Saddle Length ~ Is my Saddle Too Long?

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?”

Is my saddle too long?Saddle Length ~ English TreeIt’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.

Is my saddle too long?Saddle Length ~ Western TreeNow 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”.

Comments 6

    1. Post

      Hi Justine,

      Whether it’s Western, English or Australian you don’t want the base of the back of the cantle past the last rib.


    1. Post

      Hi Sarah,
      We usually locate the last rib 2-3 inches down from the spine as the tree doesn’t contact the horse’s back in the middle. So 2-3 inches down is a good location for this measurement.

  1. My horses rib cage is 19″ long and my horses back (shoulder to hip) is 23″ long.

    Would a 23″ skirt length be okay? I would just have to make sure the front of the saddle to the cantle is 19″ correct?

    1. Post

      Hi Jessica,

      You will be OK as long as the end of the skirting doesn’t contact the hip bones on either side. Also the skirts should be flared up and away from the horse’s back. A general rule for western treed saddles is the base of the cantle where the cantle meets the tree should not go opast the last rib.

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