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The Importance of a Saddle That Fits with Jake Barnes

How saddle fit affects your roping and riding.

Lone Wolf Photos

When I started roping I was so elated when I won my first saddle. I had no idea what the seat size was or anything else. Back then, we just rode whatever we had. I went for years and years like that. The size and fit of your saddle isn’t only important to you as the roper, but how it fits your horse’s back is critical also. Horses come in all shapes and sizes, so one size definitely does not fit all. Some horses are especially tough to fit, if they have high withers or are round-backed. It’s really important that you have a saddle that fits your horse. For years, whatever I won was the saddle I used. It was always cool to win a new saddle and crack it out. But the more valuable horses have become, the more obvious it is that taking care of the good ones is just good business.

For years I rode fully tooled saddles. I’d never ridden a rough-out saddle. But I remember at the NFR (Wrangler National Finals Rodeo) getting a sponge and wetting down my saddle because it was cold, I had starched jeans and that saddle was so slick. I ride all rough-out saddles now.

I’m a big guy, and I ride a 14- to 14.5-inch seat. A smaller seat buckles me down better, and I’m not slipping around and all over my horse. Saddle bronc riders have a deep dish in their seat. I’m no different.

Ropers need to get an education on saddles. Most ropers invest so much in their horses, then ride cheap saddles that don’t fit their horses or themselves. Most people get saddles with seats that are too big. Then they’re all over their horse.

It’s really important that your saddle fit your horse’s withers. I’d suggest you get several different opinions, as they do vary. You can sometimes adjust for the withers with saddle pads. Don’t underestimate the importance of a good set of pads. I use a Navajo pad on the bottom, and a 1” felt with a slot cut out over my horse’s withers. There are special pads now for horses with special-needs withers.


One of the hardest horses to fit is a horse that’s round-backed. It’s hard to keep a saddle on one like that. No matter how your horse is built, a lot of ropers forget that you have to keep your back cinch tight, too.

Check your saddle if your horse stops working. Sometimes you have a broken tree. If a horse stops pulling or starts flipping his tail, you might try putting the saddle horn on the ground and pushing on the cantle to make sure your tree’s not broken. That’s common, and it’ll give your horse a sore back in a hurry.