Crest Ridge Saddlery

Saddle Fitting for Gaited Horses, Stock Horses and Mules

Saddle fitting gaited horses and mules is our specialty. At Crest Ridge Saddlery, we approach business a bit differently than other companies. We are not here just to sell you a saddle. We want you to have a saddle that is correct for your horse and comfortable for you. We want you to tell your friends “this one fits!”

For the horse to perform at his optimum level it is your responsibility as an owner to make sure of his comfort. The following is a very basic guide in simple terms that most anyone can understand to insure that the saddle that is placed on a horse will fit reasonably well.

Do you have a saddle fitting problem?

Is your horse:

If you answer yes to any of these questions, then the very first thing you should check is saddle fit.

Saddle fitting can be a nightmare for several reasons. One of the most frustrating aspects is that many times saddles that appear to fit while the horse is standing still proves to be ill-fitting when the horse in motion. It becomes even more frustrating because the saddle leather itself is covering what you need to see.

Western Trail Saddles and Saddle Fit

Most standard Western saddles have 6 parts that are assembled and made into one tree.

Saddle fit is affected by:

The bars and the angle at which they are assembled are the most important part of the tree. You can have a gaited horse and a foundation bred Quarter Horse standing side by side with both having a 7-inch gullet. Typically the gaited horse will require a 12-inch spread in the shoulder area of the bar while the Quarter Horse will require 13. If you put a saddle made for the Quarter Horse on the gaited horse it will fit at the top (or in this case gullet) but there will be no support at the shoulder. With the added weight of the rider the saddle will pinch at the top of the wither (or gullet) because there is no support at the bottom where the shoulder is. So in reality, gaited horses do not need a wider gullet like most people assume. Rather they need a narrower shoulder on proper bar angles so that all of the rider’s weight is distributed equally.

A mutton-withered horse has less surface area for the bars to rest on. Therefore there is less surface area to equally divide the weight of the rider throughout the tree. Upon your inspection it will actually feel snugger in the front of the bars than compared to a horse with adequate wither. Be sure to check that the saddle is level on the horse and that it follows the shoulder angle closely.

The rider’s weight is carried mostly on the ribcage of the horse’s back and the bars of the tree must match that shape very closely. It is only when you reach your hand up and under those bars that you can feel how closely they come in contact with the horse.

Poor saddle fit A poor fit

The bars and shoulder are
at different angles
A good fit

The bars are at the same
angle as the shoulder
Correct saddle fit

Rock is determined by the amount of bend in the tree; the more rock, or rocker, the more extreme bend is needed within the bars to insure good contact throughout the length of the tree. To make it simple, the rock, or rocker, must match the shape of your horses back at rest and in motion.

The edges of the bar on a gaited horse tree do not just end on a blunt edge. Instead the edges gently taper away from the horse and front of the bars have a bit more bend on the front edges so that the muscle just ducks in and out of the tree without impeding the gait.

There should be at least 1-inch clearance on a Western Saddle between the bottom of the swell and the horse’s wither and no more than 2 inches unless your horse is mutton withered. A mutton-withered horse naturally is going to have more clearance because there is less wither there.

At no time should any part of a saddle come into contact with the spine of a horse. Some horses have a pronounced backbone or prominent spine. To check the horse’s spine, observe if is well hidden and protected in the meat of the muscle or if it is bony by running your hands along the spine. In any case care must be given to insure a proper channel down the gullet from front to rear of the saddle.

A well designed gaited horse tree typically has 1-3 inches shorter bar than a traditional stock tree so that at no time is the tree interfering with the point of hip so as not to impede the gaiting action of the horse. Stock horses do not generally extend themselves as much as gaited horses.

The rider's position in the saddle greatly influences how well a saddle fits. A rider in a saddle with too large of a seat cannot help but slide back and forth in the seat. Over time this will cause the saddle to move out of its proper position. If the rider slides to far back, the saddle will lift up in front transferring all of the weight to the rear of the saddle, potentially causing pressure points. If the rider is pushed too far forward, all of the riders weight is transferred to the shoulders. The table below gives general guidance on the proper seat size.

Seat Size 15" 16" 17"

Weight 130 to 150 
Waist Size 29 - 34"

Weight 140 to 210 
Waist Size 31 - 40"

Weight 180 to 250 
Waist Size up to 46"


Weight 105 to 150 
Pant Size 6 to 14

Weight 140 to 210 
Pant Size 12 to 20

Weight 180 to 240 
Pant Size 18 to 24


Customer Comments


Not too long ago, I received my new saddle pad, and 4 point breast collar from you. To go with my extra wide ovation, of course. Mister & I love our saddle, I believe, more each time we use it! We went to visit, and ride with, my daughter a few weeks ago. We spent long hours in the saddle. Neither myself, or my horse, got sore. My daughter, not so much. Her Arabian's wither tracing is very close to my horse's. The horse is very wide in the withers, very sprung ribcage, & of course, short back. The mare is very " floaty" in her gaits. I know the twist or rock in the bars is different in a gaited horse, but is it different if the ungaited horse has floaty movement? We didn't ride her with my saddle, but did try it on her. Besides looking very nice on her, it sat well on her. Looked like a good fit, but I would love to have your advice. I absolutely love being able to be in a center balanced position on my horse. Thank you, thank you, thank you! Hope you and yours have a blessed holiday. Cindy Grubbs, and riding partner, MFT Mister. I failed to mention how awesome his gaits are now! Kudos to your knowledge about saddle fit.


Hi Debra! Winner, winner, chicken dinner! I know you're going to miss hearing from me now that my saddle problems are over - ha!

Jeri and Bob were such gems - so very valuable to have guide me through yet another round of double checking the saddle fit yesterday. They were both extremely patient and thorough. It is clear that they truly believe in your saddles and your philosophy and just want to spread the good word and make sure that horses are getting what they deserve - a well fitting saddle. I would highly recommend Geri - she knows her stuff.

I thank YOU for all of your patience with me over the past several weeks. I can say that this was the first time that I've shopped for a saddle and selected the right on the first time. And this is my 4th saddle. Amazing.
You were right on the money. We all need to just do a little homework on the front end and then have the expertise on the backend (your end, offering the various size trees is the ticket, along with the measurements).

Going camping in a couple of weeks with Carrie and Finn. We'll send you some photos of us on the trail in our new saddles!

Thanks for everything!  Deanne Grady

P.S. The Wade and matching pulling collar with tooling are gorgeous! Very happy. And the seat size is so much more comfortable.


Wanted to send you a short note about the TWH we fit for a Crest Ridge saddle. We have had a tough time getting this guy into his gait and have spent the last several months only walking and doing exercises hoping to build on a solid foundation at the walk. Any time he was asked to move out he would just go into pace, in fact even his walk started off like a stepping pace. During this time we've also addressed his feet; getting them back to what he should have (not having the long toe and heeled shoes - he is now done with regular shoes and correct trim). Still hadn't quite got him gaiting but could tell things were improving. His owner has me ride him when she is out of town so I have him for the week. I was excited to see how he progressed since the last time I was on him and wanted to ride in my saddle since we know it fits him so well. I put my new Crest Ridge wade on him and he picked his gait up no problem!! It is amazing the difference in this horse just in one ride with a great fitting saddle. Super excited that he will have his own soon and wanted to thank you again for making such wonderful saddles!!! Hopefully she was able to get in touch to get it ordered, I know she is super excited and anxious to have her new saddle. :)  Jill

Everything arrived today and the quality is top-of-the-line, just like everything else you sell! I've had my new Ovation saddle for about a month now and it is AWESOME! It's the most beautiful quality saddle I've ever owned (and I've owned some nice saddles). It's light weight for me to lift and it fits my horse perfectly. We ride some pretty steep hills, and this saddle stays in place like no other! A breast collar isn't even necessary. THANK YOU DEBRA!! The value of your expertise is beyond words. I was amazed that you knew that I needed to lower my stirrups just by looking at the white towel test! Wow! I spent SIX YEARS and many thousands of dollars in search of a saddle that would fit my horse this well. He's happy, and I no longer have back pain or discomfort during or after rides! I just can't say enough good things about you and your company. Again, thank you!!  Dianne Joslin, Lexington, KY

Hi Deb,

This is dottie61886 from GHS. I don't know if you've read any of my recent posts or not, but I've been having some behavioral issues with Rosie. I've been advised by several friends on there to look at my saddle. All testing points to a well fitting saddle, but something is obviously going on with Rosie and it started when I got my new saddle (which was made to her measurements). I did the white towel test, checked bar alignment to her shoulder alignment, checked the overall fit (it's snug without being tight), I've even gotten good gaits in it. However, Rosie has been spooking and blowing up at things that have never bothered her in the past, she tries to ignore my rein and leg cues, and she began sticking her head in the air whenever I ask for a halt or back. I know Rita and Ann have both had fantastic experiences with their Crest Ridge Saddles and highly recommend them. I am at a loss. I've tried treeless on Rosie and that didn't work out, and now I've gone back to a treed saddle that was made to fit her and I suspect that's not working for her either. I could really use some advice, because at this point, I'm in no position to ride my horse because of her obvious discomfort and behavior. I would greatly appreciate any advice you have.  Thank you, Terie Overbey

Hi Everyone,
Thank you so much for your suggestions and insights. As it turns out, saddle fit was indeed the culprit. As Deb said in her post, she and I spoke extensively on the phone and she very graciously explained to me what the problem might be. I took Rosie out for a ride today sans saddle and let me just say...I HAVE MY HORSE BACK!!!!!! The difference was unbelievable. It was like the body snatchers returned my mare! We had no barn sourness, no spooking, no refusing my aids. It was one of the best rides I've had on Rosie. EVER! Her gait was forward and lively and she was obviously quite happy.

Let me try to explain what the problem is with my current saddle. Hopefully Deb will correct me if I get this wrong...
Although my saddle was made to Rosie's measurements, the tree used was slightly off for her body's shape. It all revolved around angles and the angle of mine was off a few degrees. From my understanding, this might not have been such a big deal if I were a light-weight rider and my horse wasn't very sensitive. But alas, that's not the case. Once I was seated in the saddle, the slight difference in the tree caused pressure at the base of Rosie's withers. The more I have thought about it, the more sense her behavior makes. When she spooked, I would work her in circles and serpentines. Move the feet...focus on me. This would cause pinching which would of course make her even more uncomfortable and worked up. Even though I tried to be a good horse mom and make sure her saddle fit, even the standard test couldn't show me the truth. Only Rosie could. Sometimes we have to ignore the obvious and just listen to our horses.

So now I am on the quest for a saddle that will make my girl happy. After talking to Deb I think we can come up with something that will work. Wow, that lady knows her stuff when it comes to saddle fitting! Yesterday, I felt like I was in the depths of despair. Today, I'm back on cloud nine. Thank you all so much for your support! Terie Overby

Hey there Debra,  I just wanted to send pictures of the saddle fitting on the Arab mare.  I did do it with the pad on as per our conversation.  You will notice that the white towel test is not perfect, but I have to say that we are definitely dealing with an entirely different horse right now.... Venus has been slow to go, often circling tight circles on her own if allowed, champing on her bit with her head cocked to the side, and generally somewhat difficult to ride even though she has not acted out per se.  However, she trotted half way around the arena and suddenly picked her head up, stopped gnawing the bit, started going along the rail on her own, and trotted out FAST, the fastest I've ever seen her move.  She was offering to canter and seemed, for lack of a better way to put it, surprised.  It was almost like she was on the border of spooking without anything to spook at.  He had to settle her a few times because she really wanted to move out and seemed silly, almost colt-like.  I know it may not be perfect, but she certainly acted like it felt better.  It was literally the most drastic change I have ever seen in so short a period of time due to changing gear... I wish I had videoed it.  So, let me know what you think of the pictures and we'll go from there.  Thanks Debra!  Abby Walker Herds of Hooves  {A reply from Debra:  Abby, This is as good as it gets! Now all this mare has to do is learn to round her back into that saddle. I cannot do any better for her. You tell Ed to go ride her and keep that pad and that saddle and do not use that pad with any other saddle or horse and within 4 or 5 rides she will start rounding her back and that pad will start to conform.

Deb,  Thank you for helping me my saddle fitting issues with Gaiter.  I knew I had a problem but couldn't figure out how to solve it.  Meeting you at Eagle Ranch was a Godsend. Your adjustment of the rigging and padding brought immediate relief to Gaiter and will allow me to continue competing with him in AERC events while awaiting his new Sinclair saddle.  Many thanks from both of us!  Dawn and Gaiter, Missouri




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