Examine your horse’s withers.,
Look at the horse’s topline.,
Look at the length of your horse’s back.,
Consider the horse’s age.
The withers of the horse is the high point above the shoulder blades along the back. There three general types of withers, which determine the length and rocker angle of the saddle.
Defined withers are recognizable by a definite high point, and then a gentle slope back to the croup. Most ‘regular’ or ‘medium’ saddles will fit this type of horse.
Rounded withers occur when, just as it sounds, the withers are gently sloped and the horse has a more flat back. The withers are typically a bit more flat as well, requiring a wider saddle tree.
, The topline of the horse is the shape/curve of the back from the withers to the croup. The topline has four primary build types: level, straight, swayback, and downhill. Each build will require a different saddle build, or the use of special saddle pads.
A level topline can be recognized when a horse has withers and croup that are about the same height, and lacks a large dip between the two. Most regular saddles will fit this topline build.
A straight back is most common in mules, but it sometimes seen in horses. Straight backs occur when the withers and croup are fairly low, and don’t have much of a dip between the two. From the side, their entire back will be almost level. This requires a special ‘straight’ saddle built with bars that lack much of a rocker angle.
Swayback horses have incredibly prominent, narrow withers and a prominent croup. This typically occurs in horses that are poorly conditioned or that are very old, and makes it so that the saddle cannot sit flat against the back; it balances between the withers and croup. Special pads can be added to fix this problem.
A downhill topline occurs when the croup of the horse is slightly higher than the withers, causing the saddle to tip forward. You can get a saddle adjusted with more flocking near the front to balance it out, or you can use special pads under the pommel/fork to force the saddle upright.
, A ‘regular’ saddle is built to fit a horse with an average length back. A special saddle is not needed for a horse with a very long back in most cases, but if your horse has a short back, the skirt of the saddle (the leather flaps on either side) might dig into them, causing pain and irritation. If your horse is very small, you may need to get a special ‘small’ saddle to fit their back., If you’re buying a saddle for a very young or unconditioned horse, realize that you will likely have to buy a new one in a year or two to fit their growing body. On the other hand, if your horse is very old or overweight, you might need to get another saddle after a year or two to compensate for a lot of weight loss.