Saddle/SaddleTree Fit
        As the oldest and largest manufacturer of classic wood western saddle trees, we at Steele Saddle Tree receive a large volume of inquiries regarding saddle fit.The majority come from riders who are experiencing difficulty finding a properly fitting saddle for their horse. These horses are frequently described as 'unusual' shaped because every off-the-rack saddle they've tried causes soring, is unstable, won't stay in position, or their horse acts up when it is placed on the horse's back; all of which can be indications of improper fit. I can assure you as a saddle treemaker with literally dozens of available fits,'unusual' is the new normal.
    When horses were the chief mode of personal and family transportation in this country, they were bred to a somewhat
uniform conformation within the breed. A saddle represented a considerable investment, so it wasn't necessarily replaced as often as your horse. The saddle often needed to properly fit your last, your present and your next horse. A horse that didn't fit your saddle rendered your investment worthless, so was not in great demand. 'Unusual' shaped horses were relegated to activities other than riding, such as pulling wagons and carriages or plowing. With the present demand for carriage and plow horses at essentially zero, there is now only one major market for horses - Riders. Uniform conformation, as a prerequisite for buying a 'riding' horse, has disappeared over the past century as the understanding and awareness of proper fit has declined. In other words, there was a time when if you bought a 'riding' horse, chances were it fit your saddle. There are no longer 'riding' horses, 'carriage' horses or 'plow' horses. They're all 'riding' horses now! But riders continue to consider proper fit a given (though there is a growing awareness of the problems associated with improperly fitting saddles). We're never going back to the way it was, so the next step is to increase rider knowledge of proper fit in order that these 'unusual' shaped horses must no longer suffer under poorly fitting saddles.
It All Begins with the Saddle Tree
     In the simplest terms, a saddle is an upholstered saddle tree. Some trees require the saddler to create and shape the saddle seat, but the underside shape, or 'fit', is not routinely altered by the western
saddler. Therefore, how your saddle fits, or conforms to your horse's back, is determined primarily by the shape of the tree inside. If the tree doesn't fit properly, neither will the saddle. There are pads that
enable you to fill in the spaces created by or resulting from an improper fit. These function well for fine tuning a relatively close fit, but cannot completely compensate for a drastically improper fit, so should not be used as a permanent substitute for a truly properly fitting saddle tree / saddle.
What is Proper Fit?
     At Steele Saddle Tree we define proper fit as achieving contact between the tree and the horse's back over as large an area as possible while not creating pressure points during normal riding activity. This distributes the combined weight of the rider and equipment over as large an area as possible, thus reducing the pound per square inch ratio (the more square inches of bearing surface, the less weight per
square inch with a given load). There is no single, absolute definition of proper fit because different riding disciplines benefit from slight variations. For instance, a barrel racing tree gives the rider an advantage if it has additional clearance at the ends of the bars so that 'bridging' and the associated restriction is not an
impediment to the horse when bending around the barrels. A cutting tree gives an advantage to the rider by having a flatter rear rafter angle. This allows the rear of the saddle to float, thereby not restricting the horse's maneuverability by locking the horse's rear end to its front. There are as many of these slight variations as there are disciplines but, in general, more contact means less pressure per square inch and
thus less likelihood of restricted blood flow and skin/muscle trauma.
Fit Classification- Confusion Rules
     Despite the near-universal use of measurements (gullet, spread, etc.) and breed- or body type-specific descriptions (semi-quarter, full quarter, draft, gaited, etc.), there are NO INDUSTRY-WIDE ACCEPTED AND UTILIZED STANDARDS for saddle tree fits! It's every saddle tree maker for themselves; one tree makers' 'quarter horse' fit is not necessarily the same as another's. Even within some tree maker's own lines, the same fit description can be applied to entirely differently shaped trees. Furthermore, it is impossible to accurately describe - especially for comparison purposes - the complex, three dimensional shape of a saddle tree using a few measurements from one side to the other.
Determining Your Needs and Selecting Your Saddle
       Due to the reasons mentioned, it is virtually impossible to determine that your horse needs, say, a 'quarter horse' fit. The only way to know if a particular saddle truly fits your horse is to place a tree identical to the one inside the saddle onto your horse. This is impractical and more often than not, impossible (How many stores have trees that correspond to all saddles in stock?). Steele Equi-Fit saddle trees are the only ones on the market that adhere to an across-the-board standard of fit that can be readily tried or demonstrated on your
horse using 'Fit-To-Be-Seen' (FTBS), the Equi-Fit saddle tree fit designation and demonstration system. An overview of Fit To Be Seen® (FTBS) follows.

The FTBS System provides for both identification of existing fits
and demonstration of these fits on individual horses. Continued . . .