Most equestrians worry about the rider’s weight and an inappropriate gullet causing the horse’s shoulders to pinch. Learning how to measure a saddle gullet width is vital for a proper fitting saddle. Whether your horse’s withers are narrower or wider and flatter, they should never form white hairs from pressure points.
To get the correct saddle gullet measurement, you need to measure your horse’s withers, getting the angle, pitch, and depth of the ideal gullet and the bars the gullet rides on.
Accommodate your horse’s unique shoulder width by ensuring a correct gullet width with quarter horse bars that respect the rounded shape of your horse.
Whether you are riding in a Western saddle or English saddle, your saddle tree should feature a gullet or channel that clears the horse’s spine from the withers to their tail. This correct fit can only be achieved when your horse’s shoulder angle and withers slope is carefully accommodated.
The Saddle Industry and Modern Saddle Fitting
The saddle industry has made correct saddle fitting easier by offering a huge gullet width range to choose from: semi quarter horse, quarter horse, and full quarter horse with Western saddles.
English saddles are graded in standard, medium, and wide when designed with a fixed gullet. Adjustable gullet systems increase your options for a better and more accurate fitting saddle.
Looking for a Western saddle, a saddle pad, or an extra wide tree and better gullet width for your quarter horse? There is definitely a saddle manufacturer that can custom design your wish.
When going to your local saddlery, you want to buy a proper fitting Western saddle or English saddle for your horse’s spine. To do this, you need an accurate gullet width measurement. Here’s how to measure for the correct quarter horse bars and gullet.
Importance Of The Correct Gullet Size
Getting the right gullet fit requires you to look at horses comprehensively. Horses have unique backs. Their saddles should have bars, a gullet, padding, and a tree that won’t cause white hairs from pressure points.
The Three Fingers Rule
For a quick look, and before you start really examining a saddle, your saddle options should meet the three fingers rule:
- Slide three fingers down the length of the gullet when you flip the saddle over to reveal the underside as most saddles should have a gullet channel that’s at least three fingers wide.
- When the saddle is on your horse, fit three fingers between the front part of the saddle edge or skirt/wings and the horse’s withers.
- Slide three fingers into the area below the pommel above the withers when the rider is on the saddle.
The three finger rule will eliminate the gullets that are obvious poor fits if you are in a pinch and need to borrow a saddle. You should have a few potential options when you start placing them on your horse.
Time to get technical and determine gullet width measurements.
Measuring Your Horse For Western Saddles
A Western saddle has bars that rest on the horse’s body about two inches below and on either side of the spine. The width between the two bars is the saddle gullet, which arches into the fork between the tree sides. This makes a channel that runs the length of the saddle and the horse’s back.
The saddle fit will determine the gullet width and gullet fit, such as with a semi quarter horse bar. The bars are closer together for a narrow channel gullet and further apart for a wider channel. The angle of the bars also affects the gullet width.
Creating A Wire Measurement Fork
A rider can measure their steed’s spine for how wide the gullet should be to fit the curve of their back without pressure from a tight saddle.
One way to get fairly accurate measurements of the equid’s spine and the required gullet is to mold a flexible wire with your fingers over the back of the horse, shoulder to shoulder.
Next, properly measure the distance between the fork of their withers once the wire is laid flat, where the bars of the saddle will sit on their back. When the rider reaches the point of the saddle bars (about two inches down from the wire apex), the angle of the wire will determine the bars width and angle required.
Measuring Withers For Horses Of Different Breeds
Horses have withers that vary in size and angle according to breeds. Thoroughbreds have a more A-frame shoulder type as opposed to a quarter horse that has a wider shoulder. Both breeds will need different gullet sizes.
Horses could have a flatter pitch or a narrow angle requiring semi quarter horse bars and a narrow gullet size for their saddle. Think of the wire you formed over the horse’s back. A narrow wire won’t fit a wide back and vice versa. A thoroughbred’s saddle probably won’t fit your quarter horse.
Horse Gullet Measurement And Appropriate Saddle Bars
A horse with a narrower back type such as a smaller quarter horse requires a Western saddle fitted with regular quarter horse bars set at a 6-inch width across the bars.
The Correct Size Bars
Medium wide horses require a wider gullet with quarter horse bars at 6 ½ inches width.
A full quarter horse needs quarter horse bars of 6 ¾ to 7 inches wide, forming a wider angled wire fork.
Most saddles from the commercial saddle industry are less than 6 inches wide in their actual gullet width, which does not accommodate the average horse’s withers adequately. The result is a narrow saddle tree.
Saddle Bars, Angle, And Gullet Width
The entire length of the horse’s spine needs to be cleared by the saddle tree without applying pressure on the sensitive nerves of the vertebrae. The saddle tree, bars, and gullet should not rest on the bones or sinews of their back.
Transfer the measurement of your steed’s withers (across the bars) to the quarter horse bars of the Western saddles you are checking. The bars should open to a width that suits your horse. You could also use padding, which narrows the saddle tree more if you have a saddle that’s slightly too big.
If your horse requires a steeper bar angle, they probably have the more classic A-frame shape of a thoroughbred. Some horses may require a narrow gullet channel and steeper bar angle. Beware of choosing a narrower saddle tree as this may not clear their back.
For a flatter pitch of the wither, such as with quarter horses, the gullet clearance required may need a saddle with a pommel and tree that are crafted according to the angle of the bars.
Initial Saddle Fitting
Western saddles are designed with bars that are sized from regular quarter horse bars and semi quarter horse bars to quarter horse bars and full quarter horse bars.
This results in trees that open to a narrower or wider form. When correctly fitted, the quarter horse bars of the saddle will make good contact with the horse’s back without causing undue pressure on the horse’s spine with a gullet that sinks too low or rises too high.
Avoid fitting a saddle with a saddle pad as this can hide issues. Extra saddle padding can also reduce the wither clearance, especially when the rider is seated on the saddle.
Saddle Gullet Width To Determine Balance
A saddle should be measured for even pressure with the horse’s back and shoulders so the bar angle or the rear of the saddle doesn’t rock.
Determine whether the fork, gullet, and tree size will create a high enough seat or be too narrow to accommodate the withers. Place the saddle on the horse’s back, feeling if the saddle will move or rock when a rider’s weight effectively rests on the fork or bars. Bridging saddles create pressure points.
The Final Fitting
When viewed from the side, the saddle should sit level with the ground across the seat. Horses aren’t made for saddles that sit forward or tip back onto their ribs or kidneys.
When measured, the saddle should clear the withers by three fingers in the pommel. You should slide your hand, palm down, along their shoulder, clearing the saddle without feeling a hard edge or pressure.
Finally, a correctly measured gullet should not touch any part of the vertebrae of the horse, leaving a clear channel that respects the flexibility of the horse’s back.