Gear Riding Tips

Simplifying Saddle Fit for English + Western Riders

dressage saddle on a horse
mm
Written by Natalie Gasper

Saddle Savvy Measurements

There are so many different saddles to choose from that the process can be overwhelming. Once you’ve decided the type of saddle you want, you have to make sure it fits your horse (and you). Unlike socks, saddles aren’t one size fits most! We’ll cover everything you need to know to make you and your horse a happy couple.

Saddle fit is extremely important, for both you and your horse. Seat size is key for the rider and gullet size is key for the horse. A too-narrow gullet can pinch, cause pain, and even lead to permanent damage.

For horses, saddles are often described as narrow, medium, and wide (English) or, with Western saddles, SQHB (Semi Quarter Horse Bars) and FQHB (Full Quarter Horse Bars). It will take some time to find the right fit for you and your horse, so don’t be afraid to try different saddles to see what works best. When in doubt, work with a saddle fitter.

Saddle Sizing Basics

Proper saddle size, for horse and rider, can make all the difference.

Too small, and your horse’s back is pinched. Too big, and it won’t sit right.

Likewise, a seat that’s too small (or too big) makes maintaining a proper position difficult.

Anatomy of a Saddle

The parts of the saddle that you need to know for measurements include:

Gullet

The gullet is the underside of the seat. It’s the channel that runs the length of the pommel to the cantle. The gullet sits above your horse’s spine.

Tree

People, mistakenly, refer to the tree as the gullet. The tree is actually the frame of the saddle.

Flap Length (English)

Flap length is measured from the stirrup bar (the metal bar that is used to attach the stirrup leathers) to the bottom of the flap.

Fender Length (Western)

The fender is the long strap of leather that connects the stirrup to the body of the saddle.

Seat

The seat of a saddle is where you sit.

dressage saddle seat measurement

Source: Canva

How Saddles Are Sized

There are three main measurements to consider: seat size, tree size, and gullet size.

Seat Size (Rider)

Most saddles come in full and half-inch sizes (i.e., 15 inches, 16.5 inches). With English saddles, measure the saddle from the button on the pommel to the center of the cantle (the measuring tape will be at an angle). With Western saddles, measure from the base of the horn to the top of the cantle.

Tree Size (Horse)

This is where saddle measurements can get confusing, as both trees and gullets are often described with the same terms (narrow, medium, wide, and extra wide).

For the sake of simplicity, gullet size is about your horse’s spine, and tree size is about your horse’s shoulders.

Let’s say you’re fitting a draft horse and you choose a saddle with a wide gullet. If you don’t also take into account tree size, the saddle may allow enough room around the spine, but pinch the horse’s shoulders.

English: Gullet

Narrow, Medium, Wide, Extra Wide

Western: Bars

Full, Semi QH

Gullet Sizing

Gullet size is all about the width of your horse’s spine, measured from ligament to ligament (most horses will be between 1.5 and 3 inches).

Not sure if the gullet is the right size? Place the saddle on your horse without a pad, then look at him from behind.

If the panels are too close to the spine, the gullet is too narrow (typically, this means you can barely fit two fingers in the channel). The panels should sit comfortably on either side of the spine (many horses are comfortable with a three-finger width in the gullet channel).

The gullet should be the same width from the pommel to the cantle (it shouldn’t narrow). This will ensure maximum comfort and support for your horse.

How do I know what size gullet I need?

The easiest way is to put a saddle on your horse and see where the panels rest. As a general guide, Arabians and Thoroughbreds often fit narrow gullets, and rounder breeds (like Warmbloods and Quarter Horses) often need wide gullets.

English Saddle Sizing

Let’s talk about how to measure you and your horse for an English saddle.

How To Measure Yourself for An English Saddle

Sit in a chair, feet flat on the ground (your knees should be at a 45-degree angle). With your bottom touching the back of the chair, measure your thigh from the end of your knee to the back part of your bottom. If you’re between sizes, go up.

Measurement Saddle Size
Less than 16.5″ 15″ saddle
Between 16.5″ and 18.5″ 16″ saddle
Between 18.5″ and 20″ 16.5″ saddle
Between 20″ and 21.5″ 17″ saddle
Between 21.5″ and 23″ 17.5″ saddle
More than 23″ 18″ saddle

How To Measure Your Horse for An English Saddle

To check gullet size, place a saddle on your horse and see where the panels sit around their spine. Nowadays, most horses need at least a medium gullet, though many benefit from a wide.

If you’re unsure which gullet size to start with, you can always use a flexible piece of wire to measure your horse’s withers. Lay the wire over the withers, about two inches behind the shoulder blades, then gently bend so it rests against your horse’s skin. Lay the wire on a piece of paper, trace it, and measure.

Gullet Size Inches
Narrow 6”
Medium 6.5”
Wide 7”
Extra Wide 8”

Like with seat size, better to go up when it comes to gullets.

Fun fact: If you need a Western saddle, but you usually ride English, the general rule of thumb is that Western seat sizes are a bit smaller.

Rookie Real Life: I usually ride an 18” English saddle and a 16.5” Western (if I have to pick 16” or 17,” I’ll pick 17”).

Another Horse Rookie staffer rides in a 16.5″ English saddle and a 16″ Western saddle padded to a 15″.

Western Saddle Sizing

Let’s talk about how to measure you and your horse for a Western saddle.

How To Measure Yourself for A Western Saddle

Western saddles vary widely in design, so the best way is B.I.S. (butt in seat). Generally, you should be able to fit three fingers between your thigh and the swell. Barrel riders may prefer a tighter fit. The average adult will need a 15” or 16” saddle. Larger riders will be more comfortable in a 17” or 18” saddle.

How To Measure Your Horse for A Western Saddle

Like with seat design, Western saddles don’t have standardized measurements. The seat should extend past your horse’s last rib, the skirt should end before the point of the hip, and you should be able to fit several fingers between the saddle and your horse’s withers.

Make sure the saddle is level without a saddle pad (if it’s tipping up or down, it doesn’t fit right). High in the front means the gullet is too narrow. High in the back means the gullet is too wide.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How do you measure a Western saddle tree?

Western trees are complex. There are two main measurements you need to know for the best fit: gullet width (measured from two inches below the narrowest part of the gullet), and bar angle.

Q: What is considered a wide gullet on a saddle?

For Western saddles, 7 inches is wide. For English saddles, 4 fingers is wide.

Q: What is the dot-to-dot measurement on a saddle?

This is the most accurate way to measure an English saddle’s tree width, and refers to measuring between the two dots on the pommel of the English saddle. These dots are also used to measure the seat size on an English saddle (one dot diagonally back to the center of the cantle).

Q: What does a 7-inch gullet mean?

A 7-inch gullet, referred to as Full Quarter Horse Bars, is a wide gullet for a Western saddle.

Q: Why is gullet size important?

A gullet protects your horse’s spine and helps evenly distribute your weight. A too-narrow gullet can cause pain and possibly permanent damage.

Q: What is a gullet vs. pommel?

The gullet runs underneath the saddle above your horse’s spine. The pommel is at the front/top of the saddle.

Parting Thoughts

Measuring a saddle can be complicated, and getting the right fit is paramount for a great ride. Don’t be afraid to use a professional saddle fitter to ensure the best fit, for you and your horse.

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About the author

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Nancy loves retraining off the track Thoroughbreds and working with her dogs!