The Time I Lost My Mind Trying To Buy A Saddle

Otherwise known as the time Amanda could not find a saddle to fit her (apparently) awkward sized butt. The 16.2-hand thoroughbred with big shoulders, high withers and an “apple-bottom” doesn’t help either.

Flickr/drewsaunders/Creative Commons License

Flickr/drewsaunders/Creative Commons License

So, I started looking for a new saddle. Saddle buying in the good old days was easy. You measured for tree size and you were done. It was so magical.


But in today’s world, there are a lot of resources one can investigate. There are more measurements to be taken into consideration than can ever be dreamed up. After going through over a dozen websites and two actual hard copy books (one I bought and one a veterinarian loaned me) my head sort of felt like this…


Here’s the gist of what I learned.

Tree Size is still really important. It refers to the distance between the bottom of the points of the tree. This measurement is either described in centimeters or as medium, medium/wide, etc. and directly relates to the area behind your horse’s shoulder blade.


Source: Equine Ink

But there is also Gullet Width. The gullet is the channel that runs down the center of the underside of a saddle, in between the panels.


 Source: Equine Ink

Jochen Schleese, author of Suffering in Silence, has this to say about gullet width. “To calculate how wide your horse’s spine is, do the following. Stand on your horse’s left side and place your hands on his spine in the area where his saddle will sit. Then, with the tips of your fingers, gently palpate downward towards the ground. You will first feel bone (the transverse processes of the lumbar vertebrae), and then a slight rigidity (the supraspinal ligament), and finally, an area where there is a bit more give. This is his back or longissimus dorci muscle. Mark the start of this muscle and then do the same thing on your horse’s right side. Next, take your right hand and make a bridge over your horse’s back from mark to mark. Put your left hand inside that ‘bridge. The number of fingers you can get inside your bridged hand will determine how wide the gullet channel of this horse’s saddle must be.”

Then there’s Wither Clearance to be taken into account. The standard saying is “2-3 fingers” of space should be between the saddle and the withers EXCEPT for mutton-withered horses or high withered horses. That’s when that rule varies. Fantastic…


And let’s not forget Saddle Length, because nobody wants to have a saddle behind that last rib. That’s when this happens…


 Source: Horseback Magazine

But wait, we haven’t taken into account the rider at all. Now we need to talk about Seat Twist. The twist is that area of the saddle located between the thighs. The width of the twist you need is determined by the width between your upper inner thighs. This is where Jochen Schleese breaks the mold, because he believes women should not ride in a saddle designed for a man. In his words, “Because female thighs tend to angle outward at the hip and inward at the knee (known as “Q flexion”), a woman carries more weight on her upper inner thigh than a man does. When a woman sits on a saddle that is too wide in the twist, her leg is pushed forward instead of being able to hang straight down, and the knee and toe are forced out at a 45-degree angle. Not only does this make it difficult to achieve a straight line from shoulders to hips to heels, it also puts extra pressure on the hip joints, which can be quite painful.”


We also need to look at Seat Width. The width of a seat is the distance between the two sides of the seam running along the edge. Jochen has something to say about this too. “The seat bones of a female pelvis are spaced much farther apart, so when a woman rides in a “male” saddle, she sits uncomfortably on the seat seaming. The distance between the seams on the seat should be wide enough to allow the seat bones to sit on the padding. If the seat is too narrow, you’ll feel as though you’re sitting on a ridge and your seat bones will fall off the edge of the seat.”

There’s also stirrup bar positioning to consider, flap length, the shape/length/width of the tree points…

Like I said, it all gets a little overwhelming.


Now I know what a lot of you are thinking… bring out a master saddle fitter. Yeah, that would be awesome except I live in the middle of nowhere.


There are rumors of a great saddle fitter that flies into Houston (only 2+ hours away) once or twice a year! So, if I can get permission from the hosting barn owner to bring my neurotic thoroughbreds out for the day, and I can fork over $$ for gas and $$$ for the exam, then $$$$ for the reflocking, etc. I will be all set until…  my horse’s topline changes even one millimeter!


There has to be an easier way, folks. Demystifying the whole saddle construction process and saddle makers being much more open about measurements would be a great start. I know it’s a Medium, but give me an exact number… millimeters, centimeters, inches, something!

Am I alone here? Has anyone else lost his or her mind trying to buy a saddle? Shout out in the comments section.

Go Riding!

P.S. SmartPak‘s saddle trial program has been a saving grace in all this. I love their customer support. They know how to handle OCD. All I’m saying.


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