Saddle fit is quite a complex topic, especially when it comes to sizing. A saddle must not only be a comfortable fit for the rider but must be sized appropriately for the horse. Improperly fitted tack may result in pain, muscle atrophy, and possible behavioral issues. So what size English saddle do you need? We’ve covered sizing basics to help get you started:
Determining Saddle Style
English is a broad term- this covers saddles made specifically for jumping, dressage, saddleseat, and even the standard AP (all-purpose) saddle. Most competitors will have a specific style in mind to suit their discipline of choice. However, a beginner rider without a specific interest might not have as much direction. Determining the saddle type will the first step in sizing your future saddle. Although most English saddles are sized based on their gullet width (narrow, medium, wide, etc.), some have numerical sizing for tree designs and sizes.
What Size English Saddle Do I Need?
Saddle Size Chart
The standard way of saddle measurements, although helpful, does not take body types into consideration. Traditionally, a person will sit in a chair at a 45-degree angle with flat feet. A measurement from the knee to the rear of the buttocks is taken. The conversion chart below is used:
|16.5” to 18.5”||16” saddle|
|18.5” to 20”||16.5” saddle|
|20” to 21.5”||17” saddle|
|21.5” to 23”||17.5” saddle|
However, this does not take body shape into account. Someone with an extremely short femur measurement may be pear-shaped and require a much bigger seat. We recommend this as a starting guideline.
Once in a saddle, a rider should have approximately 2-4 fingers width between your rear and the cantle of the saddle, as well as the front. If you are between sizes, it is best to go up. Again, these measurements are someone subjective due to riders’ personal fit preference and comfort level. With a rider’s feet properly positioned in the stirrups, knees should rest directly on the knee rolls, and not over-extended. The saddle should not “pitch” the rider in either direction and allow a balanced seat position.
English saddles, excluding cutback styles, typically measure 2 inches more than a western saddle. This means if you ride in a 15” western saddle, you are likely going to fit a 17” English saddle. However, this may not translate directly with extremely padded equitation western saddles, or for barrel racers in very snug seat sizes.
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Fitting Your Horse
Once a rider has determined the saddle style and seat size, it is time for the most important step: fitting the horse. Be sure to check with your local saddle shop to see if they offer saddle fitting, or if they can refer you to a local fitter! We have found this video series by Jochen Schleese incredibly helpful and informative for anyone learning how to fit a saddle. The nine primary elements of saddle fit are:
Balance: Saddle fitting should be performed without a pad, standing square on a flat surface. You will first properly place the saddle on your horse to look at overall balance and if there is any “tilt” or pitch in either direction. The seat surface should sit parallel with the horse’s spine and the ground.
Wither Clearance: You will then check for adequate clearance between the saddle’s pommel and your horse’s wither. Two to three finger-widths is the general guideline- keep in mind motion and pad will affect this.
Channel Width: The channel, or the mid-tree space between panels, should provide enough clearance around the spine and ligaments to avoid pinching, but should not set low on the ribs. Just because a saddle has an adjustable gullet width does not mean the channel width is changed.
Billet Alignment: Check for straight and perpendicular billet alignment. This will also determine the girth path, which should be approximately 5 inches behind the elbow to avoid interference. If billets sit crooked, this can indicate the saddle is pitched on the horse.
Total Length: The thoracic vertebrae are the weight-bearing surface for a horse. A saddle shouldn’t extend any weight-bearing surface on to the lumbar. Total saddle length should not extend beyond the floating ribs, easily identified by the change in hair pattern just before the plank.
Shoulder Clearance: Saddles should allow freedom of movement and no interference of the shoulder. Some breeds like Morgans or Saddlebreds will need additional shoulder clearance for high action.
Full Panel Contact: The panels of your saddle should have full contact with the horse, particularly when the abdomen is engaged. Some degree of bridging will disappear during engagement/collection.
Straightness: Always check the integrity of the tree and ensure it is straight and fits your horse straight.
Tree Width: Brands differ in how trees are sized, and unfortunately, there is no industry standard. Breed and height can help determine where to start, but some stockier breeds may even need hoop trees rather than a “wide” or “extra-wide” tree.
Measuring for an English saddle is a two-part process, important to both horse and rider. For more information or a saddle fitter near you or contact your local tack shop.