Comparing bar spread and bar angle

Posted by RodandDenise on January 23, 2024

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

Bar spread and bar angle are separate entities in a western saddle tree, but they are related. Just looking at a saddle, they look like they are doing the same thing – making the saddle sit high on the horse if too narrow and fall down in front if too wide. But the “fix” for both of them is quite different. So how can you tell which is affecting the fit of the saddle? You have to feel for it! So what are you feeling for?

2024 Jan 22 c 1 narrow spread vs angle DSC_2947.jpg

If the tree/saddle is sitting too high on the horse’s back (remember you can’t tell this by clearance. You have to “see” the bars of the saddle relative to the horse’s back) then something is likely too narrow. Is it bar spread, or bar angle? If it is bar spread, you will feel the bars matching the horse’s back “angle” with even pressure, but only the bottom portion of the bar will be on the horse. You will “run out of horse” as you go up because the bars are too close together and the tree is perched high on the horse’s back.

2024 Jan 22 c 2 2017 May 20 Angle too narrow_2.jpg

On the other hand, if you have too narrow a bar angle, the bottom edge of the bar will have higher pressure with little or nothing much beyond that.

And can you have a saddle with too narrow a bar angle and bar spread – absolutely!! You will have a tree sitting on the bottom edge of the bar and perched high on the horse. And too narrow is too narrow. No padding changes will fix this problem.

2024 Jan 22 c 3 bar spread too wide angle OK DSC_3003 4.25 x 93_2.JPG

If, on the other hand, the tree or saddle is “falling down in front”, it could be either the bar spread or the bar angle, or both, that is the issue. If the problem is just bar spread, when you feel under the saddle you will have even pressure top to bottom under the bar,

2024 Jan 22 b 5 bar spread too wide angle OK DSC_3010 4.25 x 93.jpg

but it will be tilted forward on the horse, too far down at the front.

2024 Jan 22 c 4 2017 May 17 Bar Angle too wide DSC_9240_2.jpg

If the problem is bar angle, it will also "fall down at the front", but you will have high pressure toward the top of the bar, especially on the top of the front bar tip, and the bar will wing out from the horse with no contact toward the bottom.

In the case of something being too wide, you need to distinguish what the problem is. Adding padding will fill in the bar spread and make the saddle usable. But adding padding does nothing to change the angle. You will still have high pressure at the top of the bar, especially at the front bar tip, and this is very detrimental to the horse, causing atrophy behind the shoulder blade.

Again – pictures to help you see what you are feeling for under a finished saddle.

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