Saddle Fit Isn’t Really That Difficult

February 7, 2007 by  
Filed under Saddle Fit

I’m one of those people who believes that the issue of saddle fit is often made much more difficult than it needs to be.  Don’t get me wrong, I think good saddle fit is extremely important. I just believe that with the majority of horses (probaly as much as 80 or 90% of horses) you can achieve good saddle fit with saddles with semi or regular quarter horse bars.

The key for these 80% to 90% of horses is to choose a quality saddle that comfortably clear a horse’s withers, allows for free movement of the shoulders, is the proper length and shape for its back, and is well balanced to provide good weight distribution.

The other 10%-20% of horses are where the fit challenge comes in because they have an atypical conformation that doesn’t follow the norms. Common conformation deviations that can cause saddle fit problems include low withered, flat withered, narrow withered, high withered, prominent shoulders, wide back, wide barrel, short back.

To really pose a problem, though, the deviations have to be significant. Small deviations don’t really cause a problem with most saddles. Too many folks quickly decide that their horse is "mutton-withered" or "flat-backed" and tough to fit and needs a special saddle.

Before you jump to this conclusion make sure you explore some other potential causes. Somtimes the problem is more rider-related than saddle-related. Saddle positioning and horsemanship skill can significantly impact how a saddle rides and whether it slips.

I hear many novice riders complain about their saddles slipping, especially when they mount. I rarely hear this complaint from more experienced horsemen.  The novice horseman keeps tightening and tightening their cinch, and yet the saddle still slips.  This could be a saddle fit problem. It’s more often a horsemanship skill problem. I know. I’ve been there. 😮

Check out our saddle fit articles for more indepth information:  Fitting the Horse, Fitting the Rider, Impact of Structural Defects, Impact of Horsemanship Skill

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5 Responses to “Saddle Fit Isn’t Really That Difficult”
  1. I have only owned horses for approx. 6 years and as time goes on, I am learning more and more about them. I have an eleven year old Morgan gelding that I have been told is mutton withered. I have only ridden him a couple of times around our ranch but plan on doing more trailriding this summer with him. I have yet to actually know what mutton withered means. If I sent someone a picture, could they tell me and explain to me what “he really is”. As mentioned, I am afraid that it is probably my horsemanship skills, or there lack of, that is causing the saddle to slip regardless of how tight I cinch the poor guy up. I ask some of the people I ride with but they just shrug and mutter something….I don’t think they really know either. 🙂
    Any help would be great!!!!

  2. Saddle Sense says:

    Mutton withered is a term that’s used to describe a horse who’s withers are wider and flatter than normal. It’s not a scientific term, but describes a general conformation type. Mutton-withered horses can have problems with saddles slipping sideways because the withers aren’t prominent enough to keep the saddle anchored. Using a breast collar can sometimes help stop the slipping, but the most important thing is to have a saddle that fits.

    My advice is put your saddle on your horse and then run through the fit tests that are outlined on our Fitting the Horse page ( This will tell you if you have a saddle fit problem. If the saddle does seem to be a good fit, I’d try the breast collar and continue working on my horsemanship skill. It’s amazing how improving your balance and body control can solve a lot of saddle fit problems.

  3. katrina says:

    I really do have a wide mutton withered horse. He is being pinched at the shoulder area a lot even with a wide tree. (FQHB) He almost looks like a shorter draft, but he is a mustang. He is overweight, but even with weight loss, I am still thinking I will see a problem with pinching in the shoulder. Any suggestions? I’ve heard that flex trees really aren’t what they seem, and they do not flex at the shoulder area. A treeless has a fixed pommel, so you will also end up with a narrower gullet area. other than going with a draft saddle, I can’t figure any other options out. Please help!!

  4. Circle Y Saddles says:

    There is not perfect way to fit a saddle. Everyone has their own comfort level and every horse reacts differently to different pressure points. Just go with what you feel is comfortable. My Circle Y Saddles ( always see to fit we well!

  5. Saddle Sense says:

    I do agree that there is not a “perfect’ way to fit a saddle and that people and horses vary. But I can’t agree with your statement “just go with what you feel is comfortable.” That’s what so many riders are doing and why so many horses are sore. It’s important to understand the basics of saddle fit before “going with your guy.”

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