Today’s Technology Leading To Tomorrow’s Champions Importance of Saddle Fit

Across the nation, in all Western horse sports, times are faster and competition is tougher, especially in barrel racing. Often fractions of a second separate the winners from those who go home empty handed. When the stakes are high, many times it is the little things that make the most difference in our performance. An important aspect that is often overlooked is the fit and proper placement of the saddle. Unfortunately, most people never consider achieving knowledge of how to properly fit a saddle as we grow in our horsemanship skills.

When we think of saddles, most of the time, we think of style, fancy tooling, and pretty conchos. But the fact is we should consider the tree within and how well it fits our horse first. The ability for the saddle to properly fit the horses back and accommodate the rider, resides with the tree hidden inside the saddle itself. After all, the tree really is the basis of the saddle.

People rarely buy trees. Most of us have never even seen a saddle tree for that matter. People buy saddles that simply have trees in them. When saddle shopping, most of us usually see a saddle that looks good, jump into the seat and see how it feels. Of course, the saddle should be comfortable, but it is equally, if not more important, to provide the same comfort for the horse.

The saddle tree should accommodate the necessary movements required to perform for both horse and rider. The tree consists of five major parts: swell, cantle, seat, horn and bars. The top half of the tree belongs to the rider and the bottom half belongs to the horse. Think about the critical functions of a tree:

  • The tree is the base structure upon which the saddle is made.
  • The tree is the strength factor within the saddle.
  • The tree is the critical point of contact to the horse’s back and, thru its fit, determines how well it allows the horse to perform with comfort and ease.
  • Properly fitted, the tree distributes weight and evenly disperses pressure to help prevent back soreness.

Ill fitting saddles can lead to soreness which causes all types of behavioral problems that affect performance. Poor saddle fit can limit or restrict virtually every physical move a horse makes in a barrel run including acceleration, lateral flexion, and collection. Saddle soreness can affect the horse’s posture and limit speed. A horse with back pain will often hollow his back, shorten his stride, and carry his head abnormally high which limits his ability to run, stop, and turn. Soreness from poor saddle fit can also be reflected by an overall nervous behavior, irritability, bucking or refusal to perform. These symptoms often get misdiagnosed as training issues. As a result, many riders reach for more severe equipment and intense training methods, which only makes the problem worse.

After the horse, the saddle should be your number one investment. Many people spend thousands and thousands of dollars on their horses, but cut corners and pinch pennies when purchasing a saddle. Saddles are an investment that can make or break the performance of a champion.

Since 1998, Martin Saddlery has been working to achieve a better fit for the horse. The AXIS™ tree, by Martin is designed and constructed in-house. By having the ability to produce saddle trees in-house, Martin can control the entire process from start to finish. The new Axis™ saddle tree is a result of Martin’s on going efforts to improve saddle quality and performance.

“Our goal to better fit the horse is ongoing. We breed better horses today than we did 20 years ago and through genetics we will continue to breed for increased athleticism and performance. In doing so, the conformation of our horses is forever evolving. At Martin Saddlery, we continue to dedicate time and resources researching ways to improve saddle tree design to better accommodate today’s equine athletes. We are truly excited with the improvements we have made. After all, the saddle is really only as good as the tree upon which it is built.” Brian Peterson, Martin Saddlery


The purpose of the saddle is to aid the horse and the rider by helping them perform their job. If the tree does not fi t properly, the saddle can restrict performance.


It mainly comes down to staying out of the horse’s way. A saddle tree that fits correctly does not interfere with the natural movement of the horse’s shoulder, back and loin. It is also important that the saddle be placed in the proper position on the horse’s back. When the saddle sets clear of the horse’s shoulder, he is free to move as nature intended. When you put pressure on the scapula and then ask for the horse to perform, the horse has to compensate. In other words, the horse has to change the natural way they move in order to work around the pressure. Any time a horse changes or shortens its stride, problems can arise. Soreness can cause the horse to resist or refuse to perform and can even lead to major joint and ligament damage due to the unnatural gait.

Throughout the development of the Axis™ Saddle Tree, Martin worked with many professional trainers and competitors. The result is a remarkable difference in improved rider performance and horse health. “It is exciting that our endorser team can notice and see the difference. Their horses are staying stronger down their top line, more solid in the training house, Martin can control the entire process from start to finish. The new Axis™ saddle tree is a result of Martin’s on going efforts to improve saddle quality and performance pen and they have seen a decrease in soreness and joint problems over the last several years.” Brian Peterson, Martin Saddlery

Martin Saddlery has worked with professionals and trainers all across the western industry, in all disciplines including Sherry Cervi, Kory Koontz, Clinton Anderson, Matt Gaines, Terra Bynum, Don Murphy, Carol Goostree and many more.


“My horses’ toplines are fuller and stronger than ever before. After riding all my horses is Martin saddles, since 2003, I see don’t see as many problems in soreness and lameness in my colts and finished horses as I did in the past. Also, the fact that my seat is balanced, consistent and it puts me in the position to effectively cue my horse is very important. Martin has the ability to mold the same, exact ground seat every time, so I don’t find myself riding in a “favorite” saddle like I used to. All my saddles are my favorite because they all sit the same. That is important, especially when you are getting on different horses.” Sherry Cervi, 2-Time World Champion Barrel Racer, 11-Time NFR Qualifier


“I think what impressed me most about the people from Martin was the way they taught me the fundamentals of saddle fit and gave me the tools in knowledge that I was missing. They taught me how to evaluate my horses and how my saddles affected their performance. They broke it down and taught me hands on about where and how a saddle should fit in order to work with the muscles and not against them. I now have an awareness that I have never had before and it will help me to take better care of my horses. ” Terra Bynum, BFA Futurity Champion, Texas Circuit Champion, NFR Qualifier

“I used to be all about riding a saddle that fit me, but the crew at Martin Saddlery helped me to also focus on fitting the horse. My horses are staying sounder and that lets me keep them in training. As a person that makes a living competing in aged events, I think that is the biggest deal.” Matt Gaines

Kory Koontz, USTRC Champion Heeler and 13-time NFR Qualifier, has seen a difference in how his horses move and hold up to the rigors on the road. “Just using common sense, seeing the AXIS™ trees on my horse’s back shows me that my Martin saddle will be more comfortable to my horse than any saddle I have ever used in the past. There are positive changes in my horses over the years that come directly from using a saddle that fits them better. I think it gives them a better chance to do their job.” Kory Koontz