Choosing the Correct Saddle Bars & Gullet Sizes.

Choosing the Correct Saddle Bars & Gullet Sizes.

Posted by Lazy Oak Equine 270-459- 2794 on 16th Feb 2015

Before you get excited and bewildered by all of the following information there is hope. I have good news. Saddle makers estimate that over 80% of today's horses have conformation that will comfortably fit them in either a standard semi-quarter horse or full-quarter horse tree. For most buyers, fit won't be an issue

When we discuss Full Quarter Horse Bars, Semi-Quarter Horse Bars we're talking about a parts of the saddle tree, it's construction and how it all relates to your horse in terms of proper fit. You don't have to be an expert on all the ins and outs of saddle tree construction to get a saddle that fits both horse and rider. Still, it's to your advantage to have a basic understanding as to how saddles are constructed.

Here are some of the basics of saddle tree construction and the relationship to saddle fit.

Western Saddle Tree Parts

1. Think of the saddle as having two sides, top and bottom. The top part is designed to fit the rider, the bottom to fit the horse.

2. The foundation of the saddle is called the tree.

3. You can think of the tree as having four main parts, the fork, bars, seat and cantle.

You will also find the fork referred to as the swell or pommel. No matter the term, it's the front part of the saddle and the cantle is at the rear.

4. The bars attach to the fork in the front and the cantle in the back.

The bars are runners whose purpose is to distribute the weight of the rider evenly over the back of the horse. To accomplish this, the bars are angled to come into contact with the horse over as much of the bar area as possible.

The conformation of horses is such that the angle of the bars when joined at the fork or front of the saddle is different than the angle at the cantle or back of the saddle. This is called the flare.

The really critical measurement however is up front where the bars join the fork in the area called the gullet. The gullet is an opening which makes room for the horses wither.

There are two parts of the horse that you do not want to have pressure placed on, the wither and the spine.

The width and height of the gullet must be such that no pressure will be placed on the wither.

The bars, as they run along the back of the horse are separated at the top by a channel. The channel serves to prevent pressure from being directly applied to the horse's backbone. The height and width of the gullet are measured in inches.

Bar Angle and Gullet Widths.

Semi-quarter horse bars fit most of today's western horses. Gullet width of 6 1/2". For example, walking horses and thoroughbreds.

Full Quarter Horse Bars-have even wider angles to accommodate wider-bodied horses and horses with flatter or "Mutton" withers.

Gullet width of 7". For example, wider backed horses like quarter horses. Appendix horses, half thoroughbred and half quarter, may vary between a semi tree and a full tree depending on which conformation traits they inherit.

The gullet width should be about the same width of the wither's, approximately 2" below the top of the withers.

Just remember, the main thing you need to know is, is your horse narrow, wide or in-between!

Tree Sizes

Semi-QH: Semi Quarter Horse can be referred to as Medium, Regular, or QH bars. This tree size has a higher pitch or angle to the bars. It’s for the horse with a more defined wither. (1/2 Arab, Appendix, Thoroughbred, etc).

Full-QH: Full Quarter Horse or FQHB can be referred to as Wide (usually 7” gullet). The angle is flatter compared to the Semi-QH tree. This is for horses with a broad shoulder. They’re considered mutton withered or a less pronounced wither. (Quarter Horse, Paint, etc)

Arabian: Have a narrow front (usually 6.5" – 6.75" gullet) similar to the Semi-QH bar but the back of the saddle has a flatter pitch angle. So the saddle goes from a little narrow in the front to flatter or wider in the back. Can sometimes fit non-Arabian horses.

Gaited: The gaited tree has a higher gullet to accommodate the higher withered horses. They usually have a wider or flared front to allow for shoulder movement. The tree narrows toward the back where the bars have more pitch. The gaited saddles usually have more rock to the bars. (Tennessee Walker, Fox Trotter, etc)

Haflinger: Short backed, mutton withered – these trees have a flatter pitch to the bar angle and very little rock. Usually a 7.5" gullet, they’re often used on other large horses needing an extra wide tree.

Draft: Usually an 8" gullet to fit on large draft horses.

Hopefully this has helped clarify saddle fit and gullet size for Western Saddles.

To go just a bit further in helping you understand saddle fitting think about saddle fitting like this:


Proper Saddle fit has become quite a hot topic. That’s a positive development since poorly fitting saddles cause problems for both horse and rider. However, the increased emphasis on proper saddle fit has caused many people to go on a quest for the “perfect” saddle for their horse.

Let us take some pressure off. There is no such thing as the perfectly fitting saddle. A horse’s conformation changes throughout its life, and even throughout the year as their exercise level and nutrition varies. When buying a saddle to precisely fit a horse at a moment in time, this often results in a poorly fitting saddle at a later date.

The good news is that it’s not necessary to have the “perfect” saddle for a horse to have a comfortable fit. Proper saddle fit isn't an exact science. Think of the working cowboy. Could he afford to buy a different saddle for each horse he rode? Not on cowboy wages. And yet, if his saddle caused soreness for the boss's horses, he wasn’t a working cowboy for long. He needed a high quality, well-built saddle designed for the physical type of horses he rode.

That’s what you need, too. With a suitable quality saddle and a variety of saddle pads, you should be able to ride many horses of the same physical type. Such a saddle should comfortably clear a horse’s withers, allow for free movement of the shoulders, be the proper length and shape for its back, and be well balanced to provide good weight distribution. That's proper saddle fit. If you ride horses of different breeds or significantly different sizes, then you'll need to invest in multiple saddles.

Here is a general list to reference:

Selecting the correct saddle bars and gullet sizes is crucial when choosing a saddle for your horse. The right fit ensures your horse's comfort and well-being, and it also improves your own riding experience. Here's how to choose the correct saddle bars and gullet sizes:

1. Measure Your Horse:

  • Before you start shopping for a saddle, measure your horse accurately. Measure the horse's back length, shoulder width, and the girth circumference. This information will help you determine the right size saddle.

2. Consider Horse Conformation:

  • Assess your horse's conformation. Different horse breeds and individual horses may have varying withers, back shapes, and overall body types. Consider factors such as the height of the withers, the width of the shoulders, and the curvature of the back.

3. Understand Saddle Bars:

  • Saddle bars are the framework or tree of the saddle, which determines the shape and width of the saddle's contact area with the horse's back. There are several types of saddle bars, such as Full Quarter Horse Bars, Semi-Quarter Horse Bars, and more. Each type is designed to fit different horse shapes.

4. Consult a Saddle Fitter:

  • If you're uncertain about your horse's conformation or the type of saddle bars needed, consider consulting a professional saddle fitter. They can assess your horse's specific needs and recommend an appropriate saddle.

5. Determine Gullet Size:

  • The gullet is the channel running along the underside of the saddle, allowing clearance for the horse's spine. The gullet size should be wide enough to clear the horse's spine without putting pressure on it. It's usually measured in inches or centimeters.

6. Ensure Proper Clearance:

  • Place the saddle on your horse's back and check that there is at least two to three fingers' width of clearance on either side of the spine within the gullet channel. This clearance ensures the saddle won't cause pressure points on the horse's back.

7. Test Ride and Evaluate:

  • Whenever possible, test ride the saddle to assess its fit and comfort for both you and your horse. Pay attention to your horse's behavior and gait when wearing the saddle. If the horse appears uncomfortable or experiences any issues, reevaluate the fit.

8. Seek Professional Guidance:

  • If you're still uncertain about the saddle's fit, consider getting a second opinion from a professional saddle fitter or a knowledgeable trainer. They can provide valuable insights and recommendations.

9. Consider Saddle Pads:

  • Saddle pads can be used to adjust the fit and provide additional cushioning for your horse. They are not a substitute for a properly fitting saddle but can help fine-tune the fit.

10. Regularly Check Fit: - Horses' body shapes change over time, so it's essential to regularly assess the saddle's fit and make necessary adjustments as needed.

Choosing the correct saddle bars and gullet sizes is a critical part of ensuring your horse's comfort and well-being. A well-fitted saddle promotes better performance and reduces the risk of soreness or injury to both the horse and the rider. Don't rush the process; take your time to find the right saddle that suits your horse's unique requirements.

Let us help with all your horse needs. We would love to be your saddle shop! 

You may call or text with questions to 270-459-2794 .

That about wraps it up!

Note here is a link to tons of more information on saddle fit!

Another great source to help with understanding in a common sense way is to look up the youtube video " Common Sense Saddle tips"