If it’s on the internet, it must be true. Right? No, not always. Proper saddle length…the most popular internet answer to the question, “Is my saddle too long for my horse?” is that the saddle should never go past the last rib. Is this really the definitive answer? Like most things in life that’s a definite “Maybe?”
It’s a “Yes” if your are talking about English saddle length. Look at the English tree on the back of the horse. The base of the cantle should not go past the last rib. English saddles differ in construction in that the panels that cushion the tree from the horse’s back end abruptly right at the end of the tree.
The last rib is the end of the sweet spot for saddle fit. In between the last rib and the hip are the kidneys and other soft tissue. If an English saddle extends into this area it can cause problems, especially if the rider sits heavy to the back of the saddle. So when talking about the length of an English saddle it should not go past the last rib.
Now for the Western saddle the story is a little different. If we applied the last rib rule to a Western saddle we wouldn’t be able to build a saddle with a seat any bigger than about 12 inches! A tree with a 12 inch seat is going to have a bar length of around 19 inches. An average Quarter Horse has a rib cage about 19 inches long. A Western saddle with a seat length of 16 inches is going to have a tree with a bar length of around 22-23 inches with skirts that are around 24-27 inches which obviously is going to extend beyond the last rib. So what’s the deal?
When talking about the length of a Western saddle the rule changes to: The base of the cantle must not go off the last rib. A properly designed Western tree will have the tails of the bars flared up and away from the horse’s back increasing from where the cantle is attached to the tree. The skirting that covers the tree should also be flared up and way and have some give to it as well.
So why do Western saddles have the tails in back of the cantle? A little history. The first American Western saddles were modified versions of the Spanish Vaquero’s working saddle. As the working cowboys of the day used their saddles, they kept improving and modifying them to suit the job they were doing. They needed a place to carry things with them. Saddle bags, fencing supplies, etc. The rear of the Western saddle with the addition of the rear jockey or housing was the perfect place to carry things and keep them off of the horse’s back.
Western and English disciplines have there differences and saddle design and construction is a big one.
For more information on this subject read tree maker Rod Nikkel’s article on “All western saddles extend over the loin”.