Hi all, I need some guidance on fitting a Western saddle - I didn't think it would be much different from English but so far it seems to be to me. When I bought my Appendix mare the owner (a friend) sent her tack along with her but I ended up giving it back to her because it didn't look like it fit at all, which wasn't a surprise because the mare was really tender and sore in the shoulders and neck for a couple of weeks after she got here. I've ridden her in a friends treeless and she did fabulous (I'm still trying to find a dressage saddle for her but it's not priority because we're trying to get her navicular under control *sigh*). So now my neighbor is selling a cute little Western Arab saddle for a great price and I thought it would be nice to have for trail riding. I brought it over the other day to see if it fit my Arab mare and it didn't fit her - it dug in in the front the exact same way the other saddle fit my QH. Interestingly though, I tried it on the QH (much more narrow than the Arab) and it seems to dig in on her as well. Now, when I say it's "digging in", I only mean that when I set the saddle on the naked back it feels like the front of the tree is putting pressure in a way that would be very uncomfortable. So I took it back to her and looked at the way her saddles fit a couple of her horses and to ME, they looked too narrow. All of them . When I mentioned it to someone else she thought I was just used to an English fit and I'm forgetting that the Western pads are very thick. Ummmm.......someone please tell me that a tree is a tree and I'm seeing it correctly and that if I wanted, I should be able to use a thin pad under a Western saddle if it's fitting as good as it should. I really want to have a Western saddle to use, but seriously, after looking at several saddles on several horses I wouldn't sit in one without feeling guilty. I'm hoping these are really bad examples.
I have a very large, very wide roping saddle that my step dad sent me but I've never put the beast on anyone yet because really I'm keeping it for sentimental reasons. I may try it on tomorrow though.
First off People do use really thick pads on their western saddles, but ideally western saddles should fit properly without a pad at all...just like an English saddle. Western saddle do fit differently but the principles are the same. 2 or 3 finger clearance over and around the withers. The bars should rest evenly across the whole back -make sure it is not on the spine -but the seat should not go past the "floating rib". You should have the saddle fit behind the scapula not on top of it (a lot of Western people put their saddles too far forward!!!!!)
A thick pad can help fill in very small problems-like my horse has slight atrophy behind the shoulder just under the withers so I ride in an SMX air ride Ortho pad with a build up area to help the saddle fit better and more evenly there...but that expensive pad wouldn't help a bit if the tree was too wide or too narrow or the bars were crooked etc...
Sorry I don't have any advice. I hate fitting western saddles. I think I've finally decided that an older Circle Y Arab tree fits my QH with a special pad. So I almost never ride her western because I'm not confident that it fits perfectly.
Thanks Izzy, I appreciate the confirmation that I'm looking for a correct fit, it's just that I had a bad sample. I went out this morning and heaved that giant roping saddle onto my STB mare (built like a barrel), and it fits her so much better than the saddles I tried on the others - sadly, I have no interest in riding her in a Western saddle because I don't trail ride with her. It laid nicely across her back with no digging anywhere. But there is hope that there are better fitting saddles out there!
LovelyBay do you feel like the bars pinch the are behind the shoulders/withers if you have it one her without a pad? This is what I was seeing with the other saddles and on my neighbors' horses. It didn't look comfortable at all.
Her old saddle was pinching/pressing her shoulders, and I could feel it without a pad just while she was standing. I felt really bad.
Now I can't detect any pinching. When I was first trying out the saddle that I have now, we put a part of a white sheet under the saddle and just a thin Navajo for a little padding and worked her in it. My horse immediately started stretching her neck down and moving better, and she was more willing. We used the white sheet to see any spots where the saddle wasn't making good contact with her back, and she was shedding so you could see the spots where the saddle was making "more" contact. We did this with the old saddle too just for a comparison. There is a spot behind her shoulder where the new saddle doesn't make contact with her back, but I've seen some custom western pads that will minimize this. It's about the size of my hand.
Around here no one seems to care if there western saddle fits or not. Everyone just throws one on and away they go! I live in a small area so there aren't any saddle fitters either. Sorry I'm not much help. Hopefully you can find someone in your area that you can trust and can give you feedback.
Oh, I can commiserate with you though. When I gave the saddle back to the girl I bought my QH from she told me she was going to use it on some other friends horse. I doubt it even crossed her mind that the saddle may not fit that horse. We don't have any local fitters here either, or even saddle repair for that matter.
If a western saddle is that tight at the front of the tree, it doesn't fit the horse. Western trees come in a billion shapes and sizes - they're really really not standard. If you're going to look for one to buy it's helpful to work with a saddle fitter - even if it's by email. I use the fitter at a shop about 100 miles from me - I've trailered a couple of horses down there, but they've also been really nice about looking at photos and giving advice and then shipping saddles for trial.
A lot of times horses need either a wider tree than they're in, or they need one with more flair at the shoulders. At the same time, trees with good shoulder flair sometimes have too much rocker (curve) from front to back for straighter horses.
It helps to look at the angle of the front of the saddle compared to the angle of the horse's shoulders. They should be parallel to each other. If not, there will be pinching or the saddle will sit too low on the withers.
If that looks good, then run you hand under the bars from front to back. You want fairly even pressure from front to back. Also, run your hand down the front of the saddle from top to bottom, where the shoulders are. There should be no pinching, just an even fit.
And you need the wither clearance as mentioned by a previous poster. I check for fit with no pad first. Then I like to throw on a pad and make sure there is still plenty of clearance and no pinching.
I found making a wither tracing and carrying around with me really helped with shopping. And lots of people do place Western saddles too far forward. Every time I put my saddle on, I make sure that the tree is behind the scapula.
I just went to a horse show to help a friend with her students. One of the horses was in a western saddle, and while I know little at all about western riding I knew that it was too far forward - I asked dad to take it off and we moved it back and the little mare was so much happier! This was a little Arab and it seems like the shoulder was really deep and the skirt was bothering her.