How to fit a saddle

Top Tips for Saddle Fit

Buying a saddle through the internet may seem strange, but with innovations in leather and synthetic saddles making it possible to adjust the fit post purchase, it’s a great way to buy the saddle you want at the best price you can.

Traditionally, saddle buying involved a saddle fitter coming to your yard, to try a range of saddles on your horse, before leaving you with the one that fitted the best. However, thanks to the a new breed of saddles that feature adjustable options, it's now possible to buy a saddle very easily through the internet, and then have a saddle fitter adjust the saddle retrospectively, although some people do adjust the saddle themselves, or with the help of their instructor.

Here are our top tips for saddle buying…

Take a template

In order to work out what kind of shape your horse is, it's a good idea to take a template that can be sent to us. In order to make a template, all you need to do is get hold of a flexible piece of wire or something like a flexi curve, which can be purchased from most art stores. This is essentially a flexible ruler. You then take a template of your horse's back; this is made up of two measurements. One measurement is taken by moulding the curve over the horse's withers, where the front point of the saddle fits. Mould the curve to the horse's contours, and lift off the curve before you trace around it onto paper. The second template looks at the shape of the horse's spine, from the withers down the back. Put the flexible piece of wire where the saddle will start on the horse's withers, and go down to where you believe the saddle should finish. Again, trace onto a piece of paper. You've now created a template, which can be sent to us, or you can work out what size gullet bars you need from this drawing.

Saddle style

On the whole, adjustable saddles are designed to fit the majority of horses and ponies but, for specific breeds or for horses with specific conformation issues, a different style of saddle might be required. For example, for ponies, a saddle that is made to accommodate their wider shape can be really helpful, and the same can apply to cobs too. Having a saddle that has been created to address specific breed or conformation issues can make fitting a lot more straightforward.

Comfortable seat

Of course, the horse is not the only one who has to use the saddle, and it's really important that it suits the rider as well. Saddles come with different sized seats, and this detail refers to the rider. As a very general guide:

  • Seats up to 15" are suitable for small children and toddlers
  • Seats around 16" are suitable for the average child or small teenager
  • Seats around 17" are suitable for the average teenager or lady
  • Seats around 18" are suitable for the average man

Of course, if you have particularly long or short legs, or you have specific requirements, they should be taken into account when you're purchasing your saddle.

Choosing types

There are lots of different types of saddle to choose from, and it can be difficult to work out which one’s for you.

The General Purpose (GP) is the most common saddle as it can be used for flatwork and for jumping. This is great for the average horse owner who perhaps enjoys riding at competitions, schooling at home, and a little bit of cross country too.

For those who do more flatwork but also enjoy hacking and other activities, there are now straighter cut GPs, which can be more comfortable.

For pure dressage riders, dressage saddles offer the perfect fit as these have longer saddle flaps to accommodate the longer leg position and, usually, a deeper seat to encourage a good, deep seat position. They also have longer girth straps to ensure that the girth’s buckles don't interfere with the rider's lower leg.

Jumping and cross-country saddles are ideal for, yes, you guessed it, jumping. On the whole, these have forward cut saddle flaps to accommodate a shorter stirrup length and support the knee. Some also have modifications to the seat that make it easier to get into the jumping position, but it's a case of just looking and finding out what suits you best.

Adjustable elements

A number of saddles now have adjustable elements. Not all that long ago, adjustable gullet systems were only available in a few synthetic saddles, but now, there are adjustable fitting options in leather saddles too. The great news is that this means it's easier for you to buy a really good value saddle, and it should mean that the saddle will fit your horse, perhaps with a few adjustments. In addition, having adjustable elements means that should your horse change shape through work or condition, you can make the relevant adjustments and the saddle will still fit your horse. The most popular point of adjustment is the gullet bar, which is often interchangeable. Some saddles also offer flocking slots which can be adjusted by a saddler, adjustable girthing options to ensure that no matter what shape, the girth option you select is suitable for your horse and situation, and there are other innovative design features that allow fitting adjustments in some other saddles.

For the rider, some saddles benefit from movable knee and thigh blocks, which means you can tailor the support your saddle offers you.

For the perfect fit

It's essential that the saddle fits your horse. A saddle that doesn't fit can cause him unnecessary discomfort and even pain, which can have a negative influence on the way he behaves, his temperament, mood, and can also lead to injury. If you're in any doubt about the fit of your saddle, it's always worth consulting an expert, such as a saddle fitter. However, here are some of our top tips that you can use to monitor your horse’s saddle fit.

Make sure the horse is standing on a flat surface and square, i.e., there's a ‘leg in each corner’ and he’s not resting a leg. Put the saddle on the horse’s back. You're looking for the pommel and the cantle of the saddle to be in line and level with each other. If you're not sure, find a straight object such as a ruler, and lay it across the two points to see that the line is straight.

Next, look at the bearing surface of the saddle. This needs to have good contact along the horse's back, there should be no bridging in the centre, and it shouldn’t rock or move. At the front, there should be a good clearance from the wither, and you should be able to you look down the gullet and see daylight. The horse's spine should not be in contact with any part of the saddle.