Saddle Tree Forms 

General Saddle Facts  -  Custom Saddles made Sight Unseen?   How to use Saddle forms, saddle pads, & other aids for professional thinking horse people.


Common Worries:  How can I be sure my saddle is going to fit my horse?  Or me?  And I feel insecure in all of this. Are you a real company? Am I going to lose my money?  I can’t believe my local store went out of business. (Sold out to a bunch of chain store people that know almost nothing)

Many times, you just know what fits. Either you have a current saddle, or an advisor to tell you what is needed. Or, you have enough experience to feel confident in your order. Sometimes, you know what you need because what you have almost fits, or used to fit; (but the body of your horse, or your shape, has changed.)  Sometimes, though, we have questions, doubts, about fitting and use, and purpose.

Anyhow, you might be wondering how you can buy a saddle online, long distance and be assured you will come out OK in this deal.    WARNING: As you read this article, you might expect Cultured Cowboy is defending a bunch of over-priced high margin saddles. Nope. Couldn’t be farther than the truth. We are deep discounters. We just like horse sports. (If I wanted to make a lot of money, I’da kept that finance loan business I started about ten years ago.) (I hate chasing accounts. I hate high interest rates. I hate obsessive shipping rates. I am an old gullible, lovable, likes to sleep at night, “flower child” Cowboy.)  Also: My sentences are often too long. I probably misspelled something, even with a spell-checker. And I think too much like a horse.

First, let me assure you the Cultured Cowboy is a viable company. We have lots of stuff; normally have available several hundred saddles. (No need to brag on how many are on display, (most are not), but people come here from 3 hours or more, all the time, with their horses, to try out saddles. And, it is worth their trip.)  If you have a need that isn't too specific, (and sometimes even real specific) we probably have a saddle ready to ship to you tomorrow, certainly some time this week.

We ride. We ride several disciplines. It is what we yearn to do. We have a horse farm with an arena, barns, and training ability. Our stable has assisted state, regional and even national champions, in “more than one” breed/sport category.  We have temporarily housed everything from Arena Productions’ Lippizaners and Andalusians, to TWH’s to Trail riding QH breeds. Halter horses, pleasure horses, brood mares, breeding stallions, performance horses; our disciplines have included Dressage to Roping, grade horses to extreme breeds.

Just call us a bunch of “Jack-of-all-Trades” and “Masters-of-Some”.  We never quit learning. (Ever heard the definition of an ex-spurt?) Every horse can be a unique experience. Every student, a unique personality, every customer, a special friend. And we take the things we learn from all of you, re-circulate these ideas, and re-distribute to you, to better help all of you. (Same thing Chuck did when he was a full time, 14 to 16 hr a day, riding/horseshoeing equine practitioner.)

We network, and ask hundreds of questions from judges, and professional horse people, beginners, and old timers, all over America. We ask what is working, what is shaking, and what they are best looking for.


From all this, we try to get the right answers for you. Sometimes, people get all excited and ready to order, then call, ready to throw out their Visa dollars. Over half the time, we ask a bunch of questions, (based on our experience with thousands of horses & riders), that they never thought about; sometimes we need pictures of horses, and saddles, bits & bridles, etc. So, you get out of any frenzied mood. That’s good! It is good to think about questions and options and possible needs to be addressed. This is what a real saddle store is supposed to do – make sure your ride is the best ride that you can afford. We like working with riding instructors, personal trainers, and “stable” people.  (Not much pun intended here.)

Cultured Cowboy prefers to do things right the first time. The reason we quit “buy buttons” and such, was because people needed our skills more than they needed to fill out a form that didn’t ask the correct questions to get their saddles right. (translation – returns, disappointments, shipping fees). There are so many options, that a conversation can easily determine which might be best for your situation.

Who really thinks they save a bunch of money on Ebay, or at the auction barn, when you have to trade two or three saddles around to find one that really works. (Of course, if you have time and experience, trading can be a fun sport too.) Auction barns get commissions, and so do the online auctions. Stuff you sell there has higher costs and more mark-up than we can get away with. They just use least expensive saddles to trade at average pricing.


[ SIDEBAR: When saddles cost less than two pair of boots, there is something wrong with the picture. We meet people who bought saddles at “buyer beware”, that fell apart going through a rainy trail ride. (Pressed paper lined skirts. Pleather. Stretchy Belly suede leathers. Nails working their way out of the tree and into the back or shoulder of your horse, rigging falling loose…all this we have witnessed. No kidding!) There are people who have legitimate deals out there, but most “deals” are buying inferior products, getting them all used looking, and letting them roll for $50.00 to $200.00 over cost. (There are new saddles we don’t clear near that much profit, and Cultured Cowboy can be found, if there is a problem.) Once sold, the bargain sellers are done. Can you find them to ask questions? Do you expect pressed paper or eight layers of belly suede pressed and sewn, to work with your horse? You cannot possibly ride and return them. They look too bad after a ride. And, the inexperienced riders think they must have done something wrong.  WRONG! ]


Often, with just a few simple questions, answers and recommendations, you can save hundreds of dollars, and a lot of mistakes. And, today, you can have a much better saddle, than something often standardized. As I told someone this week, we have a lot of choices ready to ship from our Greenwood, SC warehouse. And, we have even more selection in Chattanooga, TN. And some in TX, and even some in other states. But with all this, we still custom make about 3/4ths of what we ship. Rather than a “settle for”, she's ordering a dream saddle. Yep, it will take an extra 6 weeks, but will be used over a 10 to 20 year period. 

Why customized? Because many of us have a lot of special needs. 

Many of the concerns our customers have, with ordering, sight unseen, are “Will my saddle fit my horse when it gets here?”  Several of our saddles are made with more than one tree choice. We simply "best" fit your horse, and you! Then there's the BigHorn SilCush marvel. Those saddles form fit to the back of your horse, and to your bottom. Great trail saddles. Once we know what you need, your saddle should be right when you get it. Even oiled, as if it’s already broken-in, if you like.

What if you do not have a friend with a saddle that fits your horse well, or it fits, but nobody has an idea what tree is in it, or you just want to be the most conscious of proper fitting for your favorite steed?

Cultured Cowboy has three sets of forms that we can send to you to try on your horse(s). The forms come from America’s tree makers. This form set is sent to you, so you can place them on your horse to see which saddle tree type best fits your horse. The tree forms are marked, but not so you really know which is which. This is good. This way, any preconceived notions are eliminated. There are usually 2 or 3 forms that will work. Sometimes one is outstandingly better. You tell us if TH, or AW, or F, or whatever works, then the saddle can be made on that tree bottom.  You literally can see through these forms to see the fitting!

To get these forms, just let us know you want to use them. We ship a set to you. The cost is a simple rental of $45.00. It usually takes a week, to week & ½ , for the forms to get to you, try them and send them back. You pay the shipping both ways. If you order a saddle from us, we allow $30.00 of the rental fee to go toward your saddle costs. The other $15.00 is used to pay for the forms, and in-house costs of credit card fees charged by your bank, etc. If we do not get the forms back, we bill you for the $500.00 cost of those forms. Shipping can be via UPS, USPS, or whatever is easiest for you. The whole box of forms is much less shipping than a saddle.  

Believe us, when in doubt about fitting, the peace of mind is worth the rental! And if there are other horse owners close, let them try out the forms & split the costs of the rental!

When using these forms, place each one on the back of your horse. Look for a nice even fit. Look for a form that does not have angles that are too wide, so the tree does not rest on the spine and top of withers too much, or too narrow, so that the tree will rest sharply on the rib cage in one line on each side, or pinch the sides of withers. The tree form should rest on the most possible area of your horse’s rib cage. Look for any “bridging”.  Then put it on your horse with some appropriate padding between form and horse. If it still works well, or fits even better, we have a winner!


Below are some of The Most Often Discussed problems in horse fitting that we see, with all the thousands of horse pics sent to us: 

1)     Is a horse with a large shoulder, then the rest of the back drops off to normal. Saddles might rub off hair, or kill the hair follicles, seen as white spots on the shoulders. This horse needs to be fitted with a tree wide enough in the gullet, and properly fitting in angles,  to get some of the pressures off that shoulder. Often a Full QH 7” wide gullet. Then, proper padding must be used to fill in the rest of the body to match the line of the bars of the saddle.


[ SIDEBAR: Now, I’ve read lots of articles about how perfectly aligned a saddle tree should be with the horse back. But not all people have $3500.00 to have a mold made, then a tree custom made, then a saddle custom made from there. If you do. Call. We can get all this arranged. NO REFUNDS on this level of customization. But, today’s high tech pads are almost as computer engineered as some bridges. There are pads made to fill in the gaps between horse and saddle, when the back of the horse is not made quite like the bottom of your saddle.

a)     Swayback pads are padded heavier in the middle. This allows a more dense middle plain in the backs of horses that may be high withered, older, pregnant, overly shouldered, etc. Front and rear of the pads taper to a thinner thickness. These pads are made from Cashel Cushions, Tacky Tack non-slip neoprene, and other great products from NASA foams to wool felts.

b)     Built up pads are the name commonly given to pads that are built up on the sides of the front end of the saddle. The pads are made to fill in on high withered, thin withered horses. I used many of these on Walking horses to lift a saddle so the withers are was not bound by my saddles. Sometimes these pads are cutback. Sometimes there are several pocket to fill, as necessary, to best fit your horse. Sometimes these pads are contoured. Several ways to allow freedom for your horse.

c)     Contoured pads are pads that are shaped in an arch down the centerline of the pad to better fit most horses. These pads help eliminate any bunching of a pad on the horse’s spine.

d)     Then, there are Cashel pads that are wedged, or reverse wedged, to lift the front or rear of your saddle, (many times more for your balance, than for fitting the horse, but sometimes you need these to help with young growing horses that are growing front or rear end taller than the other, at a particular time. These young horses will eventually even out!) I have used dressage wedges under Western saddles to get what I needed done. Cashel certainly makes Western and English versions of all their pads.

e)     Pads of good wool will not only wick away moisture, but settle into the shape of the back of your horse. I, personally, like to have a separate wool pad for each horse that needs one. This way, the wool can do its job in whatever area needs movement, for that particular horse/saddle combination. There is nothing wrong with having a thick wool pad with a wider tree, to fit that bulbous shouldered, or growing, horse. It will break in, and ropers do it all the time for extra protection.

f)       Pads of non slip neoprene are made of a “ripply” neoprene that will stick to the horse’s hair coat, without a lot of pulling or pinching. Great bottom for wide horses. Mutton withers, or wide backs have a tendency for saddles to slide from side to side in sharp turns, or while mounting and dismounting. This waffle weave neoprene will allow a lot of sweat and air to dissipate over the horses’ back too.   

g)     Gel pads dissipate concussion on things that almost fit, or on spots that need the protection. (Especially when there is an orthopedic problem.)  Barrel racers and ropers like these pads for practice because they keep horses from getting sore when used on a lot of practice runs. (You almost never see a gymkhana artist using one in the competition arena, because they weigh over 9 lbs.) Kind’a like boxers work out with heavy padded gloves when sparring. 

 h)     Thinline pad company has thin pads from very absorbent materials. Show/pleasure people like these, because they are easy to trim to fit under other blankets and pads, stay closer contact, and still add a remarkable layer of “bounce” absorption.  

i)       Wool / neoprene combination pads may be contoured or straight. They use wool for wicking and “schmoozing” and the neoprene absorbs sharp shock. I like the Pro Equine line. 

j)        Reinsman and some other companies have “pocket pads”. These pads have a pocket sewn onto the top, so you can fill with “shim” pads to a good fitting point. Cultured Cowboy has a heavy harness machine and has sewn pockets on other pads to allow them to be used for more than one animal, to get a shim exactly where it was needed for a horse that was larger on one shoulder than the other, or to fine tune fit. 

k)     I have taken hospital felt, or wool felt, and/or neoprene, pads, to cut holes out in areas that needed relief. For example, a sore knot on a spine, or a rubbed raw place on a weekend trail ride could stop the ride for a horse owner. But, having padding everywhere around, not on, the sore area, can give needed relief. (Usually, I like to use a wool saddle blanket over the pad I had to adjust, too.) 

l)         The squeaking drives me crazy, but those Pro Choice air pads will absorb shock too.


m)   You might have other ideas or items that have helped you through difficult fitting, or an injury. Let us know.  We’ll add them to our list. ]



2)     Is a narrow built horse with a high withers. So high that many saddles slide back, or rub a sore on the withers blade. In this case, the contoured pads, or built up cutback pads, PEP pads, and Walking horse saddle trees, (with high gullets) make a good recommendation.


3)     Is a saddle that kicks up in the back. The rear of the skirt looks to be a couple inches in the air.  Sometimes those wedge pads, and reverse wedge pads, work great to solve this dilemma.  Most often, changing from a full double to a 7/8 rigged saddle or to a ¾ rigged placement, (Use those in-skirt rigs with 3 way rigging.) or a centerfire type rigging that allows much adjustment, will put pressure where it needs to be placed so the saddle fits properly. (Assuming the saddle is the right angle fit to start with.) What happens is that the center of the saddle becomes where the girth is pulled against, rather than the front end, which can make that saddle kick up in the back. Note: Many flex trees will kick up till you sit in them. Have somebody sit in the saddle and see what is then happening on a flex tree. I have gone out and just adjusted the girth tighter and switched to a wider, roper type girth and solved this problem.


4)     Is a short back horse and the owner is afraid the saddle is interfering with the horse.  Arabian bars are the shortest out there. The bars used on barrel racers are the next shortest. Solutions: Don’t buy a short back horse if you need an 18 inch seat roper saddle to do your job. Just does not work! We have had tree makers combine the Arab bars onto other pommels to get the shortest possible bars. Add $200 to $300.00 for these custom trees. Remember that skirts extend past bars both front and rear. So, a 30 inch skirt will often have 4 inches of leather sticking past. This leather is for looks, to support saddle bags, to hold tools, etc. The bars are what holds next to the horse. This is why you see many pads, where the extreme padding is only under the bar areas of the saddles, not all the way to the edges. This combo gives max protection with closer contact. (Oh yes, did I mention that saddle tree makers make the tips at both ends of the bars roll upwards? That’s so when your horse moves, the ends will not tend to jab into your horse.)  Most leather skirts do not interfere with your horse, but by golly, sometimes they do!


5)     Wide flat back horses used to be a real problem. But, more saddlers are making their saddles using specialty trees, such as the “flat back”, draft, haflinger, and similar trees. Sometimes twisting saddles are a problem with wide, or mutton withered horses. The Tacky Tack, Tacky Too type non-slip neoprene pads are great to help hold these in place. Girths made of the same material also add more support. Be sure you are not using too wide a gullet width on your horse. You do not want the saddle to rest on the spine of your horse. Bars must ride on some kind’a rib cage to keep the saddle in place.


6)     Tender skin horses. I have trained young horses with skin so soft that they could only take 15 minutes of light riding a day till the skin thickened. I use a product called Reducine ointment to help toughen tissue like girth galls at the elbows. This is black, sticky, gunky stuff, but it will help a lot. Use cotton or some kind of soft cover on your girth till you finish with the Reducine treatments. The stuff is hard to clean off. I’d rather use something soft and disposable. (DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME: I liked this Reducine, so much, for toughening girth areas, that I started using it on my knuckles when I started trying to break boards, Karate style. It toughened. I got scars to prove it. BUT, who knows what long term use might do to us. Just use it sparingly…I was 17 to 19 and foolish, at the time.) Other times, a fleece cover or neoprene cover has helped prevent soreness. With these sensitive skins, I like something like a merino wool pad. This is wool blown through fabric. Toklat makes a good one with a NASA foam interior. Wool fleece is not as slick as Kodel fleece, is not as slick as acrylic.  Certain acrylic fleece, like carpet yarns, can actually burn the skin.  Double padding helps with some of these guys. A thin hospital felt next to the back, with other pads or blankets next to the saddle can work.


7)     Aged horses with backs starting to, or did, drop in the center. Use a flex tree that has front to back as well as side-to-side mobility. On saddles that flex, or saddles that do not flex, use the swayback pads. Flex trees are not to be used for ranch roping. The saddle will bow too much and something is going to get a shock. Actually aged horses with swayed backs should be used for light work. They still need exercise, and love to go with their riders, just not as much as they used to be able to do.  Sort of like me! I keep forgetting what I can’t do.



There’s probably more to discuss and discourse, but I’m out of time right now. And there must be another 300 emails that downloaded while I wrote this much!  Better see whom I can help!       God Bless,   Chuck

Coming Soon….Safety in the Saddle

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