How do I measure my horse for bar angles?

Posted by RodandDenise on February 9, 2016

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

2016 Feb 9 1 measuring angle on a horse.jpg

We occasionally hear of people using protractors to try and measure angles off their horse and correlate them to bar angles on saddle trees. You just can’t do that – and here’s why…

2016 Feb 9 2a this angle.jpg 2016 Feb 9 2b or this angle.jpg 2016 Feb 9 2c or even this angle.jpg

Basically, you cannot measure a single angle off a curved surface. Each of these angles is real, and they all come from the same surface.

2016 Feb 9 3a 43 degrees.jpg 2016 Feb 9 3b proof of 43 degrees.jpg

Same on a horse. The angle is 43 degrees,

2016 Feb 9 4a 33 degrees.jpg 2016 Feb 9 4b proof of 33 degrees.jpg

No wait, it’s 33 degrees.

2016 Feb 9 5a 53 degrees.jpg 2016 Feb 9 5b proof of 53 degrees.jpg

Hold it, now it’s 53 degrees. So, what is the real “angle”? Any and all of the above.

2016 Feb 9 5 A flat loin muscles.jpg

Now on a loin like this, you might be able to measure a set angle.

2016 Feb 9 5 B round crown.jpgBut then you are fitting that loin with a rounder crown like this, which you can’t measure. (Why? Well, we discussed that here.) So you still can’t match angles.

Hold on, you say. The loin isn’t where we measure anyway. It’s the wither area that is important. Well, the same principle applies. It is just harder to demonstrate.

2016 Feb 9 6 Angle A.jpg

I can measure this angle at the withers.

2016 Feb 9 7.jpgAnd I can measure this angle at the withers

2016 Feb 9 8a 90 degreees.jpg 2016 Feb 9 8b 100 degrees.jpg

Which would you say matches best? And which angle belongs to which picture?

2016 Feb 9 9b Angle A.jpg 2016 Feb 9 9b.jpg

Both measure the horse under the front bar pad, but there is a ten degree spread between them, and you can measure anywhere in between and beyond them as well. The fact is that “90 degrees” is NOT a measurement off the horse.

2016 Feb 9 10 angle marked on fork.jpg

It is a measurement we put on the back of the fork when we build it.

2016 Feb 9 11a 90 degrees.jpg 2016 Feb 9 11b is not 90 degrees.jpg

And as we discuss more in our Bar Angles, Why the Numbers Are Meaningless Between Makers page, and in our Angles - It Just Isn't That Simple page, even 90 degrees isn’t 90 degrees when you add another dimension to it, like we do when we lean the forks ahead. And that leaned angle is different not only between leaned ahead and stood up forks, but between makers. Every tree maker does things differently, you know…

2016 Feb 9 12 final angle isn't cut angle.jpg

But just as important, or even more so, is that the cuts on the bars where the forks are attached are not the same “angle” as the edge of the bottom of the bar. The way the edges are marked out on the bars sets how the bottom of the bar are “angled” compared to the cut surface.

2016 Feb 9 13a one angle.jpg 2016 Feb 9 13b another angle.jpg 2016 Feb 9 13c yet another angle.jpg

But the edges don’t tell you what the crown on the bottom of the bar is like. And once again, you have curved surfaces so you can’t measure an angle there either…

Measuring a horse with a protractor doesn’t give you any practical, usable information. The most common bar angles drawn on the back of the forks by hand made tree makers have a three to five degree range. Trying to measure a horse at any one point can easily give you a ten degree plus variation. And it is all meaningless anyway since you can’t compare that to anything on a tree. In practice, the terminology of degrees is more a title or description than a measurement. You can’t measure it on a tree, and you sure can’t measure it on a horse...

Posted by Thomas O. Schmelzing on 
I just love your blogs, and this one is a prime example. lol.
Posted by Mrs Shoes on 
A custom made saddle has never been in my budget; sorry to say it likely never will be.
Your blog helps me better understand things I may have heard before & didn't quite grasp, & things I never knew in the first place.
I like that.

Posted by RodandDenise on 
Thanks for the kind words!

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