When horses were the chief mode of transportation, they were bred to a somewhat uniform conformation within breeds. A saddle was a big investment and often had to last many horses. A horse that didn’t fit your saddle was usually put to work in harness. After WWII horse use began to transition from working animals to pleasure and 3 common sizes of trees emerged to fit the Quarter Horse: regular, semi and full Quarter Horse fits.
These definitions worked well in the beginning, but as time went on Quarter Horses were bred for specialized events, more bloodlines were crossed into the Quarter Horse, and horses that were previously used in harness were now being ridden. These new horses come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes; a challenge to the saddle industry. Riders are demanding a higher level of performance from their horses and becoming more aware of the problems poor fit can cause.
Hard to fit horses are frequently described as ‘unusual’ shaped horses because every off-the-rack saddle they’ve tried doesn’t fit. As horse owners make the rounds of tack shops they hear similar phrases to describe the fit that the shop carries: semi Quarter Horse, Quarter Horse, and full Quarter Horse or 7, 8, 9 & 10-inch spread. They assume that there must some common standard for saddle sizing but unfortunately there is none. Each tree maker, therefore every saddle maker and therefore each saddle shop has their own idea of how a similarly labelled tree is shaped. Enhancing the problem is that most shops don’t have a way of measuring your horse’s back or a way of comparing the actual shape of the saddles from different makers. There are common body types within each breed and a well-designed tree will fit a range of these horses; the middle of that range will fit the best but horses on either side will generally be comfortable with short & light work because of the large surface area of most western saddles.
A good metaphor for saddle fit might be comparing it to a backpack. Soft backpacks without a frame are comfortable for carrying a lighter load, but as the load gets larger, if the load shifts with each step, the time on your back gets longer or the faster you try to move with the pack, the more uncomfortable it is, and the more it digs into your shoulders. Put the same load in a hiking backpack with a frame that secures the load, holds it close to your back and distributes the weight between your hips and shoulder and it becomes much more comfortable. Just as a well-fitted hiking backpack is comfortable for a person, so is a well-fitted saddle to a horse. As a horse is ridden over longer distances, at higher speeds or by heavier riders, proper fit becomes more important
Proper fit is achieving contact between the tree and the horse’s back over as large an area as possible, keeping pressure off the spine, tendons and reflex points, giving the shoulders room to move and stabilizing the rider in a balanced position in alignment with the horse’s centre of gravity. Each riding discipline benefits from slight variations in saddle fit. For example, a barrel racing tree gives more flair on the bar ends so that the saddle does not dig in when bending around the barrels. Cutting trees have a flatter rear rafter angle to allow the rear of the saddle to float across the horse’s back and not lock the horse’s rear end to its front. There are as many of these slight variations as there are disciplines but in general, more contact means less pressure per square inch and thus less likelihood of restricted blood flow and skin/muscle trauma.
At Easy Fit Saddles we are committed to ensuring a proper fit for both horse and rider. Before trying any saddle on your horse we take measurements of his back and assess symmetry. We talk to the rider about what riding disciples they are involved in and the features they would like. And finally, we take rider measurements to ensure proper sizing. When the saddle is built the rider or their saddle fitter can fine tune the saddle to ensure the ultimate fit. As the horse changes shape over time, the saddle can be refitted to accommodate those changes.
The quality and fit of the saddle tree to the horse and rider will improve performance, comfort and ultimate satisfaction with the finished saddle.
The quality and fit of the saddle tree to the horse and rider will improve performance, comfort and ultimate satisfaction with the finished saddle. Poor saddle fit can cause pain and trauma to your horse, which often manifests as a training issue or poor performance. Horse’s backs are all unique, they change throughout their life-cycle, degrees of fitness, and many are not symmetrical. At Easy Fit Saddles we are committed to ensuring a proper fit for your horse now and in the future.