Do you need to know how to measure a western saddle gullet? Perhaps you’ve just bought a new horse, or you’re not sure if your horse’s saddle fits them.
A poorly-fitting saddle can cause lameness, pain, and behavior problems.
Unlike many English saddle designs, Western gullets are not interchangeable, so it’s essential to get the correct measurements before you invest in a saddle.
Let’s learn how.
- An incorrectly fitting saddle can cause pain and behavior issues and injure your horse.
- There are seven common gullet widths. Finding the one that fits your horse’s body type is essential.
- It is equally important to ensure that the bar angles match the shape of your horse’s back and withers.
Parts of the Western Saddle
Before talking about fitting, it’s essential to be on the same page with the technical words used for a few key parts of a Western saddle:
- The gullet is the channel that runs above the horse’s spine and withers. It should not touch the withers.
- The bars are the part of the tree that runs along the horse’s back. Fit is determined by both gullet width and bar angle.
- The skirt is the leather and sheepskin padding underneath the saddle, which prevents the horse’s back from coming in contact with the complex parts of the tree.
- The pommel is the raised front part of the saddle.
- The cantle is the raised part of the back of the saddle.
Measuring Gullet Width
To determine gullet width, look underneath the front of your saddle and find the screws which attach the pommel to the bars. Measure the distance between the screws.
This video shows you exactly how to get an accurate measurement.
Western gullets come in the following sizes. Which one you choose depends on the body type of your horse.
Regular Quarter Horse bars – 5 3/4″ to 6 1/4″. Designed for narrow Quarter Horse types.
Semi Quarter Horse bars – 6″ to 6 1/2″ inches. Fit many modern Quarter Horse types.
Full Quarter Horse bars – 6 3/4″ to 7″. Designed for wider horses with flat or mutton withers.
Halflinger – 7′. Designed for round, short-backed Halflingers and similarly shaped horses.
Draft – 8″. Designed for draft horses and large draft crosses.
You can also get gullets designed for specific breeds.
Arabian saddles have gullet measurements of 6 1/2″ to 6 3/4″ but shorter skirts and bars to accommodate their short backs.
Gaited horse saddles have higher gullets because those breeds tend to have prominent withers.
If the gullet is too narrow, it will pinch. If it’s too wide, it will cause the saddle to slip and potentially make contact with the spine and withers. You don’t want either, as it will be extremely painful for the horse.
Saddlemaker Rod Nikkel explains,
“The wider the spread, the lower the tree will sit on the horse, so the less clearance there will be under the gullet. If the tree is too wide, it will tilt forward on the horse, decreasing the clearance even more.” (1)
The gap between the pommel and the withers should be no less than two but no more than four fingers wide. You should be able to see daylight straight down the middle of the saddle.
Bars and Bar Angles
The gullet width is only one aspect of correctly fitting a Western saddle to your horse.
The bars are just as important, if not more so.
The American Saddle Fitter’s Association says, “The bar angle is designed to correspond to the slope of the “saddle pocket” on a horse located below the withers and back of the shoulder blade.
If the angle is incorrect, none of the other measurements or padding can compensate for or correct a negative fit.” (2)
Ideally, they should lie evenly along the horse’s back, from the pocket behind his shoulder blade to just before the last rib, and the angle should match the horse’s conformation.
You do not want the saddle to inhibit your horse’s freedom of movement or make him uncomfortable. An ill-fitting saddle can cause permanent damage.
Bars that are steeper than the slope of the wither will put more pressure along the top edge. Bars that are wider than the wither slope will put pressure along the bottom edge.
Bridging happens when bars make contact at the front and back of the saddle but not in the middle. It causes significant pressure at the ends of the saddle and can injure the horse.
This video explains where the saddle should and should not make contact with the horse and gives handy tips for determining the correct bar angles on a saddle tree.
With English saddles, micro-adjustments can be made with flocking – the padding inside the saddle itself. Western saddles, however, don’t have to flock.
Once you’ve got the correct gullet size and bar angle for your high-withered horse, you might still lack the perfect fit.
This is where saddle pads come in. While a pad cannot compensate for incorrect saddle bar angles or the wrong gullet width, it still makes a difference.
So, don’t forget to check our guide on choosing the correct saddle pad size.
RELATED: Best Ever Saddle Pads Reviews
How do I know what size gullet I need?
You can use two dressage whips and a protractor to measure the width of your horse’s withers.
Once the saddle is on the horse, it should sit straight (not tipping forwards or back), and you should be able to fit no less than two and no more than four fingers between the withers and the gullet.
What size gullet is full QH bars?
6 3/4″ to 7″.
How wide should a saddle gullet be?
Wide enough to allow the withers and spine plenty of clearance.
Proper saddle fit is one of the most important things you can do for your horse. It will keep him happy and sound.
I’ve hopefully explained some of the basics of saddle sizing. Still, unless you are confident in determining the correct saddle size, it is always advisable to have a professional fitter check your saddle.
So, what is the size of your western saddle gullet? Don’t forget to let us know in the comments!
- 1. Avoiding the Withers – Using Hand Hole Height and Gullet Height Measurements [Internet]. www.rodnikkel.com. [cited 2022 Dec 1]. Available from: https://www.rodnikkel.com/content/understanding-tree-measurements/avoiding-the-withers-using-hand-hole-height-and-gullet-height-me/
- 2. BAR ANGLE [Internet]. saddlemakers.org. [cited 2022 Dec 1]. Available from: http://saddlemakers.org/id204.htm
Emily is a native of Colorado, currently living in Glasgow, Scotland, working as a freelance writer. She is a long-time horsewoman, having started riding at the age of 6, then competing in dressage around Colorado and Massachusetts, where she finished her undergraduate degree in psychology.
Following a move to the UK and a PhD, she worked for a few years as a freelance horse trainer in Central Scotland. She’s interested in holistic horsemanship, fostering better communication and understanding between horses and humans, riding with lightness and softness, and she’s forever seeking out the newest research into equine behavior and psychology. When not writing, she can be found at the barn with her two equine partners, Foinavon, an ex-feral Highland pony, and Hermosa, a young Andalusian.
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