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, very few any 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 common sizes that fit a lot of horses, and those are the western saddle trees for sale in most of the mainstream industry supplies. We are breeding and cross-breeding horse breeds from around the world as well as crossing carts and workhorses 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 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.
The majority of production saddle manufacturers offer a single tree that will fit all horses. Some manufacturers offer Semi, QH, and full QH sizes, but none of these sizes are interchangeable between makers. Some companies sell trees in different gullet widths, assuming that changing the width in one small area will solve all fit issues. Many vendors will offer one or two larger tree sizes and shim them to fit, hoping that the extra padding will go unnoticed. Some people construct trees for various breeds, believing that all that breeds have backs that are similar. Some people take the advice that someone had a horse that looked just like yours and that this saddle worked well, even though the manufacturer has changed the tree shape many times over the years. There is always the person that has 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 it is not complicated some say it is very complicated. Some make-up imaginary issues that will cripple your horse for life if you don’t correct the issue right away. With the 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 3D back profiling system, which provides us with angle measurements every 2 inches in the saddle fit area, the rock, the saddle fit area length, and whither length. This gives us the twist of the tree for a western saddle tree.
Measuring is the missing puzzle piece in saddle fit.
Photo at right, looking at the underside of a bare tree from the front down the at 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 twist of the tree to match your horse’s back all along the back is the key to distributing weight evenly 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.
Being able to quantify and communicate this info when looking at your existing western saddle, looking for a new saddle, or looking a how your horse has changed over time is the missing puzzle piece.
What will affect saddle tree fit?
Generally speaking, it is the total surface area of the bars that actually make contact with the horse’s back (the longissimus muscles). The weight of the rider 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, wider and more balanced the rider is over the middle of the bars the lower the PSI (pounds per square inch).
Most tree makers talk about gullet width to solve rock issues. Rock is the curve of the back in the area where the custom western saddle tree sits.
Wither length and shape
A longer or shorter wither is seldom considered when measuring a horse’s back, yet 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 then this is usually the type of tree they have.
Gullet clearance at the back of the handhold
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.
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