A study in contrasts

Posted by RodandDenise on August 3, 2013

We are no longer building saddle trees, but we have two videos about how Western saddles fit horses available on our website.

Or - The long and the short of it. I couldn’t decide on the best title…

2013_Aug_3_1_contrasting_trees.jpgHere’s a couple trees we built in the same group of four. Funny how sometimes you get very similar trees in a group and other times you get very different trees. These two are pretty much at the far ends of the spectrum as far as size for the rider goes, and they demonstrate some points I want to talk about regarding trees and how the measurements can work.


This is a Wade tree for a larger man. It has Wade bars at maximum length, and we had to move the cantle a ½” closer to the back of the bar than normal to give enough room for the rider. It has a 5” stock thickness.


This is a Wade tree for a small child. It has our “kid's bar” pattern with bars 6 ¼” shorter than the above tree. It has a 4 ½” stock thickness. (With a wood post horn, we can easily go down to a 4 ¼” stock thickness, but the customer preferred the 4 ½”.)


The gullet height on the long tree is 8” (hand hole height 6 7/8").  The gullet height on the kid’s tree measures 7 1/8” (hand hole height 6").  BUT…  All else being the same, there would only be ¼” difference in actual clearance under the tree. Why?

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Because there is only ¼” difference in the arch height. If the bar specs were the same – width and angle – the top of the bars would sit at the same place on the horse’s back, and the clearance would only change by difference in the height of the arch, regardless of what it measures from the table. It happens to measure 7/8” higher because the Wade bars are a lot deeper and hold the whole fork higher off the table than the kid's bars do. However, on a horse (assuming bar width and angle fit the horse) the extra depth of the Wade bars will just go farther down the sides of the horse. The bar component wouldn’t affect actual clearance – though it affects the measurement. (For more on this idea, please see Avoiding the Withers – using hand hole height and gullet height measurements.)


Actually, however, there would be more clearance than this. Why? Because these two trees don’t have the same hand hole width, though they do both have a 90 degree bar angle. The larger tree has only a 3 ¾” hand hole width, while the kid's tree has a 4” hand hold width. So the large tree will sit up higher (have more clearance) on a horse than the kid's tree will.  The large tree is built for narrow withered (though not small) horses while the kid’s tree will fit a more average withered horse. We have made the bar spread narrower on some kid’s trees for the rider's sake, knowing that the tree will sit higher on the horse than ideal. However, for the weight of the smaller kids and to make it easier to build a seat that a smaller child will fit well, we have done this. However, this customer figured the 4” hand hole width would be best.

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The long tree has a 17 ½” seat length. The kid’s tree has an 11” seat length.

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The long tree has a 10 3/8” thigh length. The kid’s tree has a 5 3/8” thigh length.  

“Umm… wait a minute. That means there is 6 ½” difference in seat length but only 5” difference in thigh length?"

“Yup. That’s right!”

“How can that be?”


“Well, in this case, it is all due to differences in the cantle. The larger tree has a cantle height of 4 ½” and the smaller one is only 3 ½” tall.”


“Think about it. If we made the cantle on the kid's tree another inch taller but didn’t change anything else on the tree, where you took the seat length measurement wouldn’t just be higher. It would also be farther back, away from the fork, right?”

“Yeaaaahhhh, I guess so…”

“If you want to know more, read the Seat Length and Thigh Length Relationships page. There are other factors that change things too. You’ll get it figured out…”

Just for fun, I did some checking. While we have only made 6 trees with a longer seat length than this one in the 17 years we have been building trees, we have made over 30 with a longer thigh length. However, this kids tree and its twin have both the shortest seat length and the shortest thigh length we have made on any tree yet, other than ½ sized ones, of course. So these trees are really are almost the long and the short of them all…

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