What type saddle you buy, whether it is for roping, or barrel racing or trail riding or dressage, your saddle needs to fit first your horse, and then you. So first you must determine what tree size would fit your horse best. (The tree is the skeleton over which your saddle will be constructed.)
We recommend that you use a 42cm (about 16 ½”) long flexible piece of wire, such as solder, electrical wire, or perhaps a coat hanger to measure your horses' withers. Bend the wire in the middle and place it two fingers behind your horse’s shoulder blade, which is also where you should be placing your saddle. (If you walk your horse for a few steps to see the rotation, or feel for the heavy bone below the withers, you can easily locate the shoulder blade.)
Bend your wire over the withers, right at the edge of the shoulder blade. Once you have measured the "V" shape over the withers, pressing the wire firmly into shape (so it doesn’t spring open when you take it off your horse's back) then carefully lay the wire down, and measure the distance between the two ends of the wire. This is the width you need to get the proper size saddle for your horse.
English tree dimension are measured in centimeters. A narrow tree is 28 cm (for a very high withered horse), standard is 29 cm (this is for a high withered horse), medium is 30 cm (slightly above average withers), wide is 31 cm (for average withers), and extra-wide is 32 cm (for a low wither horse). If your horse is a draft type breed, and measured extra-wide, you will most likely need a 32 cm tree size.
Most good English saddles will provide the centimeter measurement for you, but some less expensive saddles will simply use the medium, wide, extra-wide scale. But remember, the tree measurement must be provided by the manufacturer, as you can't measure the tree once the saddle is assembled.
To check the size for you, the rider, on an English saddle - sit down in a chair, so that your upper leg is at a right-angle to your lower leg, then measure your upper leg length ...from the back of your buttock to the tip of your knee. The sizes of an English saddle are from 16" through 18" - a measurement from the nail head just below the pommel and the middle of the cantle. If your upper leg is up to 16 1/2" your seat size is 15". For up to 18 ½" your size is 16", up to 20" your size is 16 ½", up to 21 ½" your size is 17", up to 23" your size is 17 ½" and over 23" your seat is 18".
Western saddle trees are available in basically two sizes, medium or wide. These are referred as semi-quarter horse bars, or full quarter horse bars. There are specialty trees for Arabians, gaited horses, drafts, and specialty performance events (like endurance), but the quarter horse trees are the most common. Quarter horses out number all other breeds combined in the USA.
Quarter Horse Bar or Semi Quarter Horse Bar is by far the most common tree. It has a higher pitch as opposed to the flatter pitch for FQHB. It is for a medium backed, average withered horse, which usually has a mixed heritage (1/2 Arab or other mixes). QH/Semi QH bars usually have the higher pitched angles, with a gullet of 6 ½" to 6 ¾" medium tree.
The Full Quarter Horse Bar (which usually has a 7" gullet) is used for broad backs and sometimes mutton-withered Quarter Horses. Full Quarter Horse Bar Saddles will usually have a flatter pitch than the Quarter Horse Bar.
Arab Saddle has the same gullet as a QHB, but needs a flatter pitch angle than a QHB, short backs need the same gullet as the FQHB, but with the flatter pitch angle, and drafts need an 8" gullet with a wide tree.
On a Western saddle, the rider measures seat size by weight. The sizes run from 13" to 18" - and are measured from the back of the pommel (swell) to the stitching on the cantle. If rider weighs up to 85 pounds the seat size is 13", for up to 110 lbs a 14" seat would be a good choice. For up to 145 lbs the size is 15", for up to 175 lbs. the size is 16", up to 205 lbs. the seat is 17" and anyone over 205 lbs should use a size 18". Always err on the large size. Better to have a saddle seat a little too large, than a little too small.
The saddle should sit squarely down the middle of the horses back supported by the panels. The spine is not made to carry weight directly on it. It should always clear the withers (at least 1 ½" on a high-withered horse). The most common fault of an ill fitting saddle is having the seat too small for the rider, forcing the rider to sit at the back of the saddle, putting pressure on the horse's back.
Keep in mind these are general sizes. Unfortunately there are no standard sizes for saddles so each saddle maker has leeway in determining the tree size for his saddles. Also remember, a used saddle will widen somewhat, and will not be the same size as a saddle that is not broken in.
By Horse Talk
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