Fitting a Barrel Saddle, Trail Saddle or Ranch Saddle to a Horse

If you need a barrel saddle or trail saddle or even a ranch saddle you have to realize that just like people, horses change size.  Horses grow, add muscle, lose muscle, eat, etc.  You can buy a perfectly fitted saddle today and you may need to add shims and padding next year.

Most saddles are built for Quarter Horse builds.  Quarter Horse type breeds are round with hardly any withers with a flat back.   If you have a horse built like a Quarter Horse, you have a large selection of saddles.

If you have a gaited horse, draft horse, Arabian, Morgan, Paso, or other breeds not shaped like quarter horse be prepared to look harder for a saddle and pay more for it.

Rigid Saddle Tree

This is the frame or skeleton of the saddle.  The tree is made of wood or polymer plastic.  Both types properly constructed make a quality saddle.  Wood if not properly constructed, rawhide or fiberglass covered and made water-resistant can rot.  Wood is usually heavier.  Plastic is one piece construction.  Two companies make many of the trees in the US, Ralide Corp and Steele Saddle Tree Co.

  • Bars.  The bars contact the horse and support the saddle and the weight of the rider.
  • Pommel.  The front of the saddle tree attached to the bars and supporting the horn.
  • Cantle.  The back of the tree attached to the bars.
  • Horn.  Attached to the pommel with screws or nails.

Flexible Saddle Tree

This tree differs from the standard tree in that it has some flex from front to back.  The bars are plastic polymer that is a formula with a little flex.  The flex tree has little flex from shoulder to shoulder.  If you don’t have a saddle fitted to each of your horses and your horses have similar build, you might want to consider a flexible tree.  Buy the saddle to fit the widest horse.
Gullet.  The gullet is the part of the saddle where the pommel attaches to the bars of the tree on each side. The measurement is the width from side to side. Gullet height is the measurement to the underside of the pommel with the bare tree sitting on the floor.

Bar Types.  The bar type is the angle at which the bars lay on the horses back or if they may flare out in the front to make room for the shoulders.  Most single piece polymer trees are designed for Quarter Horses.  Unlike polymer trees, the bar type on wooden trees can be changed.

  • Quarter Bar.  Standard tree.  (Gullet width 6 ¾” at the tree)
  • Semi Quarter.  Bars are angled more than the quarter bar for horses with more withers like Arabians.
  • Full Quarter.  Larger, wider horses.  The back of the bars are the same and the front of the bars are wider to about 7”.
  • Gaited Bar
  • Draft Bar
  • Mule Bar
  • Arabian Bar

    The best advise is to become a knowledgeable saddle buyer and take your horse with you to try on saddles.  Take your time shopping and when you know what you want, buy from a reputable manufacturer.