Introduction to Saddle Fit

Growing up as a young rider, most of us saddled up with whatever saddle was available never thinking about saddle fit. Unless you grew up with someone knowledgeable about it, those white spots that appeared on the horse’s withers weren’t alarming. Today as more emphasis is placed on the horse’s comfort, those white spots are like smoke coming out of a burning building – HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PROBLEM! At Circle Y, we believe achieving proper saddle fit is the first step to an enjoyable ride. Our introduction to saddle fit will get you on your way to understanding and deciding if you have a saddle fit issue.

Trees are designed for the majority of horse conformations. However, there is no standardization in the industry of what is a semi, full, draft, or gaited fit. At Circle Y, we do our own research and tailor our trees based upon the hundreds of horses we individually fit each year. That is why you’ll find several tree fits that work well on many types of horses.

The gullet measurement is important, but it is the most misunderstood. It is not the defining factor of saddle fit. Most importantly, not every saddle with a specified gullet measurement will fit the same. The angle and twist of the bars affect how the saddle will fit. Additionally, the way a saddle maker takes the gullet measurement is on the bare tree and not with the leather on the saddle. If you’re looking to purchase a used saddle and the seller provides a gullet measurement, understand that measurement can vary greatly depending on where he/she held the measuring tape and is not the true gullet measurement.

The front of the saddle tree bar (approximately the front edge of the concho) should be behind the shoulder blade (scapula) to allow for freedom of movement. Placing the saddle too far forward over the scapula can cause unnecessary rubbing and pressure (white spots). The blanket or pad and the skirt of the saddle can cover the back of the scapula but the bars of the tree must be behind the shoulder blade. This is important as a saddle will travel back/forward to settle into this sweet spot.

The illustration below is a simplified view of the goal of saddle fitting: to achieve bar contact between the tree and the horse. With a good fit, the bar angle matches the angle of the horse for maximum contact, and there is sufficient clearance between the wither of the horse and the swell of the saddle.

When there is little bar contact and the pressure is concentrated in a particular place, the result can be pinching, rubbing, or white marks. Note that pinching does not always mean the horse needs a wider fit – in fact, concentrated pinching often means the fit is TOO wide, as seen in the Tree Too Wide illustration.



Dry areas within sweat marks and a dropped back indicate the saddle is bridging.

The rock of the tree should also match the rock of the horse (amount of curve in the back). A horse with a very straight back may have issues with the saddle rocking from front to back and require a mule tree which has less rock, or corrective padding. Likewise, a horse with a swayback will require a bridge pad to keep the saddle from bridging. Bridging occurs when the tree does not make contact in the middle because the back is dropped. A bridge pad will fill in the gap between the horse and saddle. A horse with high withers and hollows behind the withers will also need a corrective pad – see the full collection of bridge pads to find your horse’s pad solution. Watch this helpful video to see how a bridge pad aids the comfort of your horse and if you might need one.

For more detailed saddle fitting information, please visit our Saddle Fitting Made Simple page.


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Rider Safety Check

Watch these tips to help keep you safe in the saddle.  Before mounting, conduct a thorough walk-around tack check every time you ride. Check these points:

✔️saddle and pad should be centered
✔️ cinch is in great condition and centered
✔️ tie straps and latigos should be in good shape: soft and supple free of rips, cracks or tears – never use leather that is cracked or overly dry or nylon that is frayed
✔️ there are hobble straps on the fenders
✔️ stirrup leathers are strong and in good shape
✔️ saddle is rigged the same on both sides
✔️ bridle is fitting correctly
✔️ check all Chicago screws for tightness
✔️ check everywhere metal meets leather


Use our tips to check your saddle fit.

Leather Care with Circle Y

The life of your saddle depends on the care you give it. Take care of your investment with these leather care tips.

Every new Circle Y saddle has been oiled and then lacquered with our own water-based protective finish, which means you don’t need to oil it for about six months. If you’re riding a lot in dry or variable weather conditions, you should oil it sooner. If your saddle is a light color, use a leather conditioner product that is specifically designed for light leather so it will not darken the leather. Helpful tip for show or light colored saddles: oil the back of the leather, not the top, because the leather can darken.

Unbuckle every buckle on your saddle and tack. Before you start cleaning, remove as much dust and dirt as possible with an air compressor or damp cloth. Leather is a natural material with pores so removal of debris will prevent grinding it into the crevices. Ideally your saddle should be wiped down after each ride.

Use specific leather care products made for cleaning and conditioning leather and follow the instructions. We like a liquid, glycerin based saddle soap to remove mud, grime, mold, and mildew. Follow with a leather conditioner. If your saddle is a light color, use leather care products specifically designed for light colored leather.
DO NOT USE: baby wipes, olive or mink oil, turpentine, mineral spirits, waxes, silicones, solvents, bleach

After your saddle has been thoroughly cleaned, oiled, conditioned, and air dried, a climate-controlled area is the best place to keep equipment when not in use. If that’s not available, choose a cool, dry location away from heat and sunlight. Never place leather tack in a plastic bag or airtight plastic trunk as this keeps the leather from breathing.

Mold and mildew can form on leather tack when exposed to high humidity. Wipe down the leather everywhere you see the mold/mildew with a glycerin based saddle soap. You’ll be stirring up mold spores when cleaning the tack, so tackle this task outdoors or in a well-ventilated environment. It may take a couple of applications depending on the amount of mold on the saddle. Let it dry and then apply a leather conditioner.

Download our handy guide to keep > LeatherCare.jpg (3003 downloads)

Enjoy your ride!