AQHA Blog: Riding – The Right Saddle

For horseback-riding success, finding the right saddle is important for you and your horse.


Comfort is the most important factor when buying a saddle. You must be able to relax when you ride so you can enjoy it. The comfort of the seat is just as important as the comfort of your clothes or footwear.

When you put a saddle on your horse, there should be about a three-finger distance from the horse’s withers to underneath the front swell of the saddle. The saddle should not rock or bridge. Sometimes a special pad can be used if you don’t have the three-finger rule under the front swell. The saddle should be level when cinched up. If your horse has a short back, a round-skirted saddle will fit better so the bars of the tree won’t put pressure on the kidneys.

Seat Measure

Seat size is measured by putting the end of a ruler below the horn, parallel to the seat, and measuring back to the stitching on the back cantle to measure the size of the tree. Some companies make the tree  a half-inch larger so that the seat size measurement is where you actually sit.

Seat sizes are available from 13 inches to 18 inches. There are some specialty saddles made in 10-inch, 11-inch, 12-inch and 19-inch seats.

Seat size will not vary in different types of saddles, but the comfort of fit can change with seat size. Some barrel racing and trail saddles have 5-inch cantles, and some roping saddles have 3 ½-inch cantles. Always sit in your saddle before purchasing it. Expert advice and saddle fittings are available at many stores.

Your Seat Size

To determine your seat size, sit in the saddle and see whether you have approximately a two-finger distance between the front swell and your leg. This is a good rule of thumb for trail and pleasure riding. Ropers and barrel racers might want to feel more secure, so a one-finger distance would work. Show saddles have center pocket seats and put the rider in the proper position in the saddle so the two-finger rule is not that important. Just make sure it feels comfortable.

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