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  • Writer's pictureAmanda Anderson

Templates and Fitting the Saddle

Occasionally, I’ll have a client ask me why we don’t base our measurements for a custom saddle (or flocking an existing saddle) on paper templates, so let me explain WHAT TEMPLATES ACTUALLY TELL US:

The most popular place a template is taken is 1-2 fingerwidths behind the caudal edge of the scapula, approximately where the tree points lie along the horse’s body. A Fitter will place a 12 inch bendy ruler on the horse’s back, then transfer that shape onto a piece of paper in a 0.7mm thick line (the width of your average pen line). Area = Length x Width, so you multiply 0.7mm x 12 inches (304.8mm), gives us 212 millimeters or 8.34 inches of information on the horse’s back along a 0.7mm line.

So, we only get 212 MILLIMETERS of information from templates??? Wow, that’s not a ton of information, especially when you consider that the surface area of the panels on a saddle is, on average, 18 inches long by 5.5 inches wide. If we calculate the area of the panels that touch the horse (Area = Length of panel x Width of panel), we get 99 inches of surface area on just one panel, so we then multiply by 2 (there are 2 panels on a saddle) = 198 INCHES of surface area on your average 18” English saddle.

To further break it down, 212 MILLIMETERS is only 4.2% of the entire saddle's surface area, and only along one thin line. Does that sound like enough information to customize or fit a saddle to?

So what are templates good for? It gives a person a very basic idea of the horse’s shape over this 0.7 millimeter area while standing still, not in collection, without the rider’s or the saddle’s weight, when the back muscles are at rest.It can show asymmetry that is present at rest (but may not be present in motion to the same degree), and it can give you an idea of what tree widths MIGHT BE suitable. These measurements can be affected by the horse’s stance (is he standing square?), if he has recently exercised (muscles temporarily expand with exercise - AKA “Getting Swole”), or any number of reasons.

What does this tell us as far as saddle fit?

Fitting a saddle means fitting the entire saddle; from tree shape, to panel design, to flocking, to seat size, tree width, tree point length, flap and block choice, and how these all interact between the horse and rider WHILE IN MOTION. All these pieces interact both separately and together to form a cohesive unit; it requires knowledge and experience to which ones work together for a particular horse and rider pair, and which ones won’t.

Would you buy a new horse based on a paper template, or would you want to actually SEE and RIDE the horse? So why would you let someone to sell a custom saddle or flock an existing saddle based primarily on paper templates?

Which gives you more information?

Another analogy: When you go shopping for new shoes, do you stick a paper template of your foot inside the shoes to see if they fit...? Or do you put the shoes on your actual feet and walk around the store to see how comfortable they are?

The best saddle fitters build or fit a saddle with a multitude of tools, most of which require experience of saddlery and knowledge of both the horse and rider’s bodies in motion, biomechanics, and feel. This education takes much longer than 3 days to learn, which is the average length of most saddle fitting courses.

Each part of the saddle corresponds to a different part of the horse, none of which can be explained by a paper template.

Questions? Comment below, or go to for more information.

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