How to Pick the Best Fitting Western Saddle

Buying the correct western saddle that fits both you and your horse is a difficult task. The wrong saddle could lead to discomfort, sores, and back pain for your horse, not to mention that poorly fitted saddles can impair a rider's balance. Here we will walk you through how to find the perfect western saddle whether you are hitting the show ring or enjoying the trails.


How to Measure A Western Saddle

Before you begin your search for your perfect saddle, it’s important to know how they are measured. This will help you understand how a saddle is fitted, which is especially important when shopping for used saddles. If you know how to measure a saddle you won’t have to rely on the expertise of a store owner who might not know much about saddle fitting.

How to Measure for a Western Saddle

To measure a saddle, grab a tape measure and vertically measure the length from the back of the pommel to the seam of the cantle. The measurement should usually be between 12 and 19 inches.

Most companies size their saddles using these inch measurements. Saddles can be sizes 12-19 and often increase in half inch increments. Here is a basic size chart:


Children’s Saddle: 12”-13”
Small Adult Saddle: 14”
Medium Adult Saddle: 15”
Large Adult Saddle: 16”
Extra Large Adult Saddle: 17” or above

Though this chart will help you understand the basics of saddle sizing, finding your correct size is a bit more complicated than knowing whether you're a small, medium, or large person. Factors like height, weight, and personal preference are also important when fitting a saddle.

Fit the Saddle for the Rider

Fit the Saddle for The Rider

Most companies offer a specific sizing chart for customers shopping for a western saddle. Often, westerns saddles are fitted to riders based on height, weight, and body type. For example, a tall and slim rider may fit into the seat of a medium adult saddle but may need the length of the large adult saddle. Oftentimes, tall riders opt for larger saddle sizes to account for the length of their legs, and compromise on the fit of the saddles seat. Short riders also make similar compromises to adjust for their leg size. Your height, weight, and body type will determine which saddle size will work best for you.

The best way for anyone to find their saddle size is to visit a tack shop and try some saddles. While sitting, ensure you are in the ideal riding position by placing your balance in the center of the saddle. Bringing a friend or mentor who has chosen a saddle before can also be helpful when trying new saddles. Here are some rules to help you determine if the saddle fits:

When you sit you should be able to fit about 2-3 fingers between your thigh and the swell; and your rump should not put pressure on the cantle, but rest right at its base. You should feel secure in the saddle and the stirrups should lengthen enough for you to maintain your ideal position.

If you are between saddle sizes, it is recommended that you size up, but also consider your discipline and your personal saddle preferences when choosing between sizes.

Fit the Saddle for The Horse

Fitting the saddle to your horse is another crucial step, saddles that fit poorly can pinch your horse and cause sores on their back. An uncomfortable saddle can also cause behavioral problems and affect your effectiveness while riding. Horses may buck or kick out in response to painful pinching or rubbing of the saddle, or they might nip and pin their ears when you are tacking up. To avoid this, make sure you buy your horse a saddle that fits correctly so you can both ride in comfort. Here are some guidelines to ensure that your saddle properly fits your horse:

First, put the saddle on your horses back without any padding. Ensure that the gullet of the saddle is 2-3 fingers away from the horse’s withers. If the saddle fits well, it should not touch any part of the horse's spine. If the gullet is too wide the saddle will press on their withers, if it is too narrow the angle of the saddle will cause pinching.

Next, make sure the panels of the saddle apply even pressure on the horses back. You can do this by feeling underneath the saddle. The saddle panels should not have large spaces that don’t have contact with the horses back. If there are large areas not receiving pressure, there are other areas receiving extra pressure. Overall, the angles of the saddle panels should be parallel to the horses back and there should be even contact throughout the saddle.

Finally, place the saddle on your horses back without pads, and rock it side to side and then back to front by placing your hands on the horn and the cantle. A little movement is okay, but too much movement indicates a poor fit. If it moves more than a half inch off your horses back when you do this test, it doesn’t fit. The saddle must be almost perfectly level to ensure there is even pressure from back to front.

Common Mistakes of Saddle Fitting

If you follow our guidelines you will likely find success in fitting a saddle to your horse. But there are also a lot of common mistakes riders make when they fit a western saddle to their horse. Here are some common mistakes you can avoid when fitting a saddle.

1. Many people put the saddle too far forward on the horses back which blocks movement in the shoulder blade. The front bar of the saddle tree needs to rest behind the shoulder blade so it can move freely. The skirt of the saddle and pads can touch the shoulder blade, but the tree should rest behind it.

2. Another common mistake people make is buying a saddle that seems fit but is actually too long for the horses back. If the saddle is longer than the ribs of the horse, it will always interfere with the lumbar and cause significant lower back pain. This can cause the horse to act up and refuse to canter during rides.

3. During saddle test rides, misusing the cinches is also a very common mistake. Over tightening the front cinch can put pressure on the front of the saddle before the rider even mounts. You should be able to squeeze one finger between your horse and the cinch after it's been adjusted. The flank cinch is also often misused. Adjust the flank cinch so that you can fit 2 fingers between it and the horse's belly. The flank cinch ensures that the pressure of the saddle is distributed evenly at all gaits, so it is very important to adjust correctly when fitting the saddle.

4. Another mistake riders make is over or under padding the western saddle. The pads you use for your horse should extend 1-2 inches around the outside of your saddle and they should be between .5-1 inches thick. Any less and they won't be enough to protect your horses back, and anymore and you'll have to overtightening the cinch to prevent the saddle from rolling. Using the wrong thickness of padding can make your saddle seem like it doesn’t fit.

5. Many riders also have underlying issues in their riding that are responsible for their horses back pain, but they mistake these issues for a problem with saddle fit. Sitting too far back or too far forward in the saddle can put uneven pressure on the horses back and cause discomfort. Always consider your position before concluding that a saddle doesn't fit.

Picking the Perfect Saddle

Picking the Perfect Saddle

Now you’ve learned about how to fit your saddle, but what kind of saddle do you want to buy?

To start, you can choose from a leather or synthetic western saddle. Leather is the classical and durable option that has been used by riders for hundreds of years. If you properly care for your leather saddle it will last for years. However, synthetic saddles are cheaper, lightweight, easy to clean, and look almost identical to their leather counterparts.

Next, there are lots of different western saddles types to pick from. Consider the type of riding you want to do with your horse and choose the saddle type that best meets your needs.

Western Trail Saddle: These saddles are typically used for trail riding as they are lightweight, padded, and can be used for hours. These saddles have round skirts which help the horse move with ease under the saddle, wide stirrups to provide the rider with comfort, and a cantle of medium height to give the rider more support during their rides.

Western Youth Saddles: These are smaller sized western saddles specifically designed for children. They can range from sizes 12”-14” and accommodate young riders in lessons, on the trails, and in the show ring.

Western Work Saddles: These saddles are designed to be used for ranch work and riding on trails. They are padded, durable, and perfect working and riding on rough terrain. Work saddles typically have a low cantle so riders can easily mount and dismount, and the horn is lower so it won’t stab the rider in the stomach.

Western Ranch Saddles: These saddles are used for horses who work long hours on ranches. They are very comfortable with a hard, deep seat and a high cantle. They are also heavy weight and have a strong structure to accommodate for the long hours of use. Ranch saddles also have high and thick horns that riders use for roping and dallying, and the saddle has double rigging for security. Additionally, they come with saddle strings so riders can easily attach saddle bags and other equipment they might need to their saddle.

Western Reining Saddles: Reining saddles cater specifically to an event called reining, which is popular in the west. These saddles have a medium height horn and fork so the rider’s hands can remain separate from the saddle during the event. Shorter skirts also allow the rider to be more in contact with the horse while they ride. Reining saddles also have thinner fenders, and a lower seat to increase the mobility of the horse during the competition.

Western Endurance Saddles: These saddles are specifically designed for endurance races which can be anywhere from 50-100 miles long. They are engineered to be lightweight and comfortable. Most Endurance saddles have extra padding on the seat and stirrups to increase the comfort of the rider during these events. They also come with d-rings and strings to allow the rider to attach saddle bags and other equipment necessary for their ride. They usually have a very short horn or no horn to prevent the horn from stabbing the rider in the stomach. Centerfire rigging is also used on this saddle to keep it from tipping forward.

Western Show Saddles: These saddles are primarily used for showing, and usually feature beautiful eye-catching designs and patterns. These saddles have a lower cantle to aid with mounting and dismounting, and a longer skirt to make room for more fancy saddle designs.

Western Barrel Racing Saddles: These saddles are specifically made for barrel races, gymkhana events, and horse training. Barrel racing saddles are the smallest and lightest of all the adult western saddles as they are made to encourage speed and free movement of the horse. Barrel racing saddles also have short skirts and single rigging to allow the horse to bend freely around obstacles. These saddles also use a roughout seat to give riders more grip during the event.