Saddle Fitting 101 for your Horse Saddles, Mule Saddles and Draft Saddles custom saddles

Ensuring correct size for your equine


Contact us to learn more about our Custom saddles fitting  program including Horse Saddles, Mule Saddles and Draft Saddles western saddle

Saddle Fitting


Saddle fit is becoming more of a concern and more confusing for many people.  As information and misinformation is spread between riders and over the internet, saddle makers are getting more questions about it all the time.  While there are lots of opinions (often stated as fact) on what makes a saddle fit or not, there is really very little objective data to go by.  We have learned a few things which are the foundation for everything we believe in terms of fit:  1.) Position the saddle properly, 2.) nothing should Poke or dig into the horse and 3.) distribute the Pressure over as much surface area as possible without breaking principle number two.

The first of saddle fit is Position.  The shape of the tree is designed to match the shape of the horse's back when it is sitting in the proper place.  If the saddle is sitting in another position on the back, the shapes will no longer match.  If the shapes don't match, you will have high pressure spots (Poking ) and places where there is no contact to help distribute the Pressure .This means that most of what the saddle and tree makers do to ensure proper fit for the horse is thrown out the window when the rider places and holds the saddle in the wrong position

 if the saddle is placed so far forward that it is easier to slide forward than backward will misplacement by itself cause problems.

Firstly, the tree is sitting on the shoulder blade, compressing the muscles that lie over the shoulder blade between bar and bone.  This causes damage and in the long run results in atrophy of these muscles, making hollows behind shoulder blades that appear to stick out too far from the body.

Secondly, it causes bridging, with weight being carried on the front bar pads and the back of the bar but minimal to no contact under the middle of the tree.  This means the Pressure is not distributed over the whole tree, causing higher Pressures where there is contact. 

Thirdly, it tilts the tree backwards.  This often causes the back bar tips to Poke - dig into the horse - especially if they are shorter bars with less rock.  If a horse is sore farther back, it is good to watch the rider saddle their horse, then check where those back bar tips are positioned.  Often, it is right over where the horse is sore.  This has serious effects not only on muscle health, but how the horse moves and his overall performance. 

Fourthly, tilting the tree backwards also affects how the rider will sit in the seat.  They are forced to put more weight toward the back of the bars, making the problem of the back bar tips digging into the horse worse.  They may also have problems getting their feet under them, depending on how the groundseat is shaped, because they are sitting farther back in the saddle.

What if it is placed too far back?

Unless it is held back with a crupper or britching, even a tree that doesn't fit well will move forward right away.  However, if it is held too far back, that position causes the tree to tilt forward on the horse.  This will bring the gullet closer to the top of the withers, perhaps making contact if it was close already.  It also means that the rider's weight is carried more on the front of the tree, increasing the Pressure there and possibly causing Poking by the front bar tips.  Depending on how the groundseat is shaped, it may also make the rider feel like they are falling forward on the horse and/or that their feet are too far behind. The cinch will move to the narrowest part of the chest (unless held away from it by something like a center fire rigging position).  But an angled latigo and cinch will not pull the saddle out of position if the tree fits.  It is only if the tree really doesn't fit the horse or there is excess padding which negates the fit of the tree on the horse that the rigging position can have an effect on saddle position. 

It may also appear that a latigo and cinch that is angled forward would cause the saddle to put excess pressure on the back of the shoulder blades, while a saddle with a full rigging position (which is most likely to have a vertical cinch) would be least likely to affect the shoulders.  However, this is backwards from what has been shown by pressure testing (unpublished data) to happen in real life.  The more forward a rigging is set, the more it pulls down on the front of the tree.  The farther back it is set, the more it can pull down more evenly on the whole tree.  Of course, rigging design and construction has a large effect on how and where the rigging pulls down on the tree, but practically, a rigging set below the fork will pull down almost exclusively on the front of the bars.  Therefore, a forward rigging position can actually cause pressure points at the back of the shoulder blades when it is pulled to tight, to tight of a cinch can cause any saddle to cause dry spots and white hairs from presure.  Because it pulls the saddle down tightly at the front and so it doesn't give the shoulder blades enough room to slip underneath the front bar tips so they "bang against the wall".  The same saddle that is causeing presure on the shoulders will work properly it the cinch is loosened, and will hold the saddle in place just as will as one to thigh. 

The Bare Basics Summarized

1.)  Saddle position is determined by the tree, ending up where shape of the tree matches the shape of the horse.

2.)  Western saddle trees are made to sit right behind the shoulder blade, which puts the skirts just over the back of the shoulder.

3.)  If the tree fits at all, the saddle will move to the correct position unless you keep it out of position with a breast collar, crupper or britching.

4.)  Rigging position does not determine or change saddle position unless the tree doesn't fit the horse or over padding causes the tree to no longer match the shape of the horse.

5.)  Rigging position will not move a good fitting tree out of position.

6.)  The skirts need to be well blocked to follow the relief built into the bars so they don't interfere with the shoulder blade.

Theoretically, with an ideal fit the whole underside of the bar should contact the horse’s back at all times with an even pressure.  In practice, this is impossible, since we are dealing with a rigid system on a flexible, mobile back.   We know that the shape of the horse’s back changes not only with weight, use and time, but also with every movement he makes.  

So there are basically two rules for well designed trees: 

Rule One – “No Poking”.  In other words, don’t dig in anywhere.

Rule Two – “Distribute the Pressure”.  Have as much surface area as possible on the horse without breaking Rule Number One.

There is a fair amount of leeway within Principle Number Two, but you can’t break Rule One without consequences for the horse.  To follow these principles, the shape of the bars must match the shape and size of the horse with enough edge relief that there are no pressure points.  When this is correct, the pressure under the saddle will change its area of distribution on the back throughout each stride the horse takes, but it is always disseminated over a wide enough surface area that the pressure in any one spot is low.  This is why a well designed tree will fit a range of horses.  While it will use more or less of the surface area available (the middle of the range using the greatest amount of surface area), with well designed edge relief it won’t break Principle Number One until it is put on a horse with a very different body type than what it was made to fit. 

A little abut our program


Tree Fitting Instructions

We understand that most of the time the tree we send will not fit your horse. It is only used as a reference point to determine what adjustments are needed to properly fit your horse or mule. Your saddle will not be built on the tree sent it is used for fitting purposes only. They are used over and over again so sometimes there is a little damage to the tree, but that does not effect the purpose of the tree. 

The tree should be place on the back with no pad of any kind. Place the tree about 

1 1/2" to  2" back from the edge of the shoulders. With that done we need 3 pictures. 

1. from the side far enough back to see the whole horse, this shows us how the bars fit over the back. 

2. A picture from the rear high enough so we can see how the rear of the bars contact the back. Please no closeups or straight down pictures. 

3. One from the front at a angle showing how the bars contacting and how the gullet sits over the withers.  No close ups 

We understand that sometimes you want to send us closeups of where it looks like a problem is but they are useless to us and the program we put the pictures in. 

We can zoom in but we cannot back out farther.

Email the pictures to

We use the trees over and over again so please understand we need to get the trees to you and back to us in a timely matter so we can send them to others. 

For this service we get a deposit of 300.00 of which 200.00 is applied to the cost of your saddle. We also get shipping of the tree to you and back to us, for which we get 60.00 and include a return label in the box. 

If you order a tree online you are only charged shipping one way and you are still responsible  for the return of the tree.