Measuring + Fitting Western Saddles: Ensuring Comfort and Performance for Horse and Rider

Proper saddle fit is essential for the horse and the rider in all disciplines. Ill-fitting saddles can cause discomfort, pain, and even long-term physical issues for the horse. Additionally, a poorly fitted saddle can negatively impact the rider’s balance and overall performance. In this blog post, we will explore the key considerations for fitting Western saddles. 

We’ll discuss how to fit the saddle to your horse, ensuring optimal comfort and freedom of movement. We’ll also cover the importance of fitting the saddle to the rider for improved balance and functionality. Lastly, we’ll highlight common mistakes to avoid when fitting Western saddles.

How to Measure Your Saddle

Seat Size

Proper Saddle FitTo measure the seat size, you will need a measuring tape. Start at the front of the saddle’s swell (the front, raised portion of the seat) and measure straight back to the cantle (the back of the seat). The measurement should be taken along the seat’s stitching line. The resulting measurement in inches is the seat size. Typically, seat sizes range from 14 to 18 inches.

Gullet Width

The gullet width is the space between the two bars of the saddle tree that run along the horse’s withers. You can measure the gullet width using a flexible measuring tape or a specialized gullet gauge. Place the measuring tape between the two bars of the saddle tree, just below the pommel.

Skirt Length

The skirt length refers to the length of the saddle’s side panel that covers the horse’s ribcage. It extends from the front of the saddle to the back beneath the seat. To measure the skirt length, use a measuring tape and start at the front of the saddle, just below the pommel, and measure along the saddle’s side panel to the back, beneath the cantle.

How to Fit the Saddle to Your Horse


The saddle should have ample clearance at the withers to prevent pressure points. Check for sufficient space between the withers and the saddle’s gullet when the rider is seated.


The saddle should evenly distribute the rider’s weight along the horse’s topline without bridging or excessive pressure on specific areas.

Condition and Age

Consider your horse’s body condition and age. Young or underdeveloped horses may require different saddle fit considerations than mature or older horses.

Seat Size

Ensure the saddle’s seat size fits the rider comfortably without restricting movement. The rider should have enough space to sit deep in the saddle while maintaining a balanced position.

Tree Widths

Different horses have varying back widths, so choosing a saddle with the appropriate tree width is crucial. A saddle with an adjustable or flexible tree may be suitable for horses with changing body shapes.

How to Fit the Saddle to the Rider


Consider the specific discipline or activity you will be participating in. Different disciplines may require specific saddle features or design elements for optimal performance and rider security.

Sizing for the Rider

Select a seat size that accommodates the rider’s build, ensuring enough room to move comfortably while maintaining stability. It’s essential to avoid saddles that are too small or too large, as they can hinder the rider’s balance and effectiveness.

How to Evaluate the Saddle On Your Horse 

Gullet Clearance

The saddle’s gullet should provide adequate clearance along the horse’s spine, preventing pressure or pinching.

Levelness of the Saddle

Ensure the saddle sits level on the horse’s back. A saddle that tilts forward or backward can cause discomfort and affect the rider’s balance.

Sweat Patterns

After riding, evaluate the sweat patterns under the saddle. Ideally, the sweat marks should be even and symmetrical, indicating that the saddle distributes weight evenly.

Saddle Pads

Choose appropriate saddle pads that provide sufficient cushioning and support while allowing for proper airflow. Avoid pads that are too thick or thin, as they can interfere with saddle fit.

Common Mistakes in Saddle Fitting

Saddle Placement

Incorrect saddle placement can lead to discomfort and movement restrictions for the horse. Ensure the saddle is positioned correctly, sitting behind the shoulder blades and not too far forward.

Front Cinch

Improper use of the front cinch can cause saddle slippage or create pressure points. The cinch should be snug but not overly tight, allowing enough freedom of movement for the horse.

Flank Cinch

If using a flank cinch, make sure it is adjusted correctly to prevent the saddle from tipping backward. The cinch should be snug but not overly tight, ensuring the horse’s comfort and stability.

Saddle Pads

Using excessive padding or the wrong type of saddle pad can affect saddle fit and balance. Choose pads that complement the saddle and provide appropriate cushioning without compromising fit.

Keep it Clean

A dirty saddle can lead to discomfort and skin issues for the horse. Regularly clean and inspect your saddle for any signs of damage or wear.


Neglecting to condition the saddle’s leather can lead to dryness, cracking, and premature wear. Regularly clean and condition the saddle to maintain its longevity and comfort.

Rider Balance

The rider’s balance plays a crucial role in saddle fit. Improper rider position or imbalance can impact how the saddle sits on the horse’s back. Focus on developing a balanced seat and proper posture to optimize saddle fit and performance.

Additionally, it is crucial to remember that saddle fit may need to be reassessed periodically as the horse’s body changes due to age, training, or conditioning. A saddle that fits perfectly a year ago may no longer be suitable, so regular evaluations are essential.

Proper saddle fit is essential for both the horse and the rider. A well-fitted Western saddle promotes comfort, freedom of movement, and optimal performance. By considering factors such as the horse’s conformation, age, and condition and evaluating the saddle’s fit on the horse and rider, you can ensure a harmonious partnership and an enjoyable riding experience.

Regular assessments, adjustments, and avoiding common fitting mistakes will contribute to the long-term well-being and success of both horse and rider. Invest time and effort in finding the right saddle fit, and consult with professionals if needed to achieve the best results for you and your equine partner.