ENGLISH SADDLE’ SIZES & SADDLE FITTING GUIDE
….The correct method of measurement for an ‘English’ saddle is different from the method used for a ‘Western’ saddle. We find that many US riders often specify their saddle size as smaller than really required. For example, a Western 15″ saddle equates to a 17″ English saddle.
The image of the saddle shows from where you should measure your ‘English’ saddle. Take a straight line from the saddle ‘nail’ (A) to the centre of the cantle (B)….this will give you the actual tree size of your saddle. Generally most sizes below 17″ are for Junior riders or very small adults. 17″ and 17.5″ saddles are the most popular sizes, with 18″ and above being more suited to the larger rider. The width of a saddle is usually denoted by the letters N (narrow), M (medium), W (wide) and XW (extra-wide). These graduations can also be shown numerically by the numbers 2,3,4,5. Some English saddle tree manufacturers will make trees in MW (medium-wide) and NM (narrow-medium) graduations, whereas other European trees may come in centimetre graduations, which can be confusing as different manufacturers use differing means of measuring tree widths. For example, Prestige offer width fittings from 28cms to 37cms., Stubben offer width fittings from 27cms. to 32 cms, and Amerigo define their width fittings as +/- half a centimetre either side of Medium. This seemingly random system of tree width measurement is determined by the the measurement across the ends of the points of the manufacturer’s saddle tree, as some manufacturers’ saddle trees have longer vertical bars than others, to suit different breed types.
We publish a diagram above which attempts to explain the tree width issue. The Dimension B to C is the width in cms. used by many European and Argentine saddlemakers to denote the width of their saddle, which as an average will be 33cms. The problem then occurs as the dimensions A to B and A to C can longer on different brands, so that the angle of the tree may be similar, but the width between B and C can be greater…. basic geometry !
Many of the most expensive French Close-Contact saddles are generally only made in a ‘regular’ medium tree width, with the possibility of a Narrow or Wideoption. In England most saddles are manufactured on a BS6635 English tree, which is normally hand-made using laminated beech wood and steel, and guarantees a high standard of quality and strength. However, Synthetic saddle trees are becoming increasingly more popular (Bates, Kieffer, Prestige, Passier, Equipe, Vega are all examples), and these now offer great strength, reliability and total symmetry (See Saddlefitting Notes below). If you are in doubt about the sizings for a particular brand, email us, and we will try to help you. With most high-quality jumping saddles there is an option of flap sizes to suit riders of differing heights and leg lengths. French saddlemakers usually offer flap sizes denoted by the numbers 1,2 and 3, sometimes with intermediates; whereas English jumping saddles may have simpler regular/short/forward/long options. Most top-quality dressage saddles will also offer short, regular and long flap options. Again, you can email us for advice.
FINDING THE CORRECT FITTING SADDLE
….When you have determined the style of saddle you require, it is necessary to choose the size seat, tree width, flap size and colour. The seat size is determined by the size of the rider (see notes above), and by the size of the horse. The length of the horses back does also affect the optimum saddle size, and the correct choice is essential to remove any possibility of undue pressure on the wrong areas of the horse’s back. If your saddle is too long it will sit too far back and, if resting on the horse’s loins, will cause pressure, causing discomfort and inhibit free movement. The rider must also be placed centrally in the saddle seat to allow perfect balance, and free movement, and to maximize the bearing surface on the horse’s back.
The ‘balance’ of your saddle is equally very important. You should sit centrally and comfortably, at point E on the diagram, the lowest point of the seat, with your knee comfortably placed on the kneepad, just below any kneeblock which may be fitted. A correctly fitting, well balanced, saddle should show a difference of under one inch The height point of the pommel of the saddle should always be slightly lower than the highest point of the cantle of the saddle. It is most important to realize that breeds of horse can vary considerably when it comes to finding the most suitably shaped saddle. Here we can help…we have qualified English saddlers who can advise you, and direct you towards the best saddles for your needs. When you have decided the size seat you need, you then need to assess the width fitting and flap size.
Actual width fittings do vary, depending on the country of manufacture of the saddle…see our notes above. PLEASE NOTE…It is not possible for a rider to measure the exact tree width of a saddle, as the width relates to the dimensions of the bare saddletree before it is upholstered. See notes above in first paragraph.
….These are the key features which must be adhered to when assessing the saddle fit to the horse’s back:
1. There should be no restriction of the horse’s shoulder blade when in movement… the points of the saddle should sit an inch or two behind the shoulder blade to allow for it’s rotation.
2. Discomfort and restriction of movement will be caused by the back of the saddle sitting behind the last rib. The weight of rider and saddle cannot be supported beyond this point on the horse’s back.
3. Front arch of the saddle should have adequate clearance over the withers, and not be tight laterally so as to ‘pinch’ the withers. As a rough guide, with a seated rider there should be at least 2 fingers’ width vertical clearance between the horse’s wither and the underside of the arch of the saddle.
4. The central gullet of the saddle panel (underside) must ALWAYS maintain sufficient clearance above the horse’s spine. Not having full clearance here can have dire consequences to the comfort and well-being of the horse, as sores, bruising, discomfort and, at worst, damage to the vertebrae can be caused by direct pressure here.
5. Any pinching of the spinal areas of the horse’s back caused by a ‘too narrow’ gullet can also cause soreness, soft swelling and discomfort which will again detract from the horse’s ability to move freely and happily.
6. You need to be sure of all the points listed above, and that the saddle sits comfortably with an even bearing surface at the front and the rear, and that the balance of the saddle is correct (as detailed above).
REMEMBER …a sore and unhappy horse will never perform to it’s best ability!
….It is important that you obtain proper advice about the fitting of your new saddle. Many of our European Dealers will be happy for you to send a template pattern of your horse’s wither so that they, or their Saddler, can advise you with regard to the correct fitting…..
WHAT IS THE TWIST OF A SADDLE ?
The twist is the narrowest portion of the saddle seat the rider sees when looking down on it. It is the narrowest portion of the seat, located just behind the pommel. Saddles can be broadly categorized into narrow twist and broad twist, with great variation possible within each category. The general type of twist you need depends upon the conformation of your pelvis and the way the femur is attached to it as well as the shape of the inner thigh muscle. A rider who has a saddle with an over-wide twist will find it more difficult to get their legs in close-contact with horse. A good saddlefitter should be able to advise.
MAKING A TEMPLATE OF YOUR HORSE’S WITHER
….This is easily done with a piece of bent wire (approximately 20″ long…metal coat hanger works!), or a flexicurve (bought from an artists shop or stationers). All you need to do is bend the wire/flexicurve over your horse’s back, just behind the wither, at the point where the front of the saddle will sit. Make sure it is pressed firmly to shape…then transfer this pattern to a suitable piece of paper (A4 sheet is preferable for faxing). This can then be sent by fax or email to our Qualified Saddler, or to the European Dealer we recommend, so they can assess and confirm the fitting you require. If it is possible to take some pictures of your horse’s back, with a digital camera, and email them as well, this will allow the saddler to give an even better appraisal of your horse. Flap size, if offered by the particular manufacturer, can best be advised by the Dealer for the particular brand, as these sizings do vary somewhat between brands. Most of the prestigious French brands have quite a complicated flap sizing system…email us for help.
GENERAL SADDLE ADVICE
….Learn to recognize changes in your horse’s shape. This will be related to his age, the amount of work he does, and his feed management. Any changes may seem inconsequential to you, as you see him every day, but over a period of time these changes may substantially affect his saddle fit. Have your saddle checked regularly by an experienced saddler.
….Make sure the flocking of the saddle stays soft and smooth. Any irregularities, lumps and unevenness on the underside of the saddle must be corrected by your saddler, so as to prevent any undue pressure on your horse’s back. Pressure points can easily occur on your horse’s back if this is not done. Also uneven flocking can cause your saddle to sit to one side, which can also cause problems to your horse’s back. A Close-Contact saddle is generally padded with latex foam, which retains its shape, and does not need regular maintenance. However, this type of saddle should be regularly checked by your saddler to ensure optimum fit, but this type of saddle is difficult to alter, so must be carefully fitted to a new horse..
….When you are spending a substantial amount on a top quality hand-made saddle, which is built to last a lifetime, make sure you take care to store and maintain the saddle in the best possible way. Do not store your saddle in a hot dry atmosphere, as this will dry out the leather, causing it to loose it suppleness and lasting qualities. Regular use of a good brand of saddle cleaner will help the leather stay supple, and improve its longevity. Check stitching of, especially, girth straps regularly for maximum safety, and if you have a fall, always have your saddle tree checked by an experienced saddler, as a saddle with a broken or fractured tree can cause permanent damage to your horse’s back. Make sure to store your saddle on a quality saddle rack, carefully designed for the job… preferably not the tubular steel products.