Identifying the proper saddle fit for your horse can prolong his career and improve quality of each ride. By fitting your horse correctly, you allow proper mobility of the shoulder muscles so will get better movement out of your equine partner.
Get Started with Saddle Fit
The easiest way to fit your horse for a saddle at home without specialized tools is with a wire hanger. Bend the hanger in half and manipulate it until it will fit over your horse’s withers.
Start at your horse’s withers and set the bent hanger three to four inches back to find where saddle will rest. Spread the hanger apart until it sits evenly over his withers lip it down over your horse’s back leaving just a little bit of clearance, then put your finger where it first makes contact on both sides of the horse. Remove the hanger and measure the distance between those two points to determine the optimal bar size for your horse.
You can also measure your current saddle’s gullet to give insight on the ideal bar size you’re your horse. A standard gullet is measured from concho to concho on the inside of the saddle, so it can be a little tricky to measure accurately at home.
For more details on saddle fitting at home, check out this video with Fallon Taylor, pro barrel racer and founder of Tacktical.
Shimming a Saddle
The same measuring technique can help you figure out what size shim you need to use a saddle with bars that are too big for your horse. If you know your saddle has standard quarter horse bars, and your horse measures six inches from point of contact to point of contact, you will need an inch shim to achieve proper fit.
A simple saddle shim (or even a towel) can help you switch between horses without the need for a custom fitted saddle. Another option to consider is using a Tacktical Balanced Buildup Pad to help improve fit. This pad is ideal for those horses with narrow shoulders or a high, hard-to-fit wither. They work well under your favorite treeless saddle but can also fit under any western saddle.
These pads are designed to give your horse relief from the rigging placement and help a hard-to-fit horse get more comfort and balanced weight distribution.
Why Saddle Fit Matters
You might wonder if properly fitting your horse’s saddle is really that important. Consider it this way: when your horse runs freely in the pasture or roundpen, his shoulder muscles move back and forth with every stride. A poorly fitting saddle can restrict movement in that area, which can result in short, choppy strides or inconsistent movement.
If a saddle’s gullet is too big for your horse, the saddle will shift forward onto his shoulders, hindering movement. If the saddle rocks back, it can create pressure in the back on the lumbar.
That’s not even taking into consideration the pressure that may be on your horse’s back from the saddle’s rigging. Not all riggings are created equal. The Tacktical rigging distributes the pressure of the latigo and off billet evenly on both sides. Tacktical’s variety of skirt options, including the spin relief skirt, can also help your horse’s balance and overall performance.
Other signs of poor fit include dry spots when you remove a sweaty pad and depression of the wither muscles. Improper fit can be the cause of a horse’s inability to perform at his highest level.
The goal is for your saddle to sit evenly with zero play in the front or the back. This can help eliminate performance issues, from stride limitations to attitude issues caused by your horse feeling uncomfortable.
Shop Tacktical’s full line of stock saddles and check out Tacktical’s custom line.
This article about saddle fit is a web exclusive for Horse Illustrated magazine brought to you in partnership with Ranch Dress’n. Click here to subscribe!