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Modern Day Saddle Fit: Shape Matters

Written by: Nikala Ward

Long gone are the days that one saddle and one brand fits every horse. Although the market has expanded to which saddle companies are offering different shapes and sizes, there are still a profound amount of riders sitting in saddles they “prefer” versus saddles that the horses “prefer”.

Flat seats, semi-deep seats and deep seat trees in English saddles speak more to the horse than the rider. In my practice, I often teach each rider to identify the shape or curvature (or lack there of) to their horses back before selecting which saddle I may recommend or reach for.

For teachable reference, I will normally refer to the tree of the saddle (often built traditionally from laminated wood or synthetic materials and steel) as the “bones of the saddle”. To which I then ask the rider to match the bones of the saddle, to the bones of the back of the horse.

A horse with greater curvature through their thoracic spine is more likely to require a semi-deep or deep seat tree to compliment their anatomy. Where as a horse who is quite straight through their spinal profile will likely thrive in a flatter seat tree.

It is important to understand there are a number of factors that can cause a horse to thrive (or not) in a saddle besides tree shape. This can include, but are not limited to: tree width, sufficient (or insufficient) panelling, gullet width, saddle placement, spinal clearance and saddle size. It is also important to evaluate if the horse is having behavioural issues and/or back pain.

This brings me to remind many horse people to have conversations with their bodyworkers, veterinarians and their qualified saddle fitters. Although saddlefit is important, making sure you have a good team evaluating your horses overall wellbeing is even more important. And finally, a friendly reminder to view each horse as an individual and to let them speak for themselves when it comes to saddle fit.

Happy riding!

- Nikala Ward

Wanting to learn more or have your saddle fit checked? Nikala offers an unbiased opinion on saddle fit with no pressure to pursue purchase.

Nikala is a Master Saddlefitting Consultant, MSFC 2022, France. She has a background in grooming, coaching and riding while also 3 years working at a sports medicine clinic in Alberta.

You can contact her at

W.E. Saddle Consulting


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