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Western Saddle Fit Maintenance

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  • Western Saddle Fit Maintenance

    Hello COTH members! This is my first post, but I've spent years occasionally stalking the forums There is a move to a different city and my possible first horse (!!!) in the foreseeable future, which will surely be accompanied by an abundance of questions. Anyhow, my first question - I just ride for fun, and I've ridden in western, h/j, and dressage saddles. But overall h/j is the most popular in my current area and English saddles are the easiest to obtain, so that's what I use. The city I'm moving to seems to be primarily western (who knew there would be such a difference in discipline in cities being 1 hour apart!) so I'll most likely just be doing trails, and selling my dressage saddle for a western saddle.

    I don't know nearly as much about western saddles, so these questions might seem a bit silly, but here goes - do western riders hire saddle fitters annually/semi-annually to check and adjust saddle fit, or is that an english thing? For example, english saddles are usually flocked with wool, and so saddle fitters are hired to ensure that the saddle still fits the horse even as he grows/changes muscle mass. The saddle can be reflocked if the wool has compressed too much or needs to be shifted to better fit the horse. I really can't see how a western saddle can be adjusted (excluding shimmable/specialty pads and whatnot) to better fit the horse, unless the skeepskin/fleece underneath can be tampered with, is that a thing? So basically, can/should the western saddle be adjusted to fit the horse, or is it just if it fits it fits, and if it doesn't it doesn't, and if your horse physically changes, you just need to get a new one?

    My second question (for now) is how much padding is needed under a western saddle. English saddles need little to no padding if they fit correctly, but of course they are flocked, and a western saddle is not. It gets very hot in southern Cali (113 degrees today ), and so I was hoping to use as little/thin padding as possible. Would a wool pad liner and a blanket on top of that be sufficient padding, provided that the saddle fits well? If not, any suggestions for western saddle pads that keep horses cool?

    Thank you in advance, I am very excited to have finally joined the forum!
    Pearly Oasis <3

  • #2
    Generally, not so much on using a saddle fitter for fitting western saddles. I notice those who ride english but switch to western seem to use a fitter more so than those strictly western.
    When ordering a custom saddle I've never had the maker come out to fit or measure a horse. They basically ask what you want. I think for most people who've grown up cowboying you kinda get taught what works and what doesn't. Plus a western saddle is a little more forgiving on fit due to pads rather than relying on flocking.

    A lot of people will say you can't fix saddle fit with pads. Yes and no. It depends on the issue and how severe it is. If that wasnt the case I wouldn't be able to ride multiple horses in the same(quality) saddle with just pad and blanket adjustments for hours a day. And be able to rope off of them with out cutting them in half with my cinches and soring them.

    To answer #2, pad thickness depends on your saddle fit and what you're doing. Short answer on a well fitted saddle light to moderate riding a 1/2" pad is probably sufficient. I get my saddles made to fit a bit bigger so I can sufficiently pad a big horse on a long day with out stuffing him in it. Some use the analogy of wearing multiple pairs of socks in a tight fitting boot.
    I do not recommend synthetic pads. A quality wool pad like a 5 star, Toklat Cool back or even a Diamond is the best for breathing and moisture wicking in my opinion.
    Otherwise you can risk burning a horses back.

    good luck!

    Comment


    • #3
      www.rodnikkel.com is an excellent resource about western saddle fit.

      Also, like women's jeans, there is no standard for sizing -- one maker's "wide" is another's "medium." You have to try them on your horse.

      Also, as the Rod Nikkel site will teach you, gullet width and seat size can be anything depending upon how the tree is made and who is measuring!

      Lastly, seat size. Most are measured from fork to top of cantle, but depending upon whether the fork or cantle are more straight up or laid back, that measure will change, even though the seat hasn't.. What you really need to measure is "thigh room," the distance between the bottom of the swell to the bottom of the cantle - where your thigh will go.

      Congrats on your move and soon-to-be equine partner. It was 113 In Venture today, too.

      Comment


      • #4
        Why not just get settled and see what shakes out wrt riding? You've kind of moved, changed disciplines, bought your first horse and a new saddle - all in your head - and now you are worried about having the saddle you don't have fitting the horse you don't have. Please don't be losing sleep over this.

        Rod Nikkel is going to try to sell you on his tree. It's his marketing website.

        If your western saddle fits good, you don't need several inches of padding. I use a 3/8 inch wool felt pad and a single layer blanket over that. Both can go in the washing machine. You don't need to spend $XXX on a saddle pad.

        English saddles need to be reflocked because the wool compresses and may shift. If a Western saddle has flocking, it can be reflocked. Those that aren't flocked, they don't have this problem.

        The whole "keep the back cool" ideology is flawed. A horse that is working heats up - all over. The friction generated from having a saddle on his back causes sweat on his back. There is no such thing as "burning" a horse's back.
        "When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in a confederacy against him."

        Comment


        • #5
          Hi Palm Beach! I beg to differ on Rod's site -- I didn't find a marketing slant at all. They have a lot of articles about tree construction, the differences between the fork and bar styles, options on rigging position, etc. I certainly found it valuable when I was looking at used western saddles.

          Don't disagree with anything else! Less padding, wool plus thin blanket, (are there western saddles that are flocked??), letting it shake out.

          Horse-shopping is no fun, quickly followed by saddle shopping, lol!

          Comment


          • #6
            Never seen a western saddle that was flocked. I've also been reading on Rod Nikkel's website for years and never felt a need to buy a custom tree from him. in fact, "As of summer, 2016, we are no longer building saddle trees." It is by far the best place I've found to learn about western trees, saddle fit, and how the western saddle & horse's back interact.

            Not sure if their website is still working. Here is a YouTube video:

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mWoORDN8_R8

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by myamego View Post
              The city I'm moving to seems to be primarily western (who knew there would be such a difference in discipline in cities being 1 hour apart!) so I'll most likely just be doing trails, and selling my dressage saddle for a western saddle .
              If you are comfortable trail riding in your dressage saddle, do it! Don't go changing your saddle b/c of peer pressure.

              By all means, if you really want a Western saddle, great! But you don't NEED a western saddle to trail ride.

              Originally posted by myamego View Post
              I don't know nearly as much about western saddles, so these questions might seem a bit silly, but here goes - do western riders hire saddle fitters annually/semi-annually to check and adjust saddle fit, or is that an english thing?

              So basically, can/should the western saddle be adjusted to fit the horse, or is it just if it fits it fits, and if it doesn't it doesn't, and if your horse physically changes, you just need to get a new one?
              It is not very common at all to use a western saddle fitter, primarily b/c you CANNOT alter a western saddle tree like you can an English. Yes, there are custom Western saddle fitters that will make custom Western saddles. But once the saddle is made, it's made. You cannot alter it to alter fit.

              Western saddle fitting is similar to English, in that the same basic principles remain the same. You want even contact all along the tree, and you don't want any bridging (gaps) or any pressure points. You also don't want a tree that is too long.

              However, I find Western saddle fitting to be much more difficult because it is harder to see what's going on with the tree under all that saddle leather, and you cannot alter a Western Saddle.

              I also suggest reading the Rod Nikkel site. He has very good information about saddle fitting (and I've never felt that the was trying to sell something.)

              Another good site is this one.

              Another key point on Western saddle fit is you CANNOT compare one brand to another. (I like the analogy on women's jeans! You might wear a size 6 in one brand but wear a size 10 in another brand.) Even trees within the same brand will differ slightly and fit differently. I don't think I can post the link, but Stoney Saddles on Facebook has an excellent video on how two saddles can have the same gullet measurement but fit 100% different.

              You will not know if a western saddle fits the horse until you try it on. There are templates that can get you in the ballpark, but even they can be wrong.

              Be prepared -- Western saddle fitting is maddening, LOL!


              Originally posted by myamego View Post

              My second question (for now) is how much padding is needed under a western saddle. English saddles need little to no padding if they fit correctly, but of course they are flocked, and a western saddle is not. It gets very hot in southern Cali (113 degrees today ), and so I was hoping to use as little/thin padding as possible. Would a wool pad liner and a blanket on top of that be sufficient padding, provided that the saddle fits well? If not, any suggestions for western saddle pads that keep horses cool?
              If your western saddle fits well, you don't need a pad that is thick. A 1/2" is plenty for a saddle that fits well. But you DO need to use a pad or blanket of some kind. The horse needs some sort of cushion.

              I personally a big fan of 5 Star saddle pads. They are very high quality and they holdup very well to hard wear and tear. And their wool is oh-so-soft.

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

              Comment


              • #8

                "The whole "keep the back cool" ideology is flawed. A horse that is working heats up - all over. The friction generated from having a saddle on his back causes sweat on his back. There is no such thing as "burning" a horse's back."

                You can, especially using a non perforated neoprene pad.
                And after several hours on a hot day with no air under a saddle on a horse, depending on how sensitive he is, can get skin sore. Which is called "burned" but probably not in the literal sense you are thinking.
                With that said I believe there were studies done on the effects of neoprene support boots causing issues if left on and trapping heat.
                But I'm no scientist.

                Comment

                • Original Poster

                  #9
                  Aces N Eights - Thank you, that is the exact response that I was looking for! And I will definitely get pads that are 100% wool, I like to stick with natural fibers now anyway, such as cotton and sheepskin.

                  BlueDrifter - So that's how you measure western saddle seat size! Good to know.

                  Palm Beach - You're absolutely right, I love to plan ahead and analyze, haha. I'm not worried about saddle fit, as I know that I will have plenty of choices in good quality used western saddles where I'm going. Our hot summers just got me thinking, if my horse already sweats with just a thin cotton pad and light English saddle, then how hot is he going to get with a heavy western saddle and thick blanket?

                  beau159 - Thank you for all of your advice! I do find my dressage saddle incredibly comfy, but I have to admit that western saddles do have more security. I've also been considering the fact that western saddles spread weight over a larger surface area and might be more comfortable for the horse on hours of trails. Do you have an opinion on that?
                  Pearly Oasis <3

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by myamego View Post
                    Our hot summers just got me thinking, if my horse already sweats with just a thin cotton pad and light English saddle, then how hot is he going to get with a heavy western saddle and thick blanket?
                    Comparing Australian saddles with cotton pads to western saddles with wool felt...I think the latter works better in desert heat. Cotton seems to hold on to the sweat - as it does with my clothing. Wool felt seems to absorb or, when there is excess, lets it flow better than cotton. Don't know about hot AND humid.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by myamego View Post
                      beau159 - Thank you for all of your advice! I do find my dressage saddle incredibly comfy, but I have to admit that western saddles do have more security. I've also been considering the fact that western saddles spread weight over a larger surface area and might be more comfortable for the horse on hours of trails. Do you have an opinion on that?
                      So long as the saddle FITS, it should not matter what type of saddle you are using for hours on the trail. The horse will be comfortable.

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

                      Comment

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