Choosing the right saddle plays an important part in the overall comfort that you experience with your horse when riding. However, the saddle seat, in particular, has a notable effect on the rider: Various sizes can be used by the same rider for different purposes, so there are several factors to take into consideration when selecting the right saddle seat for you.
What is a saddle seat?
The saddle seat is the part of a horse saddle that the rider sits atop (not to be confused with saddle seat riding, a style of English horse riding often seen in competitions). Saddle seats are made by a variety of brands and come in different sizes.
What size of Western saddle seat will you need? Well, that depends. Let's explain why this seemingly simple question isn't so straightforward.
General Rules to Follow
First, start with some general rules of thumb for proper western saddle seat size for the rider:
- Keep in mind that Western saddle seat size refers to rider fit and has nothing to do with how the saddle fits the horse.
- There should be approximately four inches between the front of your body and the fork (or swells).
- Your rump should rest on the base of the cantle, but should not be pressed against the back of the cantle.
- Some prefer a tighter fit, some looser. In general, it's better to have a saddle a smidgen too big than a smidgen too small. (A smaller saddle may cause uncomfortable chafing.)
All western saddles come with a stated seat size. Seat size simply measures the distance from the base of the horn to the top middle of the cantle. This distance is then expressed as a size in half-inch increments from 12 inches to 17 inches.
Western Saddle Seat Sizes
The following will give you a very general idea of saddle sizes:
- Youth: 12 to 13 inches
- Small adult: 14 inches
- Average adult: 15 inches
- Large adult: 16 inches
- Extra-large adult: 17 inches
With a published saddle seat size, choosing the right size saddle would seem to be pretty straightforward. In reality, seat size is just one factor determining the fit of a western saddle. Sit in the same size of a variety of different styles and brands of saddles and you'll find significant differences in the fit. You might find that a 14 1/2-inch Circle Y barrel racing saddle fits well, but that you need a 15-inch in a Dale Martin ranch saddle.
Why the Differences?
There are a number of measurements in addition to seat size that impacts the fit of a western saddle. These include:
- Seat depth: Some saddles have deep seats designed to keep you in place during extreme activity, and others have shallower seats to allow for more movement.
- Seat slope: The seat angles from the hand-hold back towards the cantle and the slope can range from relatively flat to steep.
- Cantle slope: The cantle can be high and straight or have a slope that is mild or steep.
- Cantle dish: The cantle can be flat or have a recess or dish on the front side that can be an inch or more in-depth.
- Fork style: Fork styles can range from wide swells to slick fork saddles with barely any swell.
- Fork angle: Forks can be straight or angle away from the rider.
Each of these features can affect the way a saddle fits a rider. Unfortunately, none of these other measurements are standardized or published in a saddle's measurements. So, when shopping for a western saddle, the only way to determine fit is to sit in each saddle. Only then will you know if the saddle is a good fit for you.