2015-12-15: Hi! You're probably here because you did a Google search for 'plus sized horseback riders' or you saw my content quoted elsewhere. There are a couple of things I'd like you to know.

I am still here! But I am living away from my horses and not riding often. I could tell you a lie and say that I am, but I have always endeavored to give you the truth here. As a result, I'm not feeling terribly motivated to write blog posts and I feel out of touch with the community.

I'd love for you to stay a while and look back through the archives. Visit the links listed below. We still have an active forum community and I post on the Facebook page from time to time.

I have tentative plans to try to get more involved in the horse world in 2016, and I will absolutely share whatever that adventure becomes with you, so keep checking back!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Guest Blog: The Importance of Saddle Fit

I wrote a short note to the author of this blog a little while back, congratulating her on her blog and her good, sensible, positive advice to riders of all sizes! I mentioned saddle fit, and she very generously asked if I'd write up my email in a little more detail, for the blog readers. So here, without further ado:

The Importance Of A Properly Fitted Saddle

There's not really any way to *over*state the importance of a well-fitted saddle, but it's something I rarely see discussed in the context of new riders or re-riders and their journeys back to riding. Many re-riders I know either ride in whichever saddle came with their horse, or purchase a saddle that 'looks like it fits,' without fully understanding the steps to checking saddle fit. There are a lot of different things to look at when deciding on the best saddle for you AND your horse, and though it can be overwhelming, I believe it's essential for all riders to learn at least the basics of saddle fitting.

I'm not a saddle fitter or a professional, but here are some of the things I always recommend when someone asks about choosing a saddle

1) Go to your local tack shop, and sit in a few saddles. Determine which size saddle fits YOU comfortably. You should be able to slide your palm between the back of the saddle and your butt, with your seatbones resting right in the middle of the saddle. You should be able to do the same in the front.

2) Determine what width of tree your horse needs. English style saddles come in Narrow, Medium, Medium-Wide, and Wide, and some brands also have an inch or centimeter measurement. Western saddles have "QHB/Semi QHB" (Quarter Horse Bars), "FQHB" (Full Quarter Horse Bars), "Arab Bars," and other terms to describe tree width and gullet size. Do some research online or in a library or tack store, and find out which types of trees might be best for your type of horse. Broad, flat-shouldered horses and narrower, high-withered horses need totally different saddles, with different shapes and widths! And there are many variations in between. See the wither tracing link below for help with this.

3) Now that you know what size saddle you need, and what size your horse 'wears,' get a few saddles out on trial from your local tack store, or get a 'try before you buy' saddle from an online retailer. There are used saddles available for trial from many online or local used tack and consignment stores. Even ask your friends or co-boarders if you can try their saddles on your horse, so you can get a good idea of what fits him!

Try the saddle on your horse WITHOUT a pad. Make sure that the 'meat' of the saddle on the underneath, on either side of the gullet, rests smoothly against his back all down both sides of his spine. If there are places where there's a gap between the saddle and his back, the saddle doesn't fit. If the front of the saddle is resting against his withers, it doesn't fit. And most importantly, slide your hand between his shoulder and the front of the saddle...you should be able to easily fit two fingers there without feeling a pinch or a too-tight feeling. Make sure that the saddle is sitting level on the horse's back, not slanting forward or back.

4) Try the saddle with you sitting in it and with someone watching from the ground. I've been riding for over 30 years, and I won't buy a saddle until someone I trust has seen me ride my horse in the saddle, and can tell me if my weight is causing a problem with the fit. Have them slide their hand under the shoulder/skirt, to make sure your body weight isn't bringing the saddle down too hard on the horse's shoulders. Have them put their hand behind the cantle, between the saddle and the horse, to feel for 'hard' spots or pinching. Have them watch to see if the saddle shifts or moves while you ride, which is a sign of a saddle that's not fitting right somewhere. Walk and trot, at least, to get a good feel for the saddle itself.

5) If you have the funds to do so, consider asking your trainer, an experienced rider you trust, or a local saddle fitter to assist you with purchasing your saddle. This is truly the best idea if you're new to saddle fitting and purchasing, but it's not always an option.

Many online retailers will ask for a wither tracing of your horse, and can help you find a properly fitted saddle once you send them the tracing. For a good example of this, see the Trumbull Mountain Saddlery Page. Not only will they take your wither tracing and match it to a saddle, but they can also give great advice online, and have great informational articles about back pain, saddle fit, and information on saddle terminology. That link leads to a 'how to' on wither tracings!

Saddle fit is always important...heck, it's important if you're just longeing! But when you are a larger rider actively riding, especially a re-rider who is still working on balance and seat and core strength, I think it's possibly the single most essential thing in the rider/horse relationship. If you think about it, even a Western saddle will concentrate the weight of a rider to a relatively small part of the horse's back; the more weight, the higher the concentration of pressure. It's absolutely essential that that weight is distributed well and evenly and painlessly by the saddle. Then it becomes a benefit and aid to your riding, not a hindrance.

I have two students who are larger riders, both well over 250lbs, with lovely and suitable horses (one is a PercheronX, one's an Appaloosa). The Appy was having a lot of trouble at her former barn; he was actually balking and stopping on her, flipping his head around, obviously protesting something. The very first thing I did was look at her saddle. She is a re-rider who had recently returned to horses, and the saddle had come with the horse. She had never given the saddle a second thought!

He's a nice solid horse and well suited to her weight, but the saddle she was riding in had a sharp-cornered tree edge in the back (it was a Wintec synthetic) that was digging into his kidneys with pretty much the entire weight of her body. OUCH! He wasn't lame or obviously sore, but when you slid your hand between the saddle and him, with a rider in the saddle, that corner would really bite into your hand! We changed saddles, and I had her start longeing him in side reins, long and low, to get him to stretch and use his back muscles properly and build them up, so he could more comfortably carry the weight of her and a properly fitted leather saddle. They're doing incredibly well, now that the saddle problem has been resolved. The new saddle fits both her and her horse, and it's like watching a whole new pair.

So, next time you ride your horse, slip a hand between her back and the saddle. Feel to make sure there aren't any hard spots or sharp corners or lumps. You may be surprised by what you feel, and how much a well-fitted saddle can change your horse's entire way of going!


Katie M. trains and rides dressage in Upstate New York. She has spent time as a working student with Lendon Gray and Brandilee Hilbert, and currently juggles lessons and riding with a full-time 'day job.' It took her two months to find a saddle that fit her Morgan gelding.


If you've got something you would like me to blog about, shoot me a line at seeking(dot)sendiri(at)gmail(dot)com -- if it's something you know about, you just might get asked to write an entry!


  1. Bay Quest has a few good saddle fitting vids. Go to bayquest.com Or look up Padmavideo on youtube.

  2. Great article! Having just shopped for a good fitting saddle myself, most of this was a refresher for me, but it's all worth knowing!

    I would suggest testing the fit (saddle, no pad) at least once a year as well. The more you ride, or don't ride, your horse will change body shapes. What fit a year ago on your unconditioned horse may not fit now that muscles are built up, etc.

  3. Great article! and great blog! I am a plus sized rider trying to be less plus size but I have aways to go too. A lot of what you have said really strikes a bell with me. I look forward to reading more.

  4. ktpupp is totally right on re-checking saddle fit.

    I kind of fear it as Kieran gets more fit. (OMG what if I have to get him a new saddle? argh!)

  5. A miracle occured when I was shopping for a saddle!

    The very first saddle I looked at, after getting my very first horse last year, was a used 18" Circle Y synthetic that I found on CL for a good price. The seller said I could return it if it did not fit so I bought it.

    It fits both me and my horse perfectly, and he has very high withers (it has semi-QH bars)! My vet and trainer have both checked the fit. Everytime I ride I check for dry spots as he has really muscled up since I got him and it still fits.

    I have found placement to be very important too. I am new to horses, and a few times I placed it too far forward or too far back, and then I did end up with dry spots. I have finally mastered the placement.

    The only thing I did not like about the saddle was the stirrups, so I replace the cheap plastic stirrups with aluminum ones. And I think that maybe a round skirt would fit even better as he is gaited.

    I am constantly on the lookout for another, in case this one wears out!

  6. Another wonderful blog entry!!! Thanks so much!!

  7. I have to say, I'm tickled to find this site. I'm a 250 - 255 rider in AZ with a 16h, high withered, slightly swaybacked, QH. My saddle is a Tex Tan but I am afraid it bridges:( Looking for a swayback pad to help with fit. Maybe then, I'll stop punishing myself for being overweight by not riding at all since I won't have any more excuses! Thanks for the leg up.

  8. I really enjoy riding english style and have found that it fit me quite well. I was just wondering what your opinion is what style of saddle is better, english or wester?

  9. Yes i too enjoy english style riding and i think style of english saddle will be the best.

  10. After almost 40 years away from riding, I've bought a horse and new saddle that fits me and the horse well, but it's shifting from the back when I try to mount. So much so, that I can't get on. What am I doing wrong? I feel if John Wayne can get on a horse without having his saddle slide, I ought to be able to.