Measuring a Horse Saddle: Everything You Need to Know

Saddle shopping is one of my favorite things to do; however, it can be frustrating when you don’t know how to properly measure or recognize a saddle that will fit you and your horse. To save you from the struggle that I have been through, I wrote this article to share what I’ve learned about measuring for a horse saddle, both English and western.

When it comes to measuring a horse saddle, there are specific measurements to be aware of:

  • Seat Size
  • Flap Length & Angle (English)
  • Skirt Length (western)
  • Saddle Width

 

Many times, finding the right saddle size for you and your horse can come down to trying out a lot of different saddles. Having measurements on hand that you can compare to yourself and your horse will be much more helpful in the process.

English Saddles

Seat Size

When it comes to seat size, many saddle brands tend to vary in the accuracy of their measurements…just like trying on shoes! So, in order to get an accurate feel and measurement for your seat size, it may be better to personally try out the English saddles you’re interested in.

The Saddle in Comparison to You

When you sit in the saddle, you should be able to fit a hand between yourself and the front of the saddle (the pommel) and a hand between yourself and the end of the saddle (the cantle.)

When it comes to saddle seat sizes, it can be easy to make a generalized guess on what size you’ll need. Youth and petite adults can usually fit in a 15″ saddle. An average female adult will usually need a 17″ saddle while a heavier or taller adult needs an 18 ” saddle.

How to Take the Measurements

To measure the seat size of an English saddle, you can measure from either nailhead on the sides of the pommel to the middle of the cantle, or the end of the saddle.

Flap Length & Angle

The next part of the English saddle you’ll want to fit is the flap of the saddle. The flaps are the sides of the English saddle that hang over the horse’s barrel, resting against your inner thigh, knee, and slightly down your calf

The Saddle in Comparison to You

When you sit in an English saddle, your knee should not bend over the edge of the saddle flap. You’ll want a saddle that has an angle that can compensate for your knee. To properly determine this, sit in the saddle with your stirrups adjusted to fall at your ankles.

When your knee is bent in order to keep your foot in the stirrup, you should be able to fit 2-3 fingers between the top of your knee and the edge of the saddle.

Another aspect you want to ensure is that the end of the flap won’t interfere with your tall boots. It can be extremely annoying to keep getting a tall boot caught on the edge of the saddle flap. The flap should extend past your knee and a few inches down your calf.

How to Take the Measurements

To measure the length of the flap, find where the stirrup connects to the saddle. Lift up that flap to reveal a piece of metal to hold the stirrup in place. Measure from the top of the piece of metal that holds the stirrup down to the edge of the bottom of the flap. That’s how you’ll get the flap length.

To measure the width of the saddle flap, measure horizontally across the widest part of the flap. Once again, to get an accurate measurement about the best sizes for yourself, the best thing to do is to sit in a good-fitting saddle, then do the measurements. Once you have these measurements, find yourself a fitting saddle will be much easier.

Saddle Width

The saddle width refers to the width of the gullet of the saddle. If you flip your saddle over and look at the underside, you’ll notice two parallel panels with a gap in the middle. The gap is considered the gullet of the saddle. The width of the gullet determines the saddle’s width.

The Saddle In Comparison to Your Horse

Thoroughbreds and Arabians tend to need narrow gullets while quarter horses and drafts tend to need the wide gullet. Many horses fall in between and need the regular gullet size.

Look at the shape of your horse, specifically their withers. High narrow withers and a narrow barrel will usually need a more narrow gullet. A horse that has withers that you can barely notice that slope into a wide-set horse will need a wide gullet.

How to Take the Measurements

To measure what gullet size your horse needs, you’ll need a clothes hanger. You’re going to bend the angle of the horse’s withers into the clothes hanger by laying the hanger 2 inches behind the horse’s shoulder blade. Lay the hanger directly against the horse’s withers.

Once you’ve done that, remove the hanger from your horse. align a measuring tape across your hanger, 3 inches under the angle of the withers. The distance between each side of the hanger will be your horse’s gullet width.

On the underside of the saddle, find the two parallel panels. You should see four felt knots embedded in the panels towards the front of the saddle. Measure the distance between the two knots that are closest to the gullet on each panel. Compare that to your horse’s width.

How to Tell if the Saddle Fits

The last thing you’ll do to ensure that the English saddle will fit your horse is to place the saddle on your horse’s back. Proper tack placement is essential when it comes to evaluating whether or not the saddle actually fits.

Proper Placement

Put the English saddle on your horse without a saddle pad; the saddle should be coming into contact with the horse on both sides and in the seat of the saddle. For proper placement, place the saddle at the base of the withers. In this position, the saddle can’t interfere with the movement of the horse’s shoulders.

Gullet Size

First, evaluate how the saddle lays on the horse. Check the front of the saddle, where the saddle slightly goes over the withers. Make sure you can fit 2-3 fingers in between the horse’s withers and the front of the saddle.

If you can fit less than 2 fingers between the saddle and the withers, the saddle is probably too wide for your horse. If you can fit more than 3 fingers, your saddle is probably too wide.

If you stand behind the horse, you should be able to look at the back of the saddle and see daylight through the gap in the tree at the bottom of the saddle. If you can’t, then the saddle is too wide.

Overall Saddle Size

The English saddle should not be so big that it passes the last rib in the horse’s rib cage. If it does this, there will be unnecessary pressure on the horse’s kidneys and other organs.

Western Saddles

Seat Size

Western saddles measure differently than English saddles by measuring about 2″ smaller than whatever your seat size would be in English. While the English saddle is geared towards mobility, the western saddle is geared towards stability and durability.

The Saddle In Comparison to You

When you sit in a western saddle, you’ll notice a high swell at the front of the saddle that holds the horn. You’ll also probably notice the higher seat back, also known as the cantle. There should be a hand’s width between yourself and the swell and a hand’s width between you and the cantle.

Your seat should rest at the base of the cantle; if your seat tends to rest on the rise of the cantle, then the saddle is most likely too small.

To get an idea of the average western saddle seat size, most youth ride in a 12″-13″ western saddle. Petite adults will take a 14″, the average adult rides in a 15.” A grown man or a larger person will need something bigger.

Western saddles were meant to be ridden with longer stirrup length. Because of this, your inner leg should always be protected by the fender (the wide piece of leather that is attached to the stirrup.)

How to Take the Measurements

When it comes to measuring a western saddle seat size, simply measure from the base of the horn to the edge of the cantle. Remember, a good way to figure your western saddle seat size is to take your English saddle seat size and subtract 2″.

Skirt Length

The skirt of the western saddle is the leather or other material attached around the seat of the saddle. The skirt gives the western saddle its signature rectangular look. This helps to distribute weight across the horse’s back as well as keep the saddle in place.

The Skirt Length in Comparison to Your Horse

When you put a western saddle on your horse, the skirt of the saddle should not go over the hip; instead, it should come to an end before the point-of-hip. If the skirt is too long, it can cause discomfort to your horse as well as throwing off the rider’s balance.

As mentioned previously, the seat of the western saddle should not go past the last rib of the horse; however, the skirt of the saddle can extend passed such a measurement.

How to Take Measurements

To measure the skirt of the saddle, simply measure from the front edge of the saddle all the way to the back edge of the saddle. Compare the measurements to your horse. Start your measurement on your horse a few inches behind their shoulder blade to get a proper measurement.

Arabs, ponies, and other short-backed horses will require a shorter skirt length while horses with long backs can handle a longer skirt length.

Saddle Width

Determining the width of a western saddle is very similar to that of an English saddle. The saddle width will be determined by the gullet width.

The Saddle Width in Comparison to Your Horse

It can be very easy to see if a western saddle doesn’t properly fit your horse. A properly fitted western saddle will fit your horse’s sides, the skirt molding to their body. If the skirt sticks away from the horse so as to not touch the horse’s sides, then the saddle is too wide.

Likewise, if the saddle skirt is so narrow that you have to force it over your horse’s body, then the saddle is too narrow. In a more subtle manner, a wide saddle would seem to tip forward onto the horse’s withers, the back skirt sticking up.  A narrow saddle appears to tilt back.

How to Take Measurements

To measure what gullet size your horse needs, you’ll need a clothes hanger. You’re going to bend the angle of the horse’s withers into the clothes hanger by laying the hanger 2 inches behind the horse’s shoulder blade. Lay the hanger directly against the horse’s withers.

Once you’ve done that, remove the hanger from your horse. align a measuring tape across your hanger, 3 inches under the angle of the withers. The distance between each side of the hanger will be your horse’s gullet width.

To compare a western saddle to your horse’s width, view your saddle from the front. You’ll notice how the leather skirt seems to come up at and angle under the saddle’s horn. Measure the distance between the two points that the leather comes to on either side.

How to Tell if the Saddle Fits

Western saddles are both very similar but also very different from the English saddle when it comes to deciding how well the saddle fits. the make, weight distribution, and size of the western saddles are much greater than that of an English saddle.

Proper Placement

Place your western saddle on your horse without a saddle pad. Be sure to place the saddle beginning at the base of the withers, as to not interfere with the mobility of the horse’s shoulders. The skirt of the saddle should fit comfortably to the horse’s sides; not sticking out too far but also not being too restrictive.

Gullet Size

Check where the saddle’s gullet is in comparison to the horse’s withers. You should be able to vertically fit 2-3 fingers between the saddle and the horse’s withers. Any more fingers and the saddle is too narrow; any fewer fingers and the saddle is probably too wide.

Lastly, stand back to evaluate how the saddle sits on your horse. The saddle should lay flat across the horse’s back, being balanced at both the front and the back. Some ill-fitting saddles may tend to tip forward because they’re too wide or tip back because they’re too narrow.

Overall Saddle Size

When you place your western saddle on your horse, the point of the cantle, or the end of the seat, should not go past the last rib of the horse; however, the skirt of the saddle usually will stretch to just before the point-of-hip. Western saddles distribute weight much better than English saddles do, hence the ability to pass the last rib.

Now that you’ve learned how to measure a horse saddle, it’s time to figure how much your horse can carry. Check out our article, What Horse Breed Can Carry the Most Weight?