How to Find the Right Saddle

In the former post of some days ago, I elaborately talked about CHOOSING the right saddle. Especially how do you find the right saddle and other stuff for your horse loving daughters? My girls love every horse related gift so I want them to be happy when they finally ride a horse.

So, how do you FIND such a saddle? Well, after buying and trying a dozen other saddles, and asking the same question that you are asking, I decided the only answer was to design my saddle… a long and arduous process that has resulted in today’s Don West “Signature Series” Pleasure-Trail Saddles.

They’re made and sold by Have Saddle-Will Travel, Inc. To accomplish this, I took what I felt was the best of English, Western, Australian, Spanish, and South American Saddles, and incorporated them into one Pleasure-Trail Saddle. But the most important part is still the tree. If the tree doesn’t fit the horse’s back correctly (comfortably), none of the other issues will matter.

To tell if a tree fits properly you need not take measurements, make casts, etc. etc. In today’s saddle world, and I talked about that in my post on CHOOSING the right saddle a couple of days ago, the fact of the matter is that very few custom saddle makers make their trees. If and when they do, they are very, very expensive. Tree makers, who make a living by making trees, won’t build bars to your measurements. They guess what tree they have that comes closest to your gullet measurement.

That leaves the curve of your horses back out of the formula.  The curve of your horse’s back is more important than gullet width.  So, unless you happen to get lucky, all you’re measuring has probably accomplished nothing, and in case of an emergency, you won’t be prepared for whatever comes your way. 

In today’s world, the best way to see if a saddle fit is still to take the bare tree and put it on your horses back…before the saddle is built on it.  Put the ends of the bars (in front) behind the shoulder blades – snuggled up to them if the tree has good flair at the bar ends. See also these horse training tips.

Now, look to see, does the tree bridge? Do the bars make good even contact from pommel to cantle? Does the tree rock back and forth – a little for light riders, and more for heavier riders – to accommodate the rider’s weight (as that weight lowers the horse’s back)? Does the saddletree put the rider in the sweet spot? Does it look like the tree sits balanced, not leaning the rider forward or backward? If the tree meets all these tests (while the horse is standing with its head straight ahead and in its natural working position), it will almost assuredly be O.K.…good enough. I already worked on that in an earlier post.

If the saddletree looks like it is riding too high in front, opening up the gullet width might well solve the problem.  This is something that tree makers can do fairly easily. If it is too low, you might need to narrow the gullet width a bit. Remember, this isn’t rocket science. There is only so much you can do with pieces of wood placed against muscle and bone. Good enough is usually good enough. The problem is that so many production trees fit so poorly. That’s because they were all originally designed for Quarter Horses and arena roping.

Most horses are very tolerant, but even they can only stand so much discomfort for so long. If we don’t pay attention to the subtle signs they give us at first, they are sometimes forced into using stronger means to tell us.  Some folks don’t get the message until they get hurt. In your case, it sounds like you are already listening to your horse. That’s great! Good luck and happy trails.