Choosing the Right Saddle

So you’re going to make the change.  Going treeless!  You’ll find it totally different to riding in a treed saddle. Let us help make it easy for you. We’d love to talk to all our clients.  We want to know all about you and your horse. Then together we will look at and analyze your saddle choices. Also, the pad for the saddle has lots of options, too.  We are able to replace the foam inside with thinner or thicker foam if needed.  It is very easy to place shims in, too. Please reach out to us at (540) 271-4577 for assistance.

Please visit our Vimeo video channel for lots of helpful videos about how our saddles work and how we fit: You'll also find videos on our site.

Looking at Used Freeform Saddles

First and foremost, I’d like to point out the older Freeform saddles prior to 2009 had issues with the foam. If the saddle is fleece, leather, red or blue underneath this would indicate the time frame of the weaker foam. We changed the foam in late 2009 to a phenomenal foam that holds up and distributes weight. See more tips in our post: What to Look for When Buying a Used Freeform Saddle.

Fitting Your Horse(s) and Fitting You, the Rider

We need to gather information about your horse in the fitting process. Please email the information requested below to:

Saddle fitting information request:

1. Give a description of your horse’s size and breed.

2. Send these photos with horse SQUARE on all 4 legs on LEVEL ground:

  • Photo from each side of entire horse, head in a normal position.
  • Photo over the rump (TAKEN IN THE CENTER) down to the shoulder/wither area. HORSE NEEDS TO STAND SQUARE in order to get a good idea of what we are fitting. Thanks, I know getting a horse to stand square is a challenge.

3. The fitting issues now or in the past with this horse?

4. Any health issues with your horse? Back issues we need to address?

5. Your weight and height.

6. Type of riding you do and your goals.

7. Measurement from the base of the mane to the last rib, straight back, no contour of back.

8. Measurement for the girth. I need elbow to elbow measurement. Measure twice. Use a string and lay the string on a tape measure.

Example of Photos Needed

Here are the photos of your horse(s) that I would love to see you take:

Right side of white horse on level ground for saddle fitting
View of horse's back on level ground for saddle fitting
Left side of white horse on level ground for saddle fitting

Considering Your Horse’s Weight Limit

Weight limits are such a touchy subject. I’ve had to turn away folks because I didn’t feel comfortable. As a professional saddle fitter, my goal is to make sure your horse(s) are comfortable and moving freely with their saddle set up.

For the majority of all horses and ponies there is a weight limit. No matter if it’s a treed or treeless saddle. I’ve worked with Veterinarians, Osteopathic Vets, Chiropractors and master saddle fitters around the US and Europe – and we all agree on the following recommended weight limits:

  • For trail riding –  Recommended total weight limit is 20% of the horse’s weight
  • For endurance – Recommended total weight limit is 17% of the horse’s weight

To calculate your weight, use this formula: 

[Rider’s Weight + Tack Weight / Horse’s Weight = %]

For example – If  you are a 140 lb rider, with 20 lbs of total tack, and your horse weighs 1,000 lbs – your weight is 16% of your horse: (Tack weight should include water bottle, snacks, and/or extra things you carry)

140 lb rider

+ 20 lbs of total tack (saddle, bridle, packs)

= 160 lb total

/ 1,000 lb horse

= 16%

Fitting with Pads - Freeform or Skito

Freeform Saddle Pads

Freeform saddle pads were designed to replace the popular HAF saddle pads. When HAF saddle pad company went out of business, it left a large whole in the pad market. I spent two years redesigning the pad and adding many improvements: high wither relief, much better foam, a strong sympanova underlay - or NEW 100% wool fleece backing, and top quality craftsmanship. These pads are made in Italy, exclusively for Freeform.

The special open cell foam allows a perfect perspiration of the horse's back, drastically reducing the accumulation of body heat and humidity under the saddle. The pad has a velcro opening to remove or replace your inserts and add shims, if needed. This lovely pad is so easy to clean. Simply hose it off - or wash it in your machine, gentle cycle. The Upper material is a air-net type material permitting nearly immediate transpiration.  

Skito Custom Saddle Pads

In working with legendary Tom Clark at Skito for many years, and now the new owners of Skito, we have wonderful Skito Dryback Saddle Pads for the Freeform – an English Dryback and an Endurance Dryback. We continue to improve our fitting skill, Not only with trail and endurance horses, but also the gaited horses. Saddles stay put! Shoulders move freely and the horse is comfy.

Dryback is an Equalizer Saddle Pad by Skito that is constructed to release heat and moisture from the large back muscle to the atmosphere.  Air flows between the saddle and saddle pad thanks to the addition of the 3M Nomad matting to the top of the saddle pad.  Simply put, the exclusive Skito wool efficiently wicks the heat laden perspiration to the open cell foam inserts, which acts as a dense sponge pulling moisture and heat away from the horse to the surface of the pad.

Foam density is key in regards to comfort, support and durability. Working with Skito, we have developed a laminated foam with felt configuration to provide better support and comfort for you and your equine partner. For the treeless saddle advocate, all of our foam inserts:

  • Are beveled to eliminate pressure points
  • Allow your leg to lay closer to the horse

Here are links to some of our Skito videos:

We have a nice selection of shims to ensure the correct fit - and we have designed side pommel ties and a center cantle tie to:

  • Attach your pad to your saddle securely
  • Create an air channel down the spine
Examples of different shim options for Skito custom saddle pads for Freeform saddles

Shim examples

Perfect Fit with the Panel System (when necessary)

Fitting with the panel system was developed for many different reasons.  Fitting (shoulder and wither issues), weight distribution, long distance riding, to name a few.

The panels have a Velcro opening along the top. This allows for easy access for fillers.  The panel then will be placed through the gullet of the saddle. You are able to place it to fit the contour of the horses back and V out the cantle to level the saddle. Please see our Panel videos (in the saddle fitting video section) for more panel placement help. 

You will need a tight 4 fingers in between your 2 panels in the gullet area.  Adjustment to the panels from the stirrup area to the pommel of the saddle can vary for your horse’s needs.   In other words most horses have two very different shoulders so with the panels you may place them where they are needed… Up or down, whatever works. Below is a video on Fitting with Panels – including how they work and how to put them on. Please watch and continue reading this page for more tips on using panels.

You are able to use whatever material or materials you need inside the panel for fitting and comfort.  Anything from foam to wool…  even Poron.  The panels come empty so you will need to purchase the material separately.

These are good starting points to play around with.  Assess what your needs are.  You may want to start with one of the filler materials in the panel, place the saddle with the panel on the horse with the pad and see how the fit goes.  Remember your horse’s back changes as you ride.   I have one horse with panels on his saddle and no panel in his pad for the right fit.  I have another horse that needs both a panel in his pad and Poron in this panel.  Each horse’s back is very different, and that is why these saddles and panels are so effective.  They really DO work!  You will need to take a few short rides to find the right fit.  Then the magic begins.  Patience practiced through the few adjustments in the beginning

Here are links to our panel fitting videos:

Poron - Panel Filler

I’m having great success in fitting saddles and weight distribution with Poron panel filler.  Unbelievable computerized saddle scans show TOTALLY EVEN weight distribution!  Yes even under the stirrup Velcro area.  Heavy weight endurance folks currently competing and Vetting through with all A’s … this mean the horses backs are in great shape.  Yippee.  Finally I can say with no doubt that we can truly get a great fit with Freeform treeless saddles.

“I just wanted to tell you how wonderful those panels are! They work well on my saddle and my mare was very happy, so happy in fact she wanted to stay out on the trail longer and not go home at the turn to do so! They are definitely worth every penny! Thank you!”  — April Repostski

Trying Out Your New Saddle

After the saddle has arrived and you’re ready to saddle up, take a few minutes to look at the saddle and the adjustments you can make. Your seat is movable and so are your stirrup leathers/fenders.

To get started, place your saddle on your pad and place them both on the horse’s back so that you will be sitting where you would if you were riding bareback.  It may be a little more forward than you are used to. The saddle may move slightly depending on horse conformation and movement, once you are mounted and riding, and that’s OK.

Pull the pad up into the cutback part of the saddle to create an air channel over the spine. Watch our short video for more tips on checking your fit at home: How to Check Your Freeform Saddle Fit at Home.

Girthing buckles should be about 3 inches higher than the elbow. Read more about cinches and girths below.

You do not want your leathers to be placed within 1” of the cutback of the saddle, or on the withers of the horse if no cutback.  Then the adjustments begin.  You will need to tweak your saddle seat and leathers in ¼” increments to find your best balance.  This may take a few rides.  When it all comes together you’ll be in balance and in tune with your horse and the horse’s movement.  It’s way too cool.  If you feel a bit forward in your seat you may need to move your stirrup leathers a bit forward and your seat a bit back.  Or you may need a bigger size seat.  I may ask you for photos of you on your horse to help you out.  Remember that I’m here to help.  One of the great things about these saddles is all the wonderful adjustments we can make.

When trying out your new saddle remember that this is a treeless saddle and you’ll likely be sitting totally differently than you are used to sitting.  You will be much more balanced and in tune with your horse.  You will be using different muscles and may feel a little sore for your first few rides.  This is normal.  Once your body gets used to riding in a new position you’ll be fine.  It is magical!

When you are riding in your new saddle please take small 20 minute rides at first.  Make sure it is adjusted to both you and your horse before you take off on a long ride.

Is Your Cinch Too Long?

by Richard Sacks

Can the length of your cinch/girth affect your horse’s performance, your saddle’s fit and your enjoyment of your ride? Absolutely! We have all seen cinchy horses where they turn to bite you when you saddle them up. We have also seen people adjusting their saddle when riding down the trail or in the arena, swinging the saddle back into position with their rear ends. Worse, we have all seen saddles slide when we put our foot in the stirrup to mount. All of these issues are caused by a cinch or girth that is too long.

Wait, you say, I have always used this length cinch and I’ve got a horse that is 16 hands. He’s a big boy. Take a look at the horse in this picture. He has a heart girth of 88″. That means he measures 88″ around his body at his girth groove. He is 15.3 hands and weighs 1200 pounds. HE IS A BIG BOY! Yet, he is ridden in a 24″ cinch. How can this be!

1200 lb horse with 88" heart girth
anatomy of the horse chart

From the front, all horses have the same basic shape: high withered or no withers. The widest part of their body is at the apex of the curve of their rib cage. If your cinch or girth ends are above this point, no matter how tight you pull the cinch/girth, you will never get enough grip. The body of the horse is sloping inwards towards the spine above this point. Your saddle will slide forward and back, your cinch/girth will slide down towards the widest portion of the horse (the apex of the curve of the rib cage) and your saddle will slide from side to side, if not under the belly of the horse. The worst thing is you are choking your horse as you pull tighter and tighter.

All horses breathe. Yes they do, and when they breathe they expand their rib cage (chest) to allow their lungs to take in air. Imagine if you were going out for a run and someone tied a rope tightly around your chest. It would be difficult for you to breathe and you would most likely find this to be very annoying. I’ll bet you your horse feels the same way. In fact, he probably tells you he doesn’t like this when he turns his head and tries to bite you when you saddle him up. If you’re female and wear a bra (all you wild child’s from the sixties and men will have to imagine this) you have experienced the same feeling. When you breathe in, your chest expands and the wire foundation digs into your chest. That’s why they invented sports bras.

If the cinch/girth is below the apex of the curve of the rib cage, you won’t have these problems. The body of the horse is sloping out towards the cinch. You don’t have to pull as hard to tighten the cinch/girth. You will get immediate grip so your saddle won’t slide back and forth. The cinch can’t slide from side to side either since you are already at a widening portion of the horse’s body. Most importantly, your horse can breathe. The cinch/girth won’t constrict the expansion of the rib cage when the horse breathes in air. The horse will be more comfortable and will be less likely to bite you.

So how do you really know what size cinch/girth is right for your horse. We have all seen articles in some flashy magazine that says if your horse is 14 hands you need a small size and if you horse is 15 hands then you need this size. If you horse is 16 hands or more, you can’t go wrong with the biggest size available, they’ll say. Obviously, these folks have never seen my 4 foot tall grandmother who was 5 feet wide. There was no way a 20″ belt was going to fit around that woman’s waist. Not a very scientific way to approach this subject.

What is purported to be a more scientific approach fails to be accurate as well. The “Golden Rule”, where you measure the horse’s heart girth, divided by 2, and then subtract 3″, is supposed to give you the correct cinch size for your horse. If we use the gray horse, in the photo at the top, we can see that this doesn’t work. This horse’s heart girth is 88″. Divide by 2 will result in 44″ and then subtract 3″ and you get a cinch size of 41″. I don’t think so!

There is only one way to measure the size cinch/girth that is correct for your horse. The buckles of the cinch must be clear of the elbow and yet still be below the apex of the curve of the rib cage. Looking at this closer look of the horse’s front leg, we can see where the elbow is. We can also see where the shoulder and the point of the shoulder are. This is not where the cinch/girth should be.

Anatomy of the front leg of the horse showing location of the elbow.

The lowest point it can be is about 3-4″ above the elbow. This will allow for clearance when your horse brings his leg back. There will be no interference at this point. If you take a string and hold it on one side of the horse at a point 3-4″ above the elbow, and then run it under your horse to the opposite side at the same point (3-4″ above the elbow) you will have measured the length of the cinch/girth you horse needs. Simply place the string against a yard stick or tape measure and you will have the exact length. May people who use 30″-34″ cinches/girths will be very surprised by what they find. The length for most horses will be between 24-26″ no matter how tall, big, or type of confirmation. Some horses will be less.

I know this sounds different, maybe even strange. But try it. Measure your horse or borrow a smaller cinch/girth from someone you know and give it a try. Your saddle will be more stable. It won’t move from side to side or front to back. Your horse will take a deep breath and a sigh of relief.

Copyright 2018 EquiPedic Equine Products, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Helpful Resources to Learn More:

  • Fitting Your Horse & You - Choosing the right saddle and pad, factoring in weight, fitting with panels, evaluating cinch/girth length and tips for trying out your saddle
  • Overview of Freeform Saddles - Find out what makes Freeform unique, including saddle details; sizing, features and options; and saddle care.
  • FAQs - Often when someone is considering changing from something they are used to - like a saddle with a tree, to an unknown - like a saddle without a tree, they have many questions. Find answers in our FAQs.
  • Watch Videos - Get saddle fitting tips, saddle spotlights, saddle care & setup tips, plus quick changes with accessories and tips for gaited horses
  • Saddle Guides - Considering treeless saddles for your gaited horse? Start here Saddles for Gaited Horses & Tips for You, See also Saddles for Trail Riding and for Endurance Riding.
  • Saddle Demo Program - We work with you one-on-one to ensure the best fit for you and your horse. We’re proud to say that our saddle return rate is less than 6%.
  • Raves from Riders - Browse the many raves that riders have shared over the years about the benefits of Freeform treeless saddles