should be to evaluate your horse’s stature.
When you’re able to observe your horse from the side back and front, ask yourself these questions:
- Does your horse have high or normal withers?
- What shape is your horse’s back?
- Is your horse’s back long or short?
- Are there any anatomical differences that need special consideration?
One of the most important considerations to make when measuring out a saddle is the size of its tree. Each saddle shape will require a slightly different tree, which can be fitted directly to your horse.
There are numerous tree types that can be fitted to your horse, no matter what the saddle design or manufacturer is. For every tree, there are several size considerations you should make with regards to your horse:
- Flexible – Horses with larger muscles or broader stances may require a more flexible tree fit.
- Extra Wide – Draft horses, or horses built extremely wide will require a particularly wide tree fit.
- Wide – Horses with flat withers require a wide tree.
- Medium – A medium sized tree is typically used for a horse of average size.
- Narrow – Typically, a narrow-withered horse will require additional padding behind the saddle bars.
If you’re working with an English saddle, a wither, balance, and level test is required to find the right sized saddle. Typically, an English saddle will sit fairly level on your horse’s back while forming a kind of “U” shape that you can sit in.
Thankfully, it’s easy to tell if the English saddle is balanced well on your horse’s back. Simply walk around your horse and make sure the saddle’s shape looks even on both sides.
You also need to check whether the tree is sitting nicely on your withers. Depending on how new or used the saddle is will determine how much space is needed between the saddle and withers. If the saddle is new, there should be a little more room allowed between them.
You may be asking, what size saddle do I need if I’m looking at a western saddle?
You can pretty much conduct the same tests for your Western saddle as you would for an English saddle. When observing your Western saddle, it’s important to consider how level the saddle is, whether it’s sagging or slumping forward and if it’s too high in the front.
A wither test is also important and can be followed using another simple rule of thumb: if you can fit two to three fingers between the withers and the saddle gullet, it’s a good fit. Adjustments may need to be made to the tree size, so it’s important to know how your wither test goes right off the bat.
The right size saddle for me
The biggest reason it’s so hard to measure a saddle accurately is because it must fit you and your horse. For the rider, the two most common adjustments to make are the seat size and flap length.
A short seat can put your center of balance too far forward and a seat that’s too long can interfere with your horse’s performance. To make an accurate judgement, you should start by measuring your thigh bone.
This measurement can be used to determine which size saddle is a good fit and whether you need to size up or down. When deciding between an English and Western saddle, it’s important to note that Western saddles usually run one or two inches smaller than English saddles.
Saddle seat sizes
To give you a general idea of saddle sizing, here are some of my most common Western saddle sizes for your age group:
- Youth – 12 to 13 inches
- Small adult – 14 inches
- Average adult – 15 inches
- Large adult – 16 inches
- Extra-large adult – 17 inches
Although fairly accurate, you may need to size up or down depending on your stature and body type. A comfortable saddle is more important than anything else, you need to ensure that it’s the right fit for your horse as well.
In addition to the actual seat size, there are a several variables to educate yourself when considering “what size saddle do I need?” Although almost none of these features have standardized measurements, they have a great deal of impact when it comes to saddle choice.
- Cantle slope – the cantle should either be mild or steep or high and straight
- Seat slope – the seat angles towards the cantle from the hand-hold with a slope that ranges from steep to flat
- Cantle dish – the candle is either flat or has a dish or recess
- Seat depth – the seat depth will determine how much movement is allowed within the dish
- Fork style – forks are either straight or angled away from the rider and are classified as having wide swells or virtually no swells
Saddles have certainly changed over the years, and technology allows for more customization when it comes to size and fits now more than ever before. We are starting to see English saddles built with fiberglass instead of the traditional tree materials, which means there are adjustable trees and interchangeable gullets on the market right now.
On Western saddles, new technology has brought more durable materials that can last for longer and through more serious weather variables. These new manmade fibers are easy to clean, durable as leather, and will withstand rain and snow much better.
Synthetic saddles aren’t for everyone, but they are a helpful solution for those of us who are looking for more variation in our riding experience.
The best saddle size
The perfectly fit saddle will look different for every rider and their horse, so it’s important that you put as much care and attention towards taking measurements as possible. Not only will a fitted saddle give you and your horse optimum comfort, but it will maximize the gait, stride, and potential your horse has on the trail.
Your saddle seat size may change over the years, so we recommend paying attention to changes in your posture, weight, and even ride expertise. A more aggressive position will affect the angle at which you’re sitting and therefore the tree size required for your saddle.
For this reason, you shouldn’t rush this process and seek help from a shop employee, especially if you’re a beginner.
When in doubt, maintaining your horse’s health and fitness will make it easier to find a saddle that fits right. Keeping your horse fit will limit the number of times you need to readjust your saddle or get a new one altogether.
Your horse’s health should always be a priority, no matter how often you’re riding.
Asking yourself “what size saddle do I need?” is a tricky question, because there’s more than one answer. With all the variations in saddle sizes, it’s important not to get lost in the weeds when finding a solution that works for you and your horse. An educated tack shop employee is a good place to start, but we think you should know how to properly size any saddle for the future.
Whether you’re interested in English saddles or Western saddles, finding the right measurements can look more like an art than a perfect science. Should you need further assistance, go check out our lengthy web page filled with guides and reviews on this matter.