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How to make saddle fitting wither wires



How to make saddle fitting wires:

Cut two wires to 20 inch lengths. Copper works great, but even baling wire can work! You can also purchase a “flexible curve” from my "products" page.


Fold  in half into the basic shape of a V with the bend being 1 to 1 1/2″ wide to accommodate the width of the wither bone itself..put a piece of tape on the bottom of the left side to keep the left and right separated. Place wires on horse so that the tape is on the left side.

For those of you who are uncertain of where to place the wires: Get a dry erase marker and draw a line along the edges of the scapula bone, or use a 3" strip of masking or medical tape.  Once you locate the rear of the scapula place the tape along the edge of the back of the shoulder/scapula sthat the front edge of the tape marks the back edge of the bone.  

You can find it by having your assistant pick up the front leg and moving it forward and backward and watching the bone to find the edges. Be sure to place the leg back down next to the other leg…keeping in mind the horse must be “square” and head strait forward with both front legs placed evenly apart and “squared up”. This is best with a 2nd person to keep the horse squared and head and neck motionless.  

Once you have the scapula marked and the leg properly placed then you can clearly see where to put each wire. Place the 1st wire over the wither ahead of the tape/drawing1 to 1.5". 

Make certain the wires are touching the horses body snug from top to bottom. NO GAPS. When they are correctly shaped you will tap the end of the wire on his left shoulder and the other end should NOT lift off the right shoulder. Then you know they are snug enuf to be accurate. Do not make them so snug that they make deep dents.

WIRE #1 will measure the amount of front bar flare needed to guide your horses shoulder under the tree into the gullet: 

Gently form the wire over your horses withers OVER the scapula about where you would place the front edge of your saddle(find the middle of the bone~draw a line strait down the middle then place your wire on the back 1/3th of the scapula approx 1.5″ from the back edge of the bone where your tape or draw line is.  

Keep an eye on your tape or your marker line as your horse shifts around to be certain it remains accurately placed.

Make certain the entire wire is formed to the horse all the way to the end of the wire. Mark the wire where the top of the scapula is( refer to the blue line in the picture).

This one is a bit tricky because the measurement cannot be taken above the bone because the gullet assessment will be too narrow and cannot be too far down the side of the bone or the gullet will be too wide… so TAKE YOUR TIME HERE!!!

Find the top of the bone and make a new mark 1/16-1/8″ down from that line. move your horse around to be certain you are accurate,

Now,  have your assistant hol the wire in place while you step to the rear of your horse for the necessary visual reference to be  certain the wires verticle descent is the same on both sides. The width of your horses scapula determines the amount of front bar flare you will need in your saddle. The scapula MUST have sufficient space to pass underneath the front of the saddle but not so wide that the front of the saddle sinks down under pressure and traps your horses shoulders.

***If you are 1/4" off you will be searching for a saddle that is too wide and the issue of saddle fit will be ongoing and you won't understand why. 


Buying a wider saddle than necessary is fine as long as you add a 2nd pad or blanket to elevate the front of the saddle and keep it balanced front to back.

But if you don’t balance the saddle you will be creating a new type of pain for your horse.

Wider is NOT better unless you plan to over pad your horse to prevent your saddle from sinking painfully low on the shoulder.

WIRE #2: This is your gullet width.

Place the wire 1.5" BEHIND the scapula bone (refer to picture above). 

This wire is correctly placed if you can place a finger in front of this wire and not touch the line you drew on the back edge of the scapula bone.


The wires should fit snug and evenly on horse on both sides of his body to be accurate.

In western saddles these 2 measurements can be a tricky combination for some horses. (english saddles only require the measurement behind the shoulder, which is the gullet.) Because you might be trying to fit a horse with large shoulders but having a hollow shoulder or a horse that is fuller behind the shoulder (gullet) than over the shoulders(bar flare). If the horse is sway backed the relativity of these measurements changes their application. And this is why you may need assistence.

Wither tracings

Step #3: Remove the wires from the horse and lay them flat on a sheet of paper or cardboard.

DO NOT allow the tails of the wires to swing left or right as you remove them from your horses body because this will make your horses shoulders appear symmetrical and they may not be… it is common for 1 shoulder to be steeper than the other.   This lack  of  symmetry in the shoulders will need to be corrected via shims on top of your saddle pad before ANY saddle will be comfortable for your horse. (This horse clearly doesn't have symetrical shoulders and will require shims to balance the saddle left to right.)

Step #4: Hold the wire firmly in place and draw a line underneath of each wire before removing the wires from the paper.

Step #5:  Measuring wire #1: 

Here is where you will use the mark on the side of the wire that you made while it was over your horses. The one that marks the top of the shoulder.

Use a ruler or strait edge to draw a line from one side to the other to mark the top of both shoulders on your diagram.

Now use a tape measure or ruler to measure the distance. Write it down. 

If your horse has a smaller shoulder add 1/8"- 1/4" to  this measurement so that you can shim your pad without raising your saddle in front. 

Next step: (We are still working with wire #1)

Place your tape measure at the top of this #1 wire and drop vertically down to the horizontal line you drew on the wire at the top of your horses scapula/shoulder. which should be approx. 1.5″ – 2.75″ down from the top.

Then make a mark at 3.5-4.0″ down from the top and draw a 2nd horizontal line across your diagram.

This determines your bar angle. (90, 92, 94,,,etc). This angle is impertive to the comfort of your horse. If the bar angle is too  flat (wide spread), the top of the  saddle tree bars will settle onto the top of the shoulder and cause a painful pressure spot on top of the bone. This occurs because the "foot of the bar" is flaring off the horses shoulder. The foot of the saddle tree bars should be resting firmly on the horses body so the top of the bars are open to allow the scapula to pass freely under the saddle tree and into the gullet. (Essentially, the angle between shoulder and front bar paddle will not match.)

The front saddle tree bars should remain verticle far enough back to allow the shoulder a full range of motion (R.O.M)

Wire #2 The Gullet Width (GW): 

This is where it gets tricky and you must make an important determination of how much drop there is between wire #1 and wire #2 on your horses wither. A high withered horse will have up to 3/4" of drop and a flatter more mutton withered horse or a young horse will have 1/4". 

This is much easier to describe in person. But I will do my best with written words. diagram #2 shows where the horses scapula is under the front bar pad of the saddle tree. the yellow lines show where wire #1 would be. where the yellow line crosses the red line is the top of the scapula where the measurement will be taken. on this horse it is down 2.5" from the top of the wither. now notice the blue line drawn along the top of the wither as it descends. the orange x is where 2.5" is and its notably too low for a proper gullet width measurement to be taken. You would be shopping for a saddle with a gullet too wide and the front of the saddle would sink painfully low and you wouldn't know why all your hard work didn't pay off with the end result of a well fitted saddle.

Many people are shopping for saddles with gullets that are too wide and this is the main reason why. You have never been instructed to raise the measurement to offset the amount of descent in the wither. 

When a saddle sinks in front it changes the bar angles and destroys the balance of the tree setting on your horse and causes  pressure spots.

When your horses leg extends forward the scapula has to have enough room to slide under the front bar paddle and into the twist without hitting the tree under the pommel. The bar angle over the ribs needs to mirror the rib angle not to trap the ribs and make them sore- (this occurs when a saddle sinks in front). 

The top edge of the treeshould not pressure the spine, either. When a saddle tree is too wide the top edge of the tree causes painful pressure on the spine- even with a pad....and if a thin pad is used it can cause severe damage.

These are many of the issues that a qualified saddle fitter should be able to detect and have sufficient experience to advise properly.

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The 2nd wire measurement indicates how much room your horses scapula needs under the pommel to avoid hitting his shoulder under the saddle in the twist.. If your horse doesn’t have enough room here he will short stride. This horse requires 5.25" gullet width. This saddle is slightly too wide as a there is a gap on the right side between the paper and the fleece. 

This saddle I have owned for many years and used in my training barn, and it has a 6.25" GW and is still too wide for many horses and I have had to throw a 2nd pad on to keep the saddle level.

Notice the lack of symmetry in the shoulders of the horse in the picture below. 

The best fitting saddle will do damage to this horse unless a shim is added to the left (smaller) shoulder to balance the saddle left to right. 

It is highly probable that is why this horses shoulders are dramatically different. Repeated and continual damage ride after ride. Year after year. 

The end result is lameness. 

I call it Navicular of the scapula. The horse has all the cllinical signs of navicular but the x rays show nothing chronic going on in the navicular bone.... they are simply looking at the wrong end of the leg. 

I will also need the length of the horses back from wire #1 to the point of the hip. at the top of where the hair begins to swirl at the flank.

The saddle skirt should end 2″ before the flank swirl.  Saddleskirts that set on the rise of the hip will interfere with the hip action in bends and flexions, The hip will push the saddle forward into the back of the shoulder and this will interfere with your horses ability to have a full range of motion (R.O.M). You may also see hair friction on the loin and backs of shoulders. This is caused by excessive saddle movement.  

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Now imagine how a saddle tree will set on those shoulders. It will be crooked and the horn will tilt off to the left. How very uncomfortable for the horse! 

You will work incredibly hard to get this horse to take both leads! The right lead will be painful for this horse. In my experience this horse has edema from impact damage ongoing in that right shoulder. Scar tissue is definite.

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This is what a saddle looks like when its pulled too forward on the shoulder. This is horribly painful and unnecessary. we were all taught to put our saddles on incorrectly. 

Push This saddle back 1.5-2" and it will fit much better. If your latigo comes forward at an angle to  your cinch ring its a good thing, folks!

Your saddle swells should be behind the shoulder not on top of it!

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The picture above is a well fitted tree. The foot of the front bar pad is resting solidly on the lower shoulder creating a slight relief at the top of the bar pad to accomodate the scapular. The bar pad parallels the shoulder nicely.

This picture below is not a good fit. This horse will struggle to move his front legs.  

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