SADDLE / SADDLE TREE FIT As the oldest and largest manufacturer of classic wood western saddle trees, we at Steele Saddle Tree receive a large volume of inquiries regarding saddle fit.The majority come from riders who are experiencing difficulty finding a properly fitting saddle for their horse. These horses are frequently described as ‘unusual’ shaped because every off-the-rack saddle they’ve tried causes soring, is unstable, won’t stay in position, or their horse acts up when it is placed on the horse’s back; all of which can be indications of improper fit. I can assure you as a saddle treemaker with literally scores of available fits,’unusual’ is the new normal. When horses were the chief mode of personal and family transportation in this country, they were bred to a somewhat uniform conformation within the breed. A saddle represented a considerable investment, so it wasn’t necessarily replaced as often as your horse. The saddle often needed to properly fit your last, your present and your next horse. A horse that didn’t fit your saddle rendered your investment worthless, so was not in great demand. ‘Unusual’ shaped horses were relegated to activities other than riding, such as pulling wagons and carriages or plowing. With the present demand for carriage and plow horses at essentially zero, there is now only one major market for horses - Riders. Uniform conformation, as a prerequisite for buying a ‘riding’ horse, has disappeared over the past century as the understanding and awareness of proper fit has declined. In other words, there was a time when if you bought a ‘riding’ horse, chances were it fit your saddle. There are no longer ‘riding’ horses, ‘carriage’ horses or ‘plow’ horses. They’re all ‘riding’ horses now! But riders continue to consider proper fit a given (though there is a growing awareness of the problems associated with improperly fitting saddles). We’re never going back to the way it was, so the next step is to increase
IT ALL BEGINS WITH THE SADDLE TREE
In the simplest terms, a saddle is an upholstered saddle tree. Some trees require the saddler to create and shape the saddle seat, but the underside shape, or ‘fit’, is not routinely altered by the western saddler. Therefore, how your saddle fits, or conforms to your horse’s back, is determined primarily by the shape of the tree inside. If the tree doesn’t fit properly, neither will the saddle. There are pads that enable you to fill in the spaces created by or resulting from an improper fit. These function well for fine tuning a relatively close fit, but cannot completely compensate for a drastically improper fit, so should not be used as a permanent substitute for a truly properly fitting saddle tree / saddle. WHAT IS PROPER FIT? At Steele Saddle Tree we define proper fit as achieving contact between the tree and the horse’s back over as large an area as possible while not creating pressure points during normal riding activity. This distributes the combined weight of the rider and equipment over as large an area as possible, thus reducing the pound per square inch ratio (the more square inches of bearing surface, the less weight per square inch with a given load). There is no single, absolute definition of proper fit because different riding disciplines benefit from slight variations. For instance, a barrel racing tree gives the rider an advantage if it has additional clearance at the ends of the bars so that ‘bridging’ and the associated restriction is not an impediment to the horse when bending around the barrels. A cutting tree gives an advantage to the rider by having a flatter rear rafter angle. This allows the rear of the saddle to float, thereby not restricting the horse’s maneuverability by locking the horse’s rear end to its front. There are as many of these slight variations as there are disciplines but, in general, more contact means less pressure per square inch and thus less likelihood of restricted blood flow and skin/muscle trauma.
rider knowledge of proper fit in order that these ‘unusual’ shaped horses must no longer suffer under poorly fitting saddles.
1343 SADDLE TREE ROAD • ASHLAND CITY, TN 37015 • Office: 615-792-7171 • F ax : 615-657-4921 www.SteeleEquifit.com • email : info@SteeleEquifit..com
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