Each saddle manufacturer has its own way of measuring saddles. Even in the manufacturers them selves there are differences because saddles are made by hand not machines. (This especially changes in a used saddle because they stretch with use. Many times regular tree saddles will end up being wide after several years of use.)
1. A"flex-i-curve" (which can be found in most office supply stores in the drafting tools) or a heavy coated piece of electrical wire about 2' long
2. A piece of cardboard or heavy stock paper
3. A black magic marker.
With this you'll be able to make a tracing of your horses back which will give a tack shop owner, or yourself an idea of what your horses back looks like.
>Start by finding your horses shoulder blade (easier said than done on some of our chubbier horses.) If you have a problem, lift your horses front leg up and down and with this movement you should see its shoulder blade movement. The wire should go two fingers behind this area, which is also where you should be placing your saddle.
>Take the wire and bend it slightly so that It will fit over your horses back two fingers behind the shoulder. Be sure the wire is sitting flat on both sides of the back before you remove it.
>Take the wire off and carefully place it on the cardboard. Trace the inside of this form and make a note which side was which as some horses are thicker on one side than the other. Particularly horses who pace the fence line.
>Take this form with you when you travel or send a copy of it to tack shops that are advertising saddles and ask them if they have anything that may fit your horses. By using this form you can place it up inside a saddle and come close to telling how the saddle is going to fit your horses back. When you go to a tack shop you'll know for sure which saddles definitely won't fit and which ones that may. (The form should fit the saddle like the saddle fits your horse with just enough clearance for its withers. If the form goes all the way up inside the saddle to touch the gullet, or if when placed in the saddle you can fit your whole hand in between the top of the form and the gullet then try another saddle)
The following is written for an english saddle, so keep in mind if yours is western.
When you get the saddle home have your horse stand on level ground with no saddle pad on, place the saddle on its back and slide it until it finds its natural resting spot behind the shoulder blade. With the saddle in this position you need to check for several things.
1. Is the saddle level on the horses back? The panels, or the bottom of the saddle, should be level with the ground, and the seat , where you would be sitting should be level.
2.There should be an angle from the pommel, the front of the saddle to the cantle, the back of the saddle with the cantle being higher. This angle will be different depending on what type of saddle it is.
3.You then need to place one hand on top of the saddle and press down slightly, lift up the flaps, where your stirrups hang down, and look underneath to be sure the saddle is resting on the horses back completely and that there are no gaps, or bridging.
4.Slide your hand into the front of the saddle on both sides of the withers. Can you slide your hand easily on both sides with equal pressure? You don't want the saddle to be pinching your horse here.
5.Now check how much space you have between the pommel and your horses withers. We used to always say you need 3 fingers of space there but I'm afraid this varies with saddles too, so the easiest way is this. If all the other places you checked on the saddle are fine and you have clearance under the pommel to fit in a least a finger or two then more then likely the saddle will be fine especially if the saddle is used if the saddle is brand new expect it to drop down from this position by a least the width of a finger.
6.Now stand behind the horse and be sure you can see light through the gullet.
After all these things have checked out put a thin saddle pad on your horse and if your tack shop allows it girth up the saddle. When you sit in the saddle you should have between 3 and 4 fingers of space behind your buttocks and your leg when loose should fall into a natural position. Now ride in the saddle and see how you like it. While your checking it out for yourself be looking at any signs from your horse that he isn't happy. Is he pinning his ears, kicking out or showing any other behavior that he hasn't shown before? If so it may be pinching him somewhere. If the saddle is used take if out for a good ride and when you get back to the barn look at the back of your saddle pad, are the dirt marks fairly even, or are there big spots of white or heavier dark spots? If so the saddle may not be fitting him properly.
When considering a new saddle you have many things to consider. If you buy a wool flocked saddle you should have it restuffed at least once a year if you ride lightly, if you ride a lot that you may need to have it restuffed as much as every 3 months. If you are buying a used wool flocked saddle and it will be used on only one horse than you should have if restuffed for that horse for his maximum comfort. Your tack shop should be able to give you the name of a saddler who could do this work for you. This is not expensive and It will help you in not having a sore backed horse.
If you get a foam stuffed saddle new then it will mold to the shaped of your horses back and not change shape, you will not have to have it restuffed . If the saddle is used then really check to be sure you have no gaps or bridging anywhere because it is shaped to the back of the last horse that wore if. Most of the time this isn't a big problem but if is something to be aware of.
Also when buying a used saddle check the billets for wear and the tree for cracks. To check the tree hold the pommel in one hand and the cantle in the other. Place your knee in the center of the seat and push. If the tree is broken or cracked then the saddle will over bend and there may be some sort of cracking sound. Check if again by putting the saddle between your knees and squeezing with both hands on both sides of the pommel this should be tight unless it has a leather tree. I'm assuming that all tack shops check there used saddles before they sell them so this is just something to check if you are buying a saddle privately or at an auction. Be aware that some english spring tree saddles or leather tree saddles bend more than others if you are in doubt ask to have the saddle checked buy a saddler.
After you buy your saddle keep if clean buy wiping if off every time you ride in it with a soft rag. Clean if with glycerin soap (or your favorite cleaner there are many) at least once a week and use a good conditioner as well. We don't recommend using oils as people have a tendency to over use them. Remember when cleaning leather, less is better. If you have dry leather it is better to use 20 thin coats (letting them dry in between coats thoroughly) than 1 thick coat. If may take longer but your leather will last much longer and won't rot and mildew as fast.
I certainly hope I have given you a few ideas on how to go about looking for and caring for a saddle.
Something else to think about is if you don't ride your horse all winter then don't expect your saddle to fit the same in the spring as it does when your horse is fit. Also check for wear especially the billets and your girth and leathers . Look for loose stitches and tears. Also as your saddle gets older don't assume that it will always fit your horse (seeing as though your horse is getting older too.) Periodically check the fit of the saddle . If you see a problem don't worry, More than likely it can be fixed with restuffing. I have a great saddler who adjusts the trees of saddles and rebuilds them if necessary, so ifs always possible to have than saddle refit even if you buy a new horse. If not than start that search again!!