Western saddle recommendations: narrow twist to fit Andalusian

I recently purchased a 2.5 year old Andalusian gelding who will be lightly started next year. Throughout my riding career I have been primarily a hunter/jumper rider, trying a completely new avenue into the western world to try some other disciplines. Also, I feel a western saddle will likely be more comfortable for trail riding.

I am very comfortable in the world of H/J saddles, and know next to nothing about western saddles… I would love to get recommendations for a saddle that has a narrow twist. While I know each saddle fits differently, I have heard that western saddles are less particular for exact fit, is that the case? Any ideas as to what gullet a typical Andalusian would need?

Thanks in advance!

I’d suggest you go online and get the saddle fitting instructions and learn how to do a sketch of your horse’s back.

Once you know the shape of his back it’s much easier to start looking at particular saddles.

You can’t go by breed as each horse has their own structure and back conformation.

I have a saddlebred who is so wide in the shoulders and withers, he needed a custom size gullet. Even full quarter horse

bars was not wide enough. Also you need to fit the saddle first to the horse, then TRY to get a narrow twist for you.

It’s a long process of learning about Western Saddles as there’s so much variation in quality and construction.

I am rather short and always need a saddle with a narrow twist. Most western saddles fit me just fine. They don’t seem to have an issue with being too wide in the twist.

Western saddles come in Semi-QH and full QH bars. The gullet width can be from 6.5 inches to 7 inches or more. 6.5 inch gullet saddles typically have semi-QH bars- they fit a horse with a narrow frame and high withers. My paint and foxtrotter both go in a 6.75 inch gullet with full QH bars. They need the wider gullet angle because they have wide shoulders. A 7 inch gullet would be too wide for them and the saddle would sit on their withers.

A full 7 inch gullet is typically used to fit your bull-dog quarter horses. I’m guessing an Andalusian might be close to this, so I would start here.

Here is where variation comes in between manufacturers. A Billy Cook saddle with a 7 inch gullet might have a different bar angle than a Tex Tan with a 7" gullet. If the saddle produces dry spots on the shoulder than that usually means you need a wider bar angle.

Also you can get a saddle with a slightly wider gullet than you need and pad it up to make up for the difference. For example, on my paint, a 6.75" gullet is actually too wide, but once i add a pad with a cutout wither and built up front, it fits fine. If i get a gullet size smaller, the bar angles don’t match and she gets pinched.

If your saddle fits perfectly without a pad, then you want a thinner pad. So pad selection is important! Fleece pads tend to crush down, felt pads tend to hold their shape. If i need a thinner pad, I go with fleece. If I need a thicker pad, I go for felt. I always test my saddle pads to see if they flatten by standing on them.

All western saddles are much wider across the twist area and it doesn’t seem to bother anyone. The way you sit is different? What does matter is getting a saddle that puts your leg under you not in front and a seat that doesn’t slope steeply backwards. The chair seat feet on the fenders thing is apparently useful for some western speed disciplines but for correct riding it’s better to get a saddle that lets your leg hang correctly like a dressage leg under you.

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If you are comfortable in knowing if a HJ saddle fits or not, you’ve got a good start. Personally (having both english and western saddles) I feel like fitting a Western saddle is much harder because it is more difficult to “see” what the tree is doing under all the leather, and you can’t modify a western tree like you sometimes can with English.

But the basic principles are the same. You want even contact all along the tree, no pressure spots and no bridging, and you want the bars to “match” the horse’s back. You can do certain things with the saddle pad, if the situation is right, but realistically your saddle has to fit from the start (no pad will MAKE an ill-fitting saddle work).

Of course, keep in mind your horse is only 2 1/2 and his body will change a lot as he grows. Sometimes it’s okay to have a medicore saddle fit when the horse is young, because you don’t want to invest in the “final” saddle until the horse is done growing.

Gullet needed is highly variable and will depend on what the rest of the saddle is doing.

Ultimately, you must put it on the horse’s back to know if it fits or not. Tracings can help guide you on where to start, but they won’t tell you if a certain saddle will fit.

Even very similar saddles, with similar trees from the same manufacture will FIT DIFFERENT when you put it on the horse’s back. Western saddle fitting is maddening, to say the least!!!

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I’d buy an inexpensive used saddle to use from backing (age 4?) through final growth (age 7 or 8). Then go for a lifelong saddle.

Addressing some points here.

A western saddle is more comfortable for horses because it distributes the rider’s weight better over a larger surface.
In English saddles, that weight is more concentrated in a smaller area on the back.
Since so much English riding you ride “light” in the saddle, that is not so important.
When trail riding where the rider sits in the saddle for long, English/military saddles compensated for that with “duck tail” saddles, to provide for a larger area for that weight.

As for the rider, twist only matters to the rider’s comfort, refers to the width of the saddle’s seat in front.
A thinner or heavier person and length of thighs may indicate which twist, narrow or wider, will fit a rider best.
If you have fat thighs, you want a narrower twist so you don’t feel like riding an elephant, your legs sticking out to the sides, spread by that wide twist.
A narrow twist has room in front for your thighs, so your lower leg hangs close to the horse without straining to keep it there.

One important difference between English riders and how they sit a horse and western ones tends to be that the first group tends to ride a bit more forward, fits best what those disciplines demand, other than the higher levels of dressage.
Western riders tend to “sit on their pockets”, more directly over the balance point with a horse, as that provides the better way to go along with your horse, except when roping, then you are more active in the saddle also.

The OP does well to search for more information when starting a new discipline.
As others have mentioned, get with a good trainer and let them help you see how you can get where you want, including which kind of saddle would fit you and your horse best for what you want to do.

I have a good bench made western saddle. It’s a wade. A lot of benchmade saddlers use hand hole and bar spread not just quarter horse or semi quarter horse measurements. The really good well made saddles are made this way and a good saddle maker can make you a tree to fit the type of horse you ride. You’re going to pay for it but it will pay off in your horse’s comfort. I’ve been a dressage rider for decades and unfortunately my current horse (a warmblood) has never really been comfortable in a dressage saddle. I bought a good bench made western saddle and the whole horse’s movement changed. It puts me in a better dressage position than any dressage saddle I’ve ever had. If you get one with a good ground seat then it will not feel wide. I feel closer to my horse in my w [ATTACH=JSON]{“data-align”:“none”,“data-size”:“medium”,“data-attachmentid”:10744817}[/ATTACH] estern saddle than I do in a dressage saddle. Good luck


One of the differences between an English saddle and western is the “ground”. That is the built up portion on top of the saddle tree:

By definition, it is the part of the saddle that is sandwiched between the visible seat leather and the saddle tree underneath. It is usually made of a galvanized piece of sheet metal called a strainer plate, and covered with layers of leather that are shaved down to the desired shape. This shape is what is critical to the usability of the saddle.


Think of it this way: The tree is what distributes weight on the horse’s back. The “ground” is what distributes how the rider’s weight is carried by the tree. From the same link:

Chuck Stormes once said, “When they say ‘narrow’, what they mean, is ‘comfortable’.” Comfort, he says, is maximizing the contact between leather and rider. That is to say, even distribution of pressure from the crotch on down to where the leg starts to separate from the side of the horse. Incidentally,this is the same goal of fitting the saddle tree to the horse.

Also see: https://www.mhleather.com/groundseats.html

Your position is driven by the ground because if your legs flow into the ground, it will A) minimize the PSI your body feels, and B) increase your security in the saddle. If you try to sit in a way that conflicts with the ground, you’ll feel hot spots and become less secure.

The ground and stirrups will normally put your feet just in front of your belt buckle. That is NOT wrong, any more than using slack reins is wrong. Western riding is not dressage and the dressage position is not helpful. Feet forward will place your center of gravity further forward without requiring the rider to lean forward. It will allow your weight to sink into the stirrups in a sudden stop or turn. And it will put your leg at the place where the horse’s minimum circumference is.

So, going back to the idea we started with – some of the weight of the body is carried on the seat bones, some on the thighs, and some in the stirrups…With the result that - at least in this case, though I expect it is a general rule - the center of pressure under a rider on a solid tree (important point, that!!) is not under his seat bones, which people generally use when thinking about rider position, but pretty much at the front of his body.

Center of pressure under a saddle

You can ride English in Western tack, or ride Western in English tack, but it works best when your riding position and approach matches the tack designed to support that style.


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Check out Allegany Mountain Trail saddles. Their custom saddles are priced the same as a good off the rack saddle and their customer service is fantastic. It is a bit of a wait to get one, but it’s well worth it.

I recently purchased a full custom western saddle through Allegany for my mule - I normally ride in a dressage saddle. My western saddle sits me in a dressage position and had a narrow twist (for a western saddle). It’s the first western saddle I’ve actually been comfortable in! Even the saddle tree is customized to your horse - they guarantee the saddle to fit. I had to have a very short tree made to fit my mule’s short back. I ended up with the Cascade Wade with a slick seat.