CUSTOM WESTERN SADDLE TREE
A good saddle starts with a custom western saddle tree.
Proper western saddle fit becomes more critical; the more time a rider spends in a saddle, the longer the ride and the heavier the load. Minor imperfections in the western saddletree fit that may have little consequence on a short, once-a-week ride can cause significant soreness after a full hard day in the saddle for both horse and rider.
Western saddle trees have no standard of sizing; each manufacturer produces mostly one size, some a few sizes, and very few more than that. There is no good system for horse owners to quantify and communicate to western saddle tree makers the shape of their horse’s backs. There are standard sizes that fit a lot of horses, and those are the western saddle trees for sale in most mainstream industry supplies. Going from store to store you will most likely see the same shape of trees in different-looking saddles. We are breeding and cross-breeding horses from around the world with our riding horses, so the demand for odd shapes and sizes of saddles has increased. In the general horse population, we have seen our horses get generally wider and shorter through the back in recent years. Some say our colder weather encourages our horses to get thicker; we are probably feeding our horses better as well.
Most production saddle manufacturers offer a single tree that will fit all horses. Some manufacturers offer Semi, QH, and full QH sizes, but none are interchangeable between makers. Some companies sell trees in different gullet widths, proposing that changing the width in one area will solve all saddles fit issues. Many vendors will offer a larger tree and pad up to fit every horse, hoping that all that extra padding will go unnoticed. Some people construct trees for various breeds, believing all horses of said breeds have similar backs. Some people take the advice of a person they look up to that had a horse that looked just like yours and that this saddle perfectly, even though the manufacturer has changed the tree shape three times in the past year. There is always the person with the magic saddle that fits everything they put it on. Then there’s the custom tree maker that can make a tree to fit from a photo. Some say fitting a saddle is not complicated, and some say it is very complicated. Some makeup issues that supposedly will cripple your horse for life if you don’t correct the issue with their saddle. There are treeless saddles that will conform to any back. The flexible tree saddles that will bend to conform to any back. There is a bewildering array of saddle fit solutions on offer, it is no wonder people pull their hair out when trying to find a saddle to fit,
The first thing we do is measure your horse’s back using our Easy Saddle Fit System, which provides us with angle measurements every 2 inches in the saddle fit area, up to 5 rock curves, saddle length gullet width, and whither length.
Measuring is the missing puzzle piece in saddle fit.
The photo at right shows the underside of a bare tree from the front down the bars, gullet and channel. The bar angle changes from a narrower angle in the front to a flatter angle in the rear. The angle gradually changes, following the rock or curve of your horse’s back to give us the twist of the tree. Getting the tree twist to match your horse’s back all along the back is the key to evenly distributing weight and a comfortable fitting saddle.
Measuring the gullet area only gives you one piece of the saddle fit puzzle. Each horse’s back is unique. The length of the wither, the length of the saddle fit area, the symmetry of the back, the angle of the bars all along the back, and the curve or rocker of the back are all additional pieces to the puzzle. The rock is measured in the saddle fit area, where the bars will lie on the back. The curve or rocker is unique to that horse.
The missing part of the puzzle for horse owners was quantifying and communicating this information when looking at their existing western saddle, looking for a new saddle, or looking at how their horse has changed over time.
What will affect saddle tree fit?
Generally speaking, the total surface area of the bars needs to make contact with the horse’s back (the longissimus muscles). The rider’s weight must be balanced in the middle of the saddle to distribute their weight evenly. Below is a further breakdown of the details:
Western Saddle tree pressure
The longer and wider the bars are, and the more balanced the rider is over the middle of the bars, the lower and more equally distributed the PSI (pounds per square inch).
Rock is the curve of the horse’s back from behind the scapula to the last rib and is where the tree bars sit. Horses can vary from very little to a lot of curvature. The bars need to be of similar shape to match that curve.
Wither length and shape
A longer or shorter wither is seldom considered when measuring a horse’s back, yet it is one of the more important parts of the horse to fit.
The crown of the bar (the curve of the bar across its width from top to bottom)
More crown usually means the bars will fit more horses somewhere on that curve, but only in a narrow strip where it makes contact resulting in a hot spot on a long ride. If people say their saddle fits everything, this is usually the type of tree they have.
Gullet clearance at the back of the handhold
The handhold is the hole just behind the horn, at the front of the seat. This is usually the lowest point of the tree on the horse’s back that we can see. Have a look. With the horse in motion, the withers will rise through the tree. When riding, try putting your finger back through the handhold and feel for clearance between the horse and saddle, be careful not to get pinched. This is overlooked in most saddle-fitting documents and videos.
Channel clearance beyond the handhold
A long withered horse may make contact further back in the channel. Get a flashlight and have a look. Take a riding crop and run it thru.
Flare front and back
The tree bars should curve away from the horse’s back in front to guide the scapula under the bar and in the back so the bars don’t poke the horse while moving up and down a hill or ditch. Pockets behind the scapula can lower the saddle bar tips, so they cause interference with the scapula.
Trying to determine if your saddle is fitting correctly all along your horse’s back is difficult because first, it’s a complex series of angles and curves (rock), and second, you can’t see what’s going on underneath the saddle. Measuring in one location only cannot explain the angles and rock all along your horse’s back where the saddle will be sitting. Our Easy Saddle Fitting System captures comprehensive measurements of both horse and/or saddle so we can obtain a 3D understanding of the angles and rock all along the contact areas.
Western trees for pleasure and/or work.
We make and sell all custom saddle trees.
- Western and Cowboy Dressage
- Working Equitation
- Penning & Sorting
- Barrel Racer
- Ranch Cutter
Custom Tree FAQ
Easy Saddle Fit Kit
The Easy Saddle Fit Kit is a game-changer for equestrians because it allows them to measure their horse and saddle remotely and accurately. Here are some more points on this subject:
- The kit eliminates the guesswork and frustration of finding a saddle that fits both the horse and the rider. It also saves time and money by avoiding unnecessary trips to the tack shop or the saddle fitter.
- The kit contains a measuring device, templates, instructions, and a video tutorial. It is easy to use and can be done by anyone, even without prior experience or knowledge of saddle fitting.
- The kit precisely measures the horse’s back shape, including rock, angle, twist, gullet width, and wither length. These measurements can be used to compare different saddles and find the best match.
- The kit also helps to prevent saddle-related problems, such as soreness, injury, poor performance, or behavioural issues. A well-fitted saddle can improve the horse’s and rider’s comfort, health, and happiness.
If you want to learn more about saddle fitting in general, you can check out this saddle fitting guide from SmartPak Equine. It provides useful information on how to tell if your saddle fits correctly and which type of saddle suits your riding needs.
Some articles on saddle fit.
The Easy Saddle Fit Kit is a comprehensive tool that provides everything you need to measure your horse and saddle remotely and accurately. The kit includes a measuring device, templates, instructions, and a video tutorial that can be accessed online. The instructions are available for download, and pictures are taken at each step of the measuring process to ensure that you are doing it correctly. Additionally, you can contact the company by phone or video app if you need any assistance during the process.