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Choosing a Western Saddle/Western Saddle Fit

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  • Choosing a Western Saddle/Western Saddle Fit

    Hello! I know there are many posts such as this and I apologize in advance for that but I'd appreciate any feedback I can get for my exact situation. My boyfriend has been learning to ride over the past few months (and been doing quite well/enjoying it) to the point where we may plan a camping trip or two with the horses this summer and may start doing more trailering around for trail rides, etc. He's expressed that he would be interested in riding western if that were an option. I'm an eventer, but I did board at a primarily reining barn in college and enjoyed working those horses/experiencing a different type of riding. I even put my QH in a few of the classes at the casual western shows the barn hosted a few times (these class names could be wrong, but I think we did western pleasure, a reining pattern and a few timed events) and he seemed to enjoy it.

    So I'm beginning to casually search for a versatile western saddle that both of us could use. Based on the research I've done so far, I think a 16" would work for both of us (I'm about 5'6" and 135 and he's about 5'10" and 150). I'm wanting to find something lightweight for the sake of my horses' backs, comfortable for longer stints of riding, versatile, and non-restrictive (able to post if desired, etc.). The two horses this would be going on are a QH that wears an x-wide tree in the Bates/Wintec models and a paint that wears a medium wide (the x-wide fits him fine with a filler pad on the few occasions I've needed him to wear the QH's saddle).

    My questions are:

    - Is a 16" the right size for both of us?
    - What styles of western saddle would you recommend for what we're wanting (emphasis on lightweight)?
    - What tree size would you recommend? (Is this there one that could work for both horses or am I crazy and we'd need two different ones? If so, which size for each horse?)
    - Are there any brands you recommend? I'll be searching for something used and fairly cheap (under $500) and would prefer leather.

    Thank you in advance!

  • #2
    Your seat size may depend upon the saddle style: most seat size are measured from swell to cantle, but depending upon whether the saddle is slick fork or has an upright cantle, the seat size can change although the actual room for your butt and thigh remains the same. So what you are really interested in is the "thigh space" -- between the swells and the edge of the cantle where it meets the seat. You don't want the cantle digging in and you need a couple inches so you are not right up against the swells. That said, barrel-racers and ropers like a tighter fitting saddle, cutters and reiners like a bigger seated saddle so they can move. I'd say you both are right on the cusp of a 16" and might prefer a 15"

    Tree sizes vary with maker -- so one full quarter horse bars might be another's version of regular QH bars. You need to try them. Chances are it is FQH bars, but it can be a crapshoot. Under $500 means "used" and older used saddles might be narrower as horses were narrower, so an old FQH might be narrower than a new one.

    I thought Allegheny Mountain saddles had some interesting ones, but I haven't looked for used ones. I am a fan of older Orthoflexes, but they still run about $900, Martin makes wider ones and has partnered with Cashel to create a lightweight trail model. Smartpakequine has a try out program for them, but they still remain $2k-ish. A lot of people like Tucker..

    Saddle shopping is right up there with least-favorite-things-to-do, only because it is so hard! Good luck


    • #3
      Originally posted by HeartHorses422 View Post

      - Is a 16" the right size for both of us?
      Sounds about right for him. Probably too large for you.

      What size saddles have you ridden in before? I would guesstimate you'd be comfortable in a 15 inch.

      Originally posted by HeartHorses422 View Post

      - What styles of western saddle would you recommend for what we're wanting (emphasis on lightweight)?
      Barrel saddles tend to be more lightweight. But if you are wanting something more versatile, that might not be your first choice. With that said, that's all I ride with are barrel saddles and I do local showing and log LOTS of miles on the trail.

      But as long as the saddle fits properly, a heavier western saddle is NOT going to hurt your horse's back. They distribute the weight over much larger area than an English saddle does. Plus if you think about it, there is a 15 pound difference between you and your BF. Does that make your horse more uncomfortable? Probably not. So comparing a 25 pound western saddle to a 35 pound western saddle probably won't make much difference to the horse either (you'll just notice when you are tossing it up there!).

      As far as posting, the style of saddle does not matter. You can post in anything. Just like you can post with no saddle at all (although that's usually quite a workout!!).

      Originally posted by HeartHorses422 View Post
      - What tree size would you recommend? (Is this there one that could work for both horses or am I crazy and we'd need two different ones? If so, which size for each horse?)
      Horses aren't like shoe sizes. There is no standard in the western industry. One brand's semi QH bars might fit like another's full QH bars or vice versa.

      It's like how in one brand of women's jeans you wear a size 6 and in a different brand you are a size 10. No standard!!

      If one horse needs an extra-wide in English and the other needs a medium, I would think you are NOT going to find one saddle that fits them both. I would probably start your search with a full QH bars for the one that needs an English extrawide, and start looking for a semi for the one that needs a medium.

      Best thing you can do is take your horses to a tack shop with lots of western saddles in stock. Then you can try them on your horse and you can sit in them yourself. Like an English saddle, it is best to sit in a western saddle when it is on the horse. It will feel totally difference on a saddle rack.

      You won't know if a saddle fits until you try it on.
      To start educating yourself, check out this website and also this one on saddle fit.

      Originally posted by HeartHorses422 View Post
      - Are there any brands you recommend? I'll be searching for something used and fairly cheap (under $500) and would prefer leather.
      If you are looking for a NEW saddle under $500, forget it. They will all be junk.

      Now if you are open for a used saddle, you sometimes can find older saddles that are still in good condition for that price. Personally, I really like the older Tex Tan and older Hereford saddles. They just don't make them like that anymore.

      As with anything, you get what you pay for!
      Last edited by beau159; May. 29, 2018, 06:45 PM. Reason: Fixed my quotes.
      It is not enough to know how to ride; one must know how to fall.


      • Original Poster

        Originally posted by beau159 View Post

        Sounds about right for him. Probably too large for you.

        What size saddles have you ridden in before? I would guesstimate you'd be comfortable in a 15 inch.
        All of my English saddles are 17.5 (I'm very long in the femur and actually probably closer to 5'7" than 5'6" if that makes a difference.

        Originally posted by beau159 View Post

        Now if you are open for a used saddle, you sometimes can find older saddles that are still in good condition for that price. Personally, I really like the older Tex Tan and older Hereford saddles. They just don't make them like that anymore.
        Sorry, I should've specified, I'm not looking for something new. I'd like to find a quality used one.

        Thanks for the input on the tree size, as far as gullet measurement, how would that compare to the measurements of their English saddles?

        Thanks so much for the responses!


        • #5
          Originally posted by HeartHorses422 View Post

          All of my English saddles are 17.5 (I'm very long in the femur and actually probably closer to 5'7" than 5'6" if that makes a difference.
          Well for comparison, I'm between 5'7" and 5'6" myself. I ride in a 17.5 inch jumping saddle (Tad Coffin) and I'm most comfortable in a 14.5" barrel saddle (although a 15" is okay too).

          For a visual, here's me in my 14.5" barrel saddle.

          And in my 17.5" jumping saddle.

          Originally posted by HeartHorses422 View Post
          Thanks for the input on the tree size, as far as gullet measurement, how would that compare to the measurements of their English saddles?
          Gullet is only one piece of the puzzle. And you can't customize it. So if Company A has a 6.5" gullet on their full QH bar tree, that's what you've got. Maybe Company B has a 7" gullet on their full QH bar tree .... but maybe the bar angle on their tree isn't as wide as Company A so it still fits the same horse.

          If the gullet is too narrow for a particular horse, it will pinch and make the saddle "perch" on the back. If the gullet is too wide, it may appear to make the saddle look like it's pinching, but it's actually just making it sit downhill so all the pressure/weight is on the front of the saddle. Neither is desirable, although *sometimes* you can be okay with a gullet that is slightly too wide. It's never okay if the gullet is too narrow. Of course, preferable is a gullet that is just right!

          This is an example of a saddle that has the right bar angle (to match the shoulder) but the gullet is too wide. It is not touching the horse's withers but the saddle is sitting downhill. (Really apparent when you got on said horse.)
          This is the exact same saddle but in their regular tree, rather than the wide in the other picture. The gullet now appears fine but now the bars are creating a tight spot.
          Sorry the picture is sideways, but this saddle appears to look good in the gullet and the bar angle .... but there is too much rock in the tree so that the back comes up (and even worse when it is cinched).
          About 15 saddles later, I finally found one that fits quite well. He still has some dry spots behind the shoulder, but he does have a dip behind the shoulder so I don't think I'm ever going to eliminate that. But the gullet and bar angle look appropriate and it sits level.
          I didn't think my Shotgun was such a hard fit, but apparently he is!
          For the record, all of the saddles pictured were barrel saddles, in either a 14.5 or 15" seat.

          So I definately would not search with a particular gullet size in mind, because it just depends how it sits on the horse's back. You can look at it and be mindful of it, but it just depends how that saddle maker has designed their tree.

          And if you are looking for a used saddle, a lot of them may not be labeled with gullet size and it isn't totally accurate to measure AFTER the tree is assembled inside the saddle, although you can at least get yourself in the ball park. So I really would not focus on gullet width at all, and just focus on how it looks on the horse's back.

          A used saddle should have a serial number on it, that you should be able to look up with the company to find out if they classify it as a semi or full.

          It is not enough to know how to ride; one must know how to fall.


          • #6
            Maybe a good compromise would be a 15.5" , kind of in between for both of you. That said, what type of saddle? If you are just trail riding maybe a "trail" saddle. Some saddles, especially working saddles can get quite heavy 30 lbs plus; trail saddles can weigh less. You might consider a leather/synthetic comb in a trail saddle, lighter weight.

            Not in your budget but something like this?

            slightly over your budget but new and by Circle Y



            • #7
              I got a Cashel western trail saddle off ebay last August for $800.00, a little over your budget, but worth every penny if you can swing it. Nice quality, lightweight....pretty much have ridden English for 40+ years, this was easy to switch into for a western saddle-not a lot under your leg, could still feel the horse. And at 27 lbs., easy to lift.

              ....I had an advanced search set up to find it, took almost a year before one came up. Might find one somewhere else, however....good luck!


              • #8
                It's really important that you take the time to find the right saddle for your horse.

                If the gullet is too wide, it will be in contact with the withers, which is EXTREMELY PAINFUL for the horse. When buying a saddle, the most important aspect is comfort and saddle fit for the HORSE. Many horses go through lots of pain because of a poor-fitting saddle. You cannot afford to skimp in the area of purchasing a saddle because it will be at the horse's expense.

                You'll both need separate saddles.

                Although it's good to get feedback on here, it's best to actually get the horses fitted. Don't guess. Don't approximate. Again, you'll be hurting the horse. If you're looking for lightweight trail riding, I suggest using a Big Horn Cordura saddle. Cordura is lightweight and easy to clean. While they're durable, they're also very affordable.

                If you're looking to spend $500, forget it. You're going to get a crap saddle that doesn't fit your horse. Spend the money. You can get good used saddles, just not for $500 that are worth anything. Saddle brands I like are:

                Circle Y
                Billy Cook


                • #9
                  I have just been through this for a horse that was a difficult english fit.
                  What I found is with english saddles you can get an idea of what might fit based on tree types (ie stubben curved, prestige flat etc) but this is not the case with western. You basically have to try them all, as the bars appear to be different on every one.
                  My horse that appeared to be a FQHB, I tried 2 that were, one bridged laughably, one sat too high in the front, another that was semi sat on the wither, and a changeable stock saddle that has been widened as far as possible was perfect. I was losing faith.
                  Now im obsessing over the pad.....