Effect of padding on clearance

Posted by RodandDenise on January 11, 2024

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

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We show a lot of pictures with bare trees on horses, and we recommend that people initially feel under their saddles without padding in order to check for high pressure areas. So what changes when you add padding?

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Here’s a picture with a bare tree on a horse. The angle looks good but it is awfully close to the withers. If this was a finished saddle with padding under it, this would definitely be a no go. You never want to touch the top of the spine anywhere, ever and with weight in the saddle this would likely touch the spine.

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Here’s a side view of the same thing. Check out how close the gullet lip is to the withers. (We don’t have pictures of the hand hole compared to the withers, but it wasn’t quite touching either.) Note that it is in the correct place with the front of the bar just behind the shoulder blade of the horse.

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Add a 7/8" pad and the difference is dramatic. There is more than enough clearance under this tree, and this is without skirts and shearling still! We pulled the pad back to show that the tree is still in the correct position with the front of the bar tip just behind the shoulder blade of the horse. You get a similar effect when you put your saddle on without and then with padding. This is why you can't tell the amount of clearance a saddle will have without padding underneath. There will be more clearance with proper padding.

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In case anyone is saying “Yeah, but the pad will fill up that space if you had it in the right position”, here is another picture from the front. You can see that there is still lots of room above the pad under the gullet. (I’m sorry that we can’t replicate the picture with the pad in the correct position but we didn’t take one that day and we no longer have the horse or the tree – though we still own the pad!!)

Bottom line - we have found that if a bare tree clears at all, it will be fine when built into a saddle and with padding. So that is good information for saddle makers who want to check out trees. But for people who only see saddles, we have found that a saddle that has even an inch of clearance under the gullet, the hand hole and the front of the seat without a pad will generally be fine with one – but check it out!!

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