How To Size A Western Saddle For Your Horse

Last Updated on October 9, 2021 by Cristina

Sizing your first Western saddle can be a daunting experience –how do you know where to start? Getting the right size Western saddle is vital to ensure your horse is comfortable. But how do you know how to size a Western saddle for your horse?

Don’t panic, we’re here to help! We’ve taken an in-depth look at how to fit a Western saddle. Keep reading to learn all you need to know about western saddles fitting!

What Is A Western Saddle?

The Western style of riding is a traditional form of horseback riding, dating back to the late 1770s. It originated because cowboys spent a lot of time horseback. They needed tack and equipment that was both comfortable and functional.

The modern Western saddle we use today originates from these times. In fact, it has not changed much at all over the centuries!

What Is A Western Saddle

A Western saddle has long stirrup leathers and a large stirrup. This means that the rider can sit with the leg in a more comfortable extended position. The seat of the saddle is deep and comfortable, perfect for long days out on the ranch.

The tree of a Western saddle is strong and robust, able to withstand the strength of a roped cow. This is aided by the large horn at the front of the saddle, designed for tying ropes when roping cattle.

Why Is Fitting A Saddle To A Horse Important?

Fitting a saddle to a horse correctly is vital to your horse’s wellbeing, as well as for your own comfort. A horse’s back may be strong and muscular, but it can be very easy to cause them pain through using a badly fitted saddle. This may result in long-term injury and even behavioral problems when ridden.

There are certain areas on the horse’s back that are prone to injury through an ill-fitting saddle. The withers – the bony part of the spine at the base of the neck – can become sore if rubbed.

The muscles under the saddle can also be restricted if the saddle is too tight. If the saddle is too large, it may restrict the movement of the shoulders and forelegs.

Why Is Fitting A Saddle To A Horse Important

Unfortunately, it is very easy to cause back pain in horses, and very difficult to resolve! A horse that has damaged its back through a badly fitted saddle may need a long rest period to recover. It may also need retraining, as it will associate the saddle with pain when ridden.

When it comes to Western saddles, there is no standardization in the industry regarding sizing. Measurements will differ by style and manufacturer. This means that each saddle must be fitted individually to ensure it is the correct size correctly.

If in doubt, it is always best to get an expert to help fit a saddle to your horse. This is because it is very easy to get the fitting wrong, and you might cause a long-term injury to your horse.

Western Saddles Fitting For Riders

There are two things to take into account when fitting a saddle – the size of the horse and the size of the rider.

Finding the right size saddle for the rider is the easier part of fitting a Western saddle. This is done by measuring the saddle, to find one which is the right size.

To measure a saddle, you need to know the distance from the back of the pommel to the seam of the cantle. It is easy to measure this with a tape measure. The distance will normally be between 12 and 19 inches, and you will find that most companies sell saddles using these measurements.

Acerugs Beautiful Western Pleasure Trail Barrel Racer Show Horse Saddle

But what does this measurement mean? Basically, it is the size of the seat of the saddle and tells us how long it is from front to back.

This is important for two reasons. Firstly, the size of the seat must suit the rider. A seat size for a child rider will be 12 to 13 inches, a medium adult is 15 inches, and an extra-large adult is 17 inches or above.

When you sit in the saddle, your buttocks should just rest right at the base of the cantle. If you feel that your rump is putting pressure on the cantle, you need a larger-sized saddle.

However, rider height also makes a difference to the size of the saddle. Taller, thin riders may need to go for a larger seat size to get the desired length of stirrups.

Read more about What Is The Average Jockey Height and Weight?

How To Size A Western Saddle For Your Horse

Now you know what size saddle the rider needs, let’s learn how to size a Western saddle for your horse.

Let’s take a look at the crucial part of fitting a saddle with a step-by-step guide.

  1. Gullet Clearance

Place the saddle on your horse’s back, without any padding or saddlecloth. Check the horse’s withers – there should be at least 2 inches between the gullet and the withers.

Next look along the horse’s spine. The gullet should not touch any part of the horse’s spine.

A saddle that is too narrow will cause pinching along the spine. A wider saddle will sit too low and press on the withers.

  1. Back Pressure

The aim when fitting a saddle is to get the weight distributed evenly across the horse’s back. Slide your hands under the saddle – do the panels of the saddle apply even amounts of pressure across the back? Or can you feel gaps where the panels do not touch the back at all?

  1. Movement

Next, place your hands on the horn and the cantle and rock the saddle from side to side. There may be a little bit of movement, but this should not be more than half an inch.

Finally, rock the saddle back and forward. Again, it may move slightly but this movement should be minimal.

Western Saddle Movement


Fitting a Western saddle for you and your horse can take a lot of time and effort and using the wrong saddle can be an expensive mistake. It is worth spending time making sure the saddle is correctly fitted, to avoid injury to your horse. The best option is to ask an expert to show you how to fit a saddle to your horse.

Do you have any questions about fitting Western saddles? Perhaps you’ve got some feedback to share about your experiences with fitting Western saddles? Add a comment below this post and we’ll get back to you!

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