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Home > Non-Indexed Pages > Saddle Fitting: Free and easy saddle fit help from the experts > Western Saddle Fitting and Different Tree Sizes

Western Saddle Fitting and Different Tree Sizes

Horse Saddle Shop offers several tree sizes: Quarter Horse (also known as regular bars, or medium), Full Quarter (FQHB or wide tree), Arab, Gaited Horse, Haflinger, and Draft Horse(very wide).

Find out if your horse conformation is Normal/Narrow, Wide, or Very Wide/Round:
  • Normal/Narrow Angle - 86 deg +/- 3
  • Wide Angle - 90 deg +/- 3
  • Very Wide Angle - 94 deg +/- 3

  • Quarter Horse Bar or Semi Quarter Horse Bar is by far the most common tree. It has a higher pitch as opposed to the flatter pitch for FQHB. It is for the medium back, decent wither and often mixed blood descent (1/2 Arab, Appendix or other mixes). Most of our saddles are semi qh/qh bars. QH/Semi QH bars usually have the higher pitched angles.
  • The FQHB tree (usually 7" gullet) is often used for the "Bulldog" Quarter Horse or horses with broad backs and sometimes mutton-withered Quarter Horses. The FQHB will usually have a flatter pitch than the QH/Semi QH bar.
  • Arab saddles are for Arabians they have a narrow (usually 6 1/2" - 6 3/4" width) gullet like the Semi QH but a flatter pitch angle like the FQHB - sometimes flatter yet, than the FQHB.
  • Gaited horse bars have a higher gullet for high withered horses. They usually have a wider gullet front that narrows towards the back to allow shoulder movement. They usually have more rock.
  • Haflinger saddles (7 1/2" gullet) are great for Haflingers or short backed mutton withered horses. Often have the flatter pitch and very little rock.
  • Draft Horse bars (8" gullet), are for the large Draft Horses.

Goal in fitting:  Make as much saddle bar to horse back contact as possible.

How much is enough contact?  Two things determine this.

1.  How much the rider weighs.  The heavier the rider, the more contact is needed.  Vise versa, with a lighter rider, you can get by with less contact.  Remember you are trying to distribute pounds per inch.

2.  How much bar surface is available to evenly distribute weight.  If you have a saddle with small bars, then it is more important that all of that tree touches the horse for distribution. If you have a very large tree then not as much of it needs to touch the horse for weight distribution. Regardless of a small or large tree, a certain amount has to contact the horse for distribution.

Two Factors in Saddle Fit: Gullet Width & Bar Angle

The proper measurement of the saddle gullet is actually 2 inches below the narrowest part of the gullet, even with the side conchos.

Regular bars have a narrow angle and Full bars have a wide angle.

There are two major areas of concern when fitting a saddle.

  1. Gullet Width:

      In the saddle industry, there is no definition for tree width sizes.  There are generic terms such as semi-quarter horse and full quarter horse, which give an idea of what type of horse the tree should fit, but there is no rule for measurement.  Each tree builder has their own idea of what fits each breed of horse the best.  There are several things to consider when fitting the wither.
    1. Width
      1. If the saddle is too narrow, there will be contact at the bottom of the bar and not at the top.
      2. If the saddle is too wide, there will be contact at the top of the bar and not at the bottom.
    2. Bar Flare
      1. If the bar is flat at the wither, it can cause the saddle to be pushed back as well as restricting shoulder movement.  This is more evident with gaited horses.  
      2. Bar flare can be evident in the front and rear of the saddle.  As the front can restrict movement, the rear can dig into the croup if the rider is heavy and sits deep into the seat, or the horse is short backed, or sway backed.  Each of these could cause sores if the saddle doesn't have adequate rear bar flare.

  2. Bar Angle and Slope:

      There are two areas of concern when looking at the slope of the horse's back.
    1. Bridging:  Bridging occurs when there is bar to surface contact on the front (wither) and rear (croup) of the horse's back but not in the middle.  Usually, you can tell your saddle is bridging if there is a sore or white hair in the wither and/or croup area.  This is caused by one of two things.
      1. Bend or Rock:  If the saddle doesn't have enough bend in the bar to fit the sway of the horse's back, it will bridge.
      2. Length of Back:  If the bar is longer than the horse's back, it will bridge.  This is most evident on Arabs, Paso Finos, Missouri Foxtrotters and other short backed horses.

        White hair and sores are not always a sign of bridging, it could be a result of:

        1. Tree width - explained above.
        2. Rigging position:  As a rule, most horses do not need full rigging.  They need rigging that gives more pull toward the center of the saddle or throughout the whole saddle rather than the front only.  There are four rigging positions available in the industry. Click here to read about the different positions.
    2. Rock: The opposite of bridging.  Rock occurs when there is more bend in the bar than the horse needs, therefore it makes contact in the middle of the back before it makes contact in the front or back. Usually, when rock is visible the saddle will tip back and forth on the horse's back.  When the saddle is girthed up it will tip forward with the rear of the saddle sticking up in the air.  When the rider sits in the saddle it will force the saddle down in the rear causing pressure in the front of the saddle going toward the middle of the back.  This is most evident on mules.  Be aware if the saddle is sticking up in the rear it may not be a rock problem but could be a width problem.

Common questions:

What do white hairs tell me? 

Normally, white hair is caused by a lot of pressure in one area over a long period of time.  What takes place is the pressure stops the blood flow to that area which in turn kills the sweat glands and causes the hair to turn white.  The hair may never turn to it's normal color.  This alone is not something to be alarmed about and does not cause permanent long-term damage, unless you don't pay any attention to the problem.  (You should consult your veterinarian about any sores your horse may develop.)

What about padding-up or saddle pads

Good saddle pads can cause the saddle to fit better.  There is much technology in the pad industry to help a saddle fit better and you should take advantage of that technology.  Padding-up to help eliminate sores from a poor fitting saddle is not a good choice.  For example, if a saddle is too narrow, padding up to buffer the preasure will make the horse wider which will cause more pressure.


Still need help? Try downloading our simple gullet templates and working through our guided saddle help.

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