Mastering How to Measure a Horse for a Saddle

Horses and Saddles

Correctly fitting a saddle is the most crucial part of your horse ride. If you are a horse owner or love to ride, you must know how to measure a horse for a saddle. Think about it. Incorrectly saddling your horse significantly affects your riding experience.

There are two types of saddle fits; English and Western. This article outlines how to measure a saddle, fit it to a horse, and avoid common mistakes.

Brown Horse with saddle

How to Measure a Horse for a Western Saddle

How to measure a western saddle is relatively simple. These saddles are classified according to the length of the ‘skirt’ at the back of the seat, width of the saddle tree, and use (i.e., barrels, roping, western pleasure, cutting, and reining). However, saddle sizing varies with different manufacturers.  

By counting the distance between the screws where the front conchos join the saddle, you can physically measure the gullet of a western saddle. However, this measurement is never guaranteed; it can only be useful as an approximate indicator of the bar angle. This is due to the lack of defined measurements for various bar widths and angles in the saddle business.

However, if you are aware of the gullet size that works best for your horse in general, you can use this measurement to purchase a well-fitting saddle online without having seen it first. If a new or used saddle does not fit you or your horse well, you should still try to have a trial period.

Remember that an incorrectly fitted western saddle on a horse can severely hurt its withers and back and reduce the rider’s performance. Remove the saddle blanket before mounting the horse to fit the harness correctly.

Slide it backward gently by placing it on the withers. Once fastened, the perimeter’s center should dangle around 3.93 inches (10 centimeters) behind the horse’s elbow. You should be able to fit two fingers between the top of the withers and the saddle gullet when measuring the clearance at the withers.

Signs of an Incorrectly Fitted Western Saddle

Because horses cannot communicate that their saddle is painful, you must observe their body language and seek visible indications of poor western saddle fit. It might be challenging to determine the proper western saddle sizing because every horse is different.

Here are some essential factors to consider while figuring out how to fit a western saddle to a horse:

  • Saddle sores.
  • Back swelling when you remove the harness.
  • Cues resistance.
  • Angry behavior, such as ear pinning or tail swishing.
  • Scars or thickened skin around the saddle area.
  • Growth of white hairs appears out of nowhere.

You should place the front of your horse saddle behind the withers, and it should sit level on your horse’s back. Verify that the bars do not pinch. In case the front rides high, the saddle is too small. If the front of the saddle is low, on the other hand, it is excessively wide.

Tips for Fitting a Western Saddle

Western saddles on horses fit slightly differently from their English counterparts. Be sure to check the gullet size chart below for an accurate fit. Here are a few tips for fitting a western saddle.

Gullet Width and Fork Height

Your horse’s withers or spine won’t ever come into touch with a properly fitted saddle. Make sure you can fit two to three vertical fingers between your horse’s withers and the fork when your saddle sits straight on your horse’s back without a pad.

Then, as far as you can, slide your palm down the gullet to verify the clearance. To ensure your horse’s spine is pressure-free from front to rear, visualize the gullet channel from the back of the saddle.

Your Right Size

If you can comfortably fit three fingers between your thigh and the saddle’s swell and a vertical hand between your seat and the cantle, your western saddle is the proper size.

You will hamper your ability to communicate with your horse using your seat and legs if your seat is too small. A saddle that is too big will need more work to keep you in a balanced and centered position continually.

Tree Angle and Spread

The skirt’s spread and slope should mirror your horse’s contour when viewed from the front. You can identify poor fit by narrowing, especially in the withers or behind the shoulders. Once you’re mounted, the saddle should keep its shape throughout the ride.

Riding Position: Centered

You can ride well with your horse if you have a well-designed seat and set your stirrups properly. To sit near your horse’s center of gravity and where its back is strongest, the lowest section of the seat should be at the center, between the fork (pommel) and cantle.

Proper shoulder, hip, and heel alignment should be as simple as possible, with the stirrups hanging naturally vertically below your leg.


The bottom edge of the skirt should be parallel to the ground when the saddle is in the proper position, with the front edge of the tree (not the front skirt, which is flexible leather) sitting in the wither pocket behind the shoulder blade.

A saddle that isn’t level will apply pressure to your horse’s back unevenly, causing pain and upsetting his balance. It will also affect your balance, and your ride will be far less comfortable if your saddle leans forward or back.

Saddle on horse back

Our Saddle Sizes Charts

What size saddle do I need? This is the first and very important question that hits your mind when purchasing a horse saddle. Regarding rider fit, your height and weight determine the seat sizes. The saddle fit for the horse is not related to seat size.

The style and design of the saddle might affect how comfortable it is to sit. There is a 3 inches (7 centimeters) space between the fork (swells) and your body’s front.

Additionally, the seat criteria will vary depending on the riding style. You might desire extra security in your seat if you use barrel saddles for quick spins and beginnings. You’ll need more space going up hills or staying with your cutting horse.

Competitors are settling into smaller, more snug-fitting seats in roping and barrel racing trends. For cutters, ranchers, and pleasure riders, the fit of trail saddles is still slightly more relaxed.

Below is a chart showing saddle sizes for both Western and English fit:

Rider Height WeightPant Size (Men)Pant Size (Women)Western Saddle SizeEnglish Saddle Size
58 to 62 inches (147.32 to 157.48 centimeters)50 to 100 pounds (22.67 to 45.35 kilograms)22 to 24 inches (55.88 to 60.96 centimeters)0 to 213 or 13.5 inches (33.02 or 34.29 centimeters)15 or 15.5 inches (38.1 or 39.37 centimeters)
60 to 65 inches (152.4 to 165.1 centimeters)85 to 135 pounds (38.55 to 61.23 kilograms) 24 to 32 inches (60.96 to 81.28 centimeters)4, 6, 814 or 14.5 (35.56 or 36.83 centimeters)16 or 16.5 inches (40.64 or  41.91 centimeters)
64 to 69 inches (162.56 to 175.26 centimeters)100 to 170 pounds (45.35 to 77.11 kilograms)32to 36 inches (81.28 to 91.44 centimeters)8, 10, 1215 or 15.5 inches (38.1 or 39.37 centimeters)17 or 17.5 inches (43.18 or 44.45 centimeters)
67 to 71inches (170.18 to 180.34 centimeters)150 to 210 pounds (68.03 to 95.25 kilograms)36 to 38 inches ( 91.44to 96.52 centimeters)12, 14, 1616, 16.5 or 17 inches (40.64, 41.91, or 43.18 centimeters)18 or 18.5 inches (45.72 or 46.99 centimeters)
72+ (182.88 centimeters)200+ pounds (90.71 kilograms)40+ inches (101.6 centimeters)18+17.5+ inches (44.45 centimeters)19+ inches(48.26 centimeters)

Most English riding disciplines use English saddles, including fox hunting, hunter, dressage, jumper, trail riding, and eventing. Although English saddles are sometimes designed differently for each riding discipline, they give the horse the most mobility and flexibility possible.

The gullet and seat are two parts of an English saddle with different measurements. The seat, or uppermost part of the saddle, is where the rider sits. The area provides comfort for the rider.

Under the seat, the gullet provides a comfortable fit and the movement required for the horse to perform well in the specific riding discipline. While fitting the gullet, consider the size of the horse.

By measuring your thigh from your knee to your buttocks, you may determine your seat size most accurately. Place your feet level on the floor and buttocks contacting the chair’s back as you sit in a chair with your knees at a 90-degree angle. Measure the distance between the back of your knee and the back of your buttocks using a tape measure.

To choose your saddle size, compare your measurement to the chart below:

Your MeasurementEnglish Saddle Size
<16.5 inches (41.9 centimeters)15 inches (38.10 centimeters)
16.6 to 18.5 inches (42.16 to 46.99 centimeters)16 inches (40.64 centimeters)
18.6 to 20 inches (47.24 to 50.80 centimeters)16.5 inches (41.91 centimeters)
20.5 to 21.5 inches (52.07 to 54.61 centimeters)17 inches (43.18 centimeters)
21.6 to 23 inches (54.86 to 58.42 centimeters)17.5 inches (44.45 centimeters)
>23.5 inches (59.69 centimeters)18 inches (45.72 centimeters)

For your horse’s comfort, choosing an English saddle with a suitably sized gullet is crucial. Generally, you may determine the size needed by standing above your horse and gazing down at its back. A medium gullet is ideal for a medium-sized horse.

You can measure your horse’s withers if unsure about its proper gullet size. Using a flexible but hard wire positioned over the horse’s withers two inches behind the shoulder blade would be best. You should slightly bend the wire so it rests against the horse’s skin over the withers.

The next step is to trace down the interior of the wire while being sure not to bend the shape you have created. Lay the wire on a piece of paper (or more, if necessary). This technique provides Withers and gullet measurements. Here is a gullet size chart; however, there could be slight differences depending on saddle makers:

Gullet SizeMeasurement
Narrow6 inches (15.24 centimeters)
Medium (Standard)6.5 inches (16.51 centimeters)
Wide7 inches (17.78 centimeters)
Extra Wide8 inches (20.32 centimeters)

Is There a Difference Between Sizing an English and a Western Saddle?

This assertion seems absurd to make since it is so evident. Why are the “rules” supposed to be similar regarding horse saddle fit?

When we explain some of these “rules” to people, especially those who ride horses for a living but not in competition, they get surprised. They know from years of experience that these things don’t make sense for a good western saddle. Some general standards apply to both; however, rules for English saddles frequently don’t apply to western saddles.

So, what is the difference? Western saddle measurements are noticeably different from their English counterparts. As a general rule of thumb, an English saddle seat size will often be two inches larger than a Western saddle.

Consequently, you will probably require a 17.5 inches (44.45 centimeters) English saddle if you ride a 15.5 inches (39.37 centimeters) Western saddle. Since this is not a precise calculation, you should always measure and test it to ensure the correct fit.

The saddle’s design takes into account these many purposes. The horse will have much less surface area under the English saddle because it is much smaller. The rider is more aware of their position in the saddle thanks to the seat design and the narrower stirrup leathers. 

The western harness distributes pressure over a significantly greater surface area on the horse’s back (if the shape matches the horse well). Additionally, it frequently provides the rider with better support, which is highly beneficial after several hours on the saddle but can also enable the rider to hide poor posture.

The Western saddle, created for roping cattle, calls for a sturdy fork to which you may fasten the horn to join two enormous animals. In contrast to an English saddle, where the rider is much closer to the tree points, the rider sits further back from the front of the tree’s bars.

Compared to an English saddle, this design requires the rider to sit further back on the horse. The panels may extend a little past the cantle on an English saddle, which is the rear of the tree. On a Western saddle, the cantle usually has a few inches of the bar behind it. If the seat fits properly, it evenly distributes the rider’s weight throughout the length of the bar.

While the basic shape of an English saddle must generally suit the horse, the panels beneath it fit a particular horse at a specific moment. You should check and adjust it frequently. The tree greatly influences the design of the rider’s seat. A huge western saddle tree has long, wide bars.

A good tree is usually comfortable on various horse shapes, not just one particular horse. What must fit the horse is the tree. On the other hand, the saddle manufacturer adds the seat afterward on top of the tree and shapes it to fit the rider.

The construction, use, and history of English and western saddles are distinct. Western saddles were commonly used for extended labor hours, particularly for working cattle, whereas English saddles were originally used as military saddles and for transportation.

English saddles, on the other hand,  are primarily utilized for sport and leisure today. When someone uses an English saddle, their main objective is usually to ride their horse—for recreation, training, competition, etc.—and their focus is on their horse and riding for the vast majority of the time.

Even while English-trained horses are frequently not ridden for longer than an hour at a time, it is nonetheless demanding exercise for them during that period. You can occasionally use English saddles for prolonged hours at a time (eventing, hunting, etc.). For most of the journey, the rider frequently requests exact motions and positions.

How to Fit a Saddle to a Horse

Whatever discipline you ride in, a properly fitting saddle allows your horse to move naturally. Additionally, it aids in determining the proper and most efficient riding position. After implementing these recommendations and considering that good saddle fit is important, consider getting advice from a professional saddle fitter. 

Alternatively, or at the very least, seek a second opinion from your horse’s trainer or an informed friend.

Additionally, remember that you should check your saddle’s fit at least twice a year, not only when considering buying one. The way your saddle rests on your horse will alter along with the muscle and weight of your horse as a result of aging, changes in workload, training development, changes in food, or illnesses.

Here are a few tips and tricks to assist you in determining how a saddle fits your horse. Ask your horse to stand straight and level with their head and neck facing front at this point. Having someone hold the horse motionless would be useful.

Watch your horse while you follow these instructions. Search for indications of discomfort and irritability, or vice versa, and keep an eye out for indicators of relaxation.

Step 1: Place the Saddle on Your Horse’s Back Properly

Don’t use a saddle pad if you want to see how the saddle fits directly on your horse. Place the saddle on your horse’s withers slightly forward, then slide it back until it reaches the natural resting position determined by its shape. 

Continue doing this until you are certain of the location where the saddle keeps stopping. To allow your horse to move freely, you should position the saddle behind its shoulder blades.

Note: Many people put their saddles on their withers too far forward. The points of the saddle tree on either side of the pommel press against the horse’s shoulder blades when a rider sits on it; this can restrict movement or hurt the animal.

Step 2: Verify the Wither Clearance

As the wool compresses and conforms to your horse, a new saddle with panels filled with wool may settle as much as half an inch when you first test it out. The distance between the pommel and the withers can be three or even four fingers. 

The tree can be too thin if there isn’t enough room for your fingers to spread out. If there isn’t enough room, the saddle can be excessively wide. Remarkably round at the withers, like many Arabs and Morgan horses, or very high and narrow at the withers, like some Thoroughbreds, require you to occasionally make little compromises for wither clearance. 

If this happens with your horse, follow the other saddle fitting instructions as closely as you can, and then keep a close eye on your horse’s back as time goes on. You can resolve issues with saddle fitting relating to either clearance with special padding or tailored flocking.

Step 3: Check How the Pommel and Cantle Connect

View the saddle from the side. From the pommel to the cantle, visualize a straight line parallel to the ground. Your imaginary line should intersect the cantle at a position where there is a room above the line. This is because the point of the cantle in a dressage saddle should be higher than the point of the pommel—possibly a couple of inches taller.

Note: The cantle can be on the same level with or slightly higher than the pommel in shallower seats, such as those used for leaping. If this is the case, you should do other tests to assess how well your saddle fits.

Step 4: Verify That the Seat is Level

The deepest section of the saddle seat shouldn’t slant forward or backward; it should be parallel to the ground. A level seat helps you discover the right riding position and ensures that you distribute your weight evenly over your horse’s back.

Step 5: Tree Width Does Not Guarantee a Correct Saddle Fit

For instance, a wide tree in one saddle might be suitable for a certain horse, but a wide tree in another saddle might not be. This gap might exist because different saddle types and manufacturers have different tree point lengths and angles. The shape of the tree influences the angle of the points.

You should be able to see the compartment where the points connect underneath the saddle flap, close to the stirrup bar. On either side of the saddle, you can see a point. The saddle points will dig into the horse’s muscles if the angles of the points are too narrow, and most likely, the middle of the saddle will not even make contact with your horse’s back. 

The saddle will sit low in the front and apply pressure on the top of the withers or the back if the points are too wide. The points shouldn’t dig into hollow areas behind the withers if your horse has them.

All horses exhibit asymmetries. Use your horse’s largest shoulder as a reference point when comparing the angles of tree points. A skilled saddle fitter can modify the fit on the narrower side using flocking, shimming, or corrective pads.

Step 6: Check the Gullet or Channel Clearance

You can see a space between the panels running the length of your saddle if you flip it over. This region, also known as the channel or gullet, provides space for your horse’s spinal processes to function.

The channels on older saddles tended to be somewhat narrow, but developments in the study of equine biomechanics led to the development of saddles with wider channels. 

You can restrict the freedom of your horse’s movement if the saddle channel is too narrow for the horse. This will pressure the spinal processes or cause stress on the spine. For instance, horses with large backs might need particularly wide gullets.

On the other hand, you need to ensure the gullet isn’t too large if your horse is very narrow and has a high spine or if his back muscle slopes sharply away from his spine. If so, his vertebrae might be immediately under pressure.

Feel the soft tissue that runs along the spine of your horse. For the panels to rest exclusively on your horse’s long back muscle, the gullet on the saddle should entirely clear this area. By doing this, the muscle will support your weight rather than the spine. 

Put the saddle on your horse, then back away from them so you can see the light coming through the gullet while being cautious not to get kicked.

Step 7: Verify Panel Contact and Pressure

Saddle panels should equally distribute your weight across your horse’s back when riding. Also, you can fill the panels with wool, foam, or synthetic materials to absorb pressure.

With one hand, firmly press the saddle’s seat, and with the other, slide your fingers beneath the fronts of the panels. You don’t want the front of the panels to irritate the horse’s withers; you want to feel consistent pressure under the saddle points.

Next, place your hand evenly spaced under the panel’s full backside on both sides. Any pressure irregularities you experience while your horse will feel riding.

Bridging is a common issue with saddle fitting. Bridging can happen when the horse comes in contact with the front and back of the saddle panels but not the center.

A skilled saddle fitter might be able to alter the panels to fix bridging if the saddle has wool-flocked panels and all previous fitting processes have left you feeling that the saddle is generally a good fit for the horse. Otherwise, the horse will find the saddle uncomfortable, and you should consider another option.

Step 8: Verify the Saddle’s Stability

The saddle should stay largely steady, not rocking from front to back or side to side. Your horse’s natural asymmetry may cause shifting, but a saddle fitter should be able to offer advice to reduce or get rid of the issue.

Step 9: Verify the Seat’s Width

The region of the horse’s back supported by the ribs serves as the weight-bearing surface. The thoracic region refers to this region. It roughly extends from the shoulder point to the center of the back. The last rib connects to the 18th vertebra, which symbolizes the conclusion of the thoracic, or weight-bearing, region.

His back’s lumbar region has no ribs, making it incapable of supporting any weight. This region extends from the point of his croup to roughly the center of his back. To find the last rib on your horse, feel his ribcage. You can find the approximate placement of the 18th vertebra and the conclusion of the thoracic region by following that last rib up to his spine. 

Your saddle shouldn’t go any further than this, ideally. If it does and forces you to ride with a harness that is just a little too long, keep an eye out for any signs of discomfort on your horse. One of these saddles might be better suitable for your horse because it has a more compact design than others.

Step 10: Gird the Saddle, Mount, and Verify the Fit Once More

Put on a girth but think about avoiding using a saddle pad once you’ve completed all the steps to confirm the saddle fit. A properly adjusted girth sits about five inches behind the horse’s elbow. Check the wither and gullet clearance once more while seated in the saddle.

The pommel should still extend two to three fingers past the withers. When viewing the saddle from behind, your assistant should be able to see daylight running the entire length of the saddle while taking care not to get kicked. Without using the saddle pad, this is easier to see.

Take note of how the saddle feels. It shouldn’t feel unstable or uneven beneath you, and you should feel balanced rather than like you’re hunching over or trying to sit straight. Once more, gauge your horse’s emotional state. Can he roam around freely outside? Is he at ease? Or are his tail wagging and ears pinned?

Advice on Saddle Use and Fitting

Keep an eye on your horse’s demeanor and facial expressions while you adjust the saddle. If your horse has pinched ears, his teeth are showing, or he gestures like he might kick or bolt away, the saddle may be upsetting him.

Use a mounting block to protect the integrity of your saddle tree. The saddle tree may twist over time if you routinely mount from the ground on the same side of the horse and pull on the cantle as you mount.

Choosing the Right Saddle for Your Horse

Try Out Different Saddles.

Test out a range of saddles before settling on one. Shop at your local tack shop and take the most of any chances you can try out the saddle there. If you have riding pals, test out their saddles to discover which one suits you the best. Pay attention to the following: 

  • Placement of the stirrups.
  • Saddle weight.
  • Seat’s dimensions and angle
  • Fork’s height and inclination
  • Quintal’s elevation

You can likely get a good saddle at a reasonable price online, but it is better to examine and test it out in person first. The majority of tack stores and tack online will be gracious. You may try the saddle to ensure it is suitable for you and your horse.

Purchase a Saddle You Can Easily Handle

Although buying a secondhand saddle may appeal to you and is frequently a smart idea, newer saddles constructed of lighter materials can offer many benefits. Older saddles often include wooden trees, which are rather heavy and challenging for small riders to maneuver.

Buy Branded Products.

Always go for a well-known saddle brand. Brand-name saddle producers have an incentive to produce high-quality products. Most unbranded saddles have dubious materials. You won’t have any options if a poor-quality saddle malfunctions.

Purchase the Highest-quality Saddle You Can

Your saddle is essential for your safety, comfort, and enjoyment, so spending as much as possible is a good idea. While purchasing a fancy saddle with all the bling, bells, and whistles may seem alluring, you will undoubtedly be better off with a simple saddle emphasizing quality over flash.

Common Saddle Fitting Mistakes

Our recommendations will probably help you successfully fit a saddle to your horse. However, there are numerous errors that riders frequently make while fitting a western saddle to their horse. Here are some typical mistakes you should avoid when adjusting a harness.

  1. Riders also frequently over- or under-pad their western saddles. The pads you use for your horse should wrap around the outside of the saddle between 1 to 2 inches (2.5 to 5 centimeters) thick. If you tighten the cinch any more than necessary to keep the saddle from rolling, they won’t be tight enough to protect your horse’s back. If your cushioning is improperly thick, your saddle may appear too small.
  2. Purchasing a saddle that appears to fit but is too long for the horse’s back is another typical error people make. A harness longer than the horse’s ribs will always impact the lumbar, leading to excruciating lower back pain. It may result in the horse acting out and refusing to canter while ridden.
  3. Most people often place the saddle too far forward on the horse’s back, preventing the shoulder blade from moving. For the saddle tree’s front bar to move freely, it must sit behind the shoulder blade. You should place the tree behind the shoulder blade, but the saddle’s skirt and padding may contact it.
  4. Many riders misdiagnose a saddle fit issue when they have underlying riding problems that cause their horses back trouble. Uneven pressure on the horse’s back can result from riding too far back or too far forward in the saddle. Never assume a saddle doesn’t fit before taking into account your position.
  5. Misusing the cinches during saddle test rides is another frequent error. Before the rider even mounts, a front cinch that is too tight can put pressure on the front of the saddle. Once the cinch is in position, you should be able to fit one finger between your horse and it. Also frequently mishandled is the flank cinch.

You should be able to fit two fingers between the flank cinch and the horse’s belly after adjusting it. It is crucial to make the proper adjustments when putting on the saddle since the flank cinch ensures that the saddle’s pressure distributes evenly at all gaits.

Different horse saddles

That’s a Wrap

The saddle is the link between you, the rider, and your horse. A saddle that doesn’t fit properly can make riding uncomfortable and lead to sores on your horse. It would be best if you chose a saddle that suits both you and your horse comfortably and is appropriate for the riding discipline you like.

Knowing how to measure and fit a saddle properly is crucial since English and Western saddles differ significantly. Regardless of which one you use, It must be appropriate for the work and style of riding you will be doing and fit the horse. A well-fitted saddle enhances your horse’s performance and increases its willingness to work.

Take a few minutes to get a thorough saddle measurement and outfit your horse with the greatest saddle for its body to allow for movement without pinching or suffering instead of searching for the priciest saddle or the best offer.

Always do your saddle fitting on a level surface with your horse gazing straight ahead and with nothing under the saddle. Watching your horse’s reaction throughout the saddle-fitting procedure would be best. When fitting a harness, the most accurate indicator is your horse, so pay attention to the ears and body language.

Happy riding, folks!