1. Tree Spread and Angle
When viewed from the front, the spread and slope of the skirts should be an exact match to the shape of your horse. Any narrowing, especially in the area around the withers or behind the shoulders, is a sign of poor fit.
2. Fork Height and Gullet Width
A well-fitting saddle will never make contact with your horse’s withers or spine. With your saddle set directly on your horse’s back without a pad, make sure you can place two to three vertical fingers between your horse’s withers and the fork.
Next, slide your hand down the gullet to check the clearance as far as you can reach. Visualize the gullet channel from the back of the saddle as well to confirm your horse’s spine is pressure-free from front to back.
When the saddle is in the correct 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, the bottom edge of the skirt should be parallel to the ground.
A saddle that isn’t level will distribute pressure unevenly on your horse’s back, cause him discomfort, and throw off his balance. Riding in a saddle that tilts forward or back will also affect your balance and make your ride far less comfortable.
4. Centered Riding Position
A well-designed seat and correct stirrup placement will help you ride in balance with your horse. The lowest part of the seat should be centered between the fork (pommel) and cantle, so you’re sitting as close as possible to your horse’s center of gravity and where his back is strongest.
The stirrups should naturally hang vertically below your leg, making it as easy as possible to maintain correct shoulder, hip and heel alignment.
5. The Right Size for you
Your western saddle is the right seat size for you if you can place three fingers between your thigh and the swell of the saddle and a vertical hand between your seat and the cantle.
A seat that is too small will limit your ability to use your seat and legs to communicate your horse. Too large a saddle will require extra effort to consistently maintain a centered and balanced position.
DALE RUDIN is a CHA-certified riding instructor and clinician with a mindful and balanced approach to horsemanship and riding. www.un-naturalhorsemanship.com
This article originally appeared in the December 2016 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!