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Sizing English and Western Saddles
 By Winniefield Park   •   23rd Apr 2015   •   1,431 views   •   0 comments


Whether you ride English or western, it can be tricky to find a saddle that fits both you and your horse. Saddle fit is essential for a happy horse. Imagine having to hike for a few hours in shoes that are too small, or think about how your feet feel when youíve been dancing in shoes that just donít fit. Itís the same for the horse. But, saddle fit is important for you too. Saddle fit affects your position in the saddle, the effectiveness of your aids, and the security of your seat. Yes, good riding skills can make up for a poorly fitting saddle, but a saddle that fits you can take out some of the struggle to become a good rider.

English and western saddles are measured a bit differently. English seat sizes are measured in inches or centimeters from the tail head just below the pommel, to the center of the cantle - the highest point at the back of the seat. Western saddle measurements are taken from the base of the horn (or where the horn would be if your saddle doesnít have a horn), to the stitching on the cantle. Or, some companies measure from the top of the gullet to the top of the cantle.

Related: Saddle Up Series - Understanding Your Horse's Back

And while these measurements are a basic guide to the size of the saddle seat, they arenít the only thing to consider. You will find that different brands of saddles fit differently, as there are other aspects of saddle construction that change how the saddle fits you. Use these measurements as a starting point, but donít consider them a hard and fast rule, especially when choosing between different brands or types of saddles.

Even if your body measurements are the same as a friendís, you might not ride in the same size of saddle. Thatís because your personal conformation affects how a saddle fits you. If youíre tall and slender, you may need a saddle seat slightly larger than a friend who is otherwise the same body measurements as you, but shorter. This is because you need to accommodate the length of your thigh bone as well as the size of your bottom. So while your friend may ride in a 17Ē English saddle, you may need an 18Ē, even though you can both wear the same jean size (except for the inseam length).

Because western and English saddles are measured differently, you canít assume that a 17Ē English saddle will have roughly the same seat size as a 17Ē western saddle. In fact a 17Ē English saddle is a fairly moderate seat size, whereas a 17Ē western saddle is quite large. The only way to be sure if a saddle fits is to put your bottom into it. You can get a pretty good idea by setting the saddle on a sturdy stand and sitting on it.

Youíll know a western saddle fits you if the swells are roughly 4 inches from your body. Your bottom should be against the base of the cantle, but not squashed against the height of it. You should be able to rise in the stirrups without hitting the swells. There are many variations of western saddle seat construction, and some people have preferences for things like size or steepness of the cantle and swells, but you should be secure, and not feel like youíre sloshing around, or wedged into place.

Every type of English saddle feels different and fitting is not only about size, but how the seat affect your position. Dressage saddles have a deep seat, all-purpose slightly less deep and close contact saddles may feel like thereís little around you, although they can have very comfortable seats and give you a good feel of the horse. When you sit comfortably in the saddle, there should be three to four finger widths between the top of the cantle and your bottom. More and youíll feel too loose in the saddle. Less, and youíre likely to experience some very uncomfortable chafing up front. Leg flaps and leg block positions might be a consideration too. If the flaps are too long, it will muddle your leg aids. Too short, and your leg might feel like itís swinging too freely, and you may get pinched between the top of your boot and the flap.

When youíre shopping for a saddle, itís wise to try out as many as possible. Sitting on a saddle rack is helpful, but actually trying it on your horse is best. That way youíll have a better idea of how the saddle fits you both.
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