In a perfect world, saddle fitting would receive the consideration it deserves. There would be an ample population of good, knowledgeable fitters sprinkled throughout the land, dispensing good advice and bringing peace and comfort. Horses would never get back-sore, and riders would never get butt sore. And they all would live happily ever after.
As we say in Vermont, "Oh, AYUH."
In reality, finding a good fitter can be tough, and finding a saddle that fits can be even tougher. And if you don't have a fitter in your area, what are you to do?
While having someone there doing hands-on work is really the best possible scenario, it is possible to do long-distance saddle fitting if - and this is the key part - if you're working with a fitter who's good at remote work ... and not all fitters are. With an accurate template and a good conformation photo, a long-distance fitter who's good at their job can make some very detailed recommendations about what saddle might best suit you and your horse.
I'm going to be wicked lazy and just post the links to the pages I've already made. To see instructions for taking a template (also known as a tracing), go to http://pantherrunsaddlery.com/?page_id=434. To see the photos that should accompany them, go to http://pantherrunsaddlery.com/?page_id=494. Go ahead and take a look - I'll be here when you get back. And don't be intimidated by any of this - usually the hardest part is getting your horse to stand still and square!
Now that you're back, let me explain how all this info translates to a fitter. First, the tracings. #1 tracing shows us what tree width your horse may need in any given saddle, and whether a regular tree or hoop tree would be best. It also tells us if modifications may need to be made to the front of the panels (wither gussets, trapezius or dropped panel, etc.) #2 tracing shows us what we need for a bearing surface on the rear of the panels: flat, angled, or somewhere in between. #3 tracing shows us what tree shape we'll need, and what rear panel depth and configuration will be necessary.
As for the photos, the conformation shot gives us an idea of your horse's overall balance and conformation. Is your horse a little rump-high? Are we dealing with a big shoulder? A short, forward girth spot? A short back? This info helps us refine our recommendations. If your horse is a little rump-high or short backed, an upswept panel might be a good option. A big shoulder might require a saddle with a short tree point.
The photo of you in your current saddle is another tool of refinement. If your ABC saddle is a 17" wide tree and it's sitting pommel high and your leg is coming off the front of the flap, we know that you'll need a wider tree and either a longer/more forward flap or a larger seat, AND we know that saddles with trees and flaps similar to the ABC probably aren't going to be good choices for you.
Even with this info it may take a bit of trial and error, so if the first saddle isn't quite right for either you or your horse, I ask that you send some photos of that as well (http://pantherrunsaddlery.com/?page_id=485) so I can see what the problem is, and what steps need to be taken to correct it. It might be that you need a different tree width or seat size, or perhaps a different saddle would be a good option to explore. But with patience and perserverence, you can find a saddle that works for you and your horse.