by Nancy Shedrick

 Pic 1

After it has been determined that the saddle is in the correct position of  the horses back, I will now go over what to look for in a basic saddle fitting assessment.

1) Lift up the flap of the saddle to view the points of the tree, Photo 1A. These points should be lined up parallel to the back area it is sitting on, not the shoulder, but the back. (this back muscle is actually the trapezius) I do allow a 10% or less variable to this parallel only if it is to the wider. If the tree is too wide, the top of the points will show more contact and the bottom of the points will come away from the horse’s side. If the tree is too narrow, the opposite will occur. There will be too much contact at the bottom of the points with lack of contact at the top of the points.

 2) Next, you need to run your hand palm side up, underneath the full length of the points. Start at the top of the panel, slowly run your hand down the whole length of the points. If the tree points are parallel, you will feel even pressure the full length of the points. The hand should confirm what the eye sees. If the tree is too wide, there will be pressure at the top, Photos 2B & C.


1A – Points of the tree are running nice and parallel with horses’s anatomy. White lines indicate planes of horse & saddle If the tree is too narrow, there will be pressure at the bottom, Photo 3D.

3) The gullet width must be wide enough so that the panels do not impinge on the horses’ spine. Horses’ have different widths to their spine. Some are thin and highly pronounced. Some spines are very wide with back muscles that rise above it. Gullets can also be too wide. A gullet that is too wide will do as much damage to a horses back as a gullet that is too narrow.

 4) Pommel and wither clearance. There is no set rule as to how much clearance is required. (Sorry- it is not always 3 fingers) This clearance depends on the type of saddle being fitted and what the horses’ withers are like. A high withered Thoroughbred will require more clearance than a mutton withered pony. Wither clearance should always be checked again when the rider is in the saddle. The most important factor here is that the pommel or gullet should never come down or impinge on the horses’ spine.

 5) The saddle should be balanced on the horses back. The cantle is always higher than the pommel. Some close contact saddles may be closer to level, where as some dressage saddles the cantle is much higher than the pommel. For most saddles the absolute middle of the saddle will be the deepest spot when on the horses’ back. On some saddles this deep spot may be slightly forward of the center. The deep spot should never be behind the center, Photo 4E.

 2B 3D

6) Panels distribute the weight of the saddle and the rider over the horses back. The panels must also match the contours of the horses back. Some faults to look for are rocking and bridging. Rocking is when the panels rock like a boat, forward and back over the horses back, Photo 5F. Bridging is when the panels form a bridge over the horses back, Photo 6H. There is contact in the front and back of the saddle with a gap in the panels under the seat area. These faults may be caused by incorrect tree shape, wrong tree width, incorrect panel design or may need a simple reflocking to correct the problem.

4E 5F 6H 7J

 7) The length of the saddle is a saddle fitting issue that is commonly overlooked. The saddle should not extend past the 18th thoracic vertebrae, Photo7J. The thoracic region, is the region of the back that has ribs attached to it. It is the ribs that support the weight of the saddle and the rider. The lumbar region continues after the thoracic region. The saddle should never overlap into the lumbar region. This region is just spine, muscles and organs and is very susceptible to bruising and irreversible back damage. This article was written solely for educational purposes. I highly recommend getting saddles fitted by an experienced certified saddle fitter.


Nancy Shedrick resides in New Hampshire. She is a certified saddle fitter for the society of Master Saddlers of the U.K.