Fitting the Western Saddle or What we learned at Can-Am Equine Expo Part I

Horse at Can-Am All Breeds Equine Expo

Western saddles are designed for Quarter Horses, Hud Roberts of HR Saddles & Tack said at the Western Saddle fitting clinic held at the Can-Am Equine Expo, March 31 to April 2, 2017 in Markham, Ontario, Canada. HR Saddles makes custom saddlery and tack in Frisco, Texas and sells through distributors across North America, including Ionson’s Saddlery in Chelsey, Ontario.

Manufacturers like HR want to design a saddle most likely to fit the largest number of horses. Any western horse not a Quarter Horse will be harder, though not impossible, to fit.

Also, Roberts emphasizes, Quarter Horses are bigger now than they were 20 years ago, so buying a used saddle made in the 80s or 90s isn’t recommended.

“The width of the saddle is of course important,” Roberts said during his Saturday afternoon clinic. “But it’s not the only consideration.” The rigging position is also important – the Dee ring should line up with the heart of a Quarter Horse.

Roberts also doesn’t recommend cheap saddles made from cheap material. “In the saddle industry,” he says, “the more expensive saddle has to justify its price by fitting the most horses.”


In addition to width, you must also measure the length of the back, he says, and the angle of the gullet to fit over the withers comfortably. Measure both the width and angle of the horse’s withers

“Today,” according to Roberts, “we put the saddle high on the withers so the tips of the saddle should also flare a little to give the shoulders more room.”

In other words, there’s a lot to measure before you buy.

But how do you tell if the saddle you have now – or will be riding – fits?

Here are Roberts’ suggestions:

  • The saddle should sit evenly across the back of the horse; you don’t want the back higher than the front. “Most horses,” he says, “have a natural saddle area.”
  • Run your hand under the edge of the saddle. If your hand can go under at one point, you have a bridge that is going to create a pressure point when you sit. You want all the edges of the saddle to sit evenly so the weight of the rider is distributed.
  • The saddle should not rock when you twist it side to side.
  • Orthopedic pads can help but you shouldn’t need many.
  • Consider the horse specifically, not just the breed, when fitting a saddle.
  • Try a saddle on a horse and ride hard then look at the sweat patterns. There should be no dry spots – though Roberts cautions this is only one indicator. Do a muscle rub after the ride and see if any place hurts.

Finally, white hair on a horse is an indication of a pressure point from an ill-fitting saddle over time. A big white patch is an area that has been rubbed over time to create enough pressure at one spot to damage the hair follicles. White patches are red flags.

Read about our complete Can-Am Equine Expo 2017 adventure on

For more information about this topic, author and veterinarian, Joyce Harman has literally written the book about it. Check out The Western Horse’s Pain-free Back and Saddle Book  or DVD Western Saddle: How to fit Pain-free both on Amazon.

Want to attend clinics like this in person? There’s a list of them happening at the first annual Mane Event at the Western Fair Grounds in London, Ontario, Canada, May 12 to 14. 2017.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, meaning if you click on a link above and then make a purchase, will receive a small commission with no extra cost to you. Cheers!

Please leave your advice about saddle fitting in the comments below!


One comment

  1. […] Check out our previous Can-Am All Breeds Equine Expo coverage and How to Fit a Western Saddle. […]


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