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saddle fit for horse and rider                          HOW TO MEASURE YOUR HORSE

People come in various shapes and sizes and so do saddles. It's not surprising then, that not every saddle fits every rider. When the horse is added to the equation, finding the right saddle can make you wish you'd taken up tennis! I've spent a good deal of time in the last dozen or so years helping riders select the saddle that best suits them and their horse and have learned a lot in the process. Perhaps my experience can prevent you from making a very expensive mistake.


Any saddle must meet one very basic criteria in order to function as a useful tool for riding: it must be correctly balanced. This is especially true of the dressage saddle, owing to the refinement of weight and leg aids. Figure 1. is an illustration we're all familiar with. In order to allow the rider to sit in a balanced position; with half of the upper body mass on either side of the vertical line bisecting shoulder, hip and heel; the stirrup bar of the saddle must be correctly placed. The stirrup leathers should hang vertically and approximately 6" or 7" forward of the deepest part of the seat. This corresponds roughly to the measurement from the ball of the foot to the heel. The relationship of these two measurements is obvious. If the deepest part of the saddle falls more than about 7" back from the stirrup bar, the rider is encouraged to carry his leg too far forward and automatically adopts the chair seat. Conversely, a stirrup bar placed too far rearward causes the rider to sit on the crotch. We'll hear more about balance later, but first let me divide dressage saddles into two main categories.

Neutral Saddles

The neutral saddle is one which is correctly balanced and designed to meet the requirements of the riding task, but doesn't cause the rider to sit in any particular manner. This is frequently the choice for the professional or other highly skilled rider who rides many different horses of various levels of training and needs a saddle that will allow him to alter his position to meet the needs of the horse.

Saddles of Influence

Saddles of influence include any saddle designed such that it requires or assists the rider to sit in a particular fashion. These saddles run the gamut from very subtle influences to designs that scream, "You veel sit as I tell you!" Saddle influence caused by knee roll placement and size is relatively obvious. A less obvious sphere of influence is in the twist.

The twist of the saddle, viewed from above, is the narrowest portion of the seat, located just behind the pommel. Saddles can be broadly categorized into narrow twist and wide twist, with great variation possible within each category.

The general type of twist you need depends upon the conformation of your pelvis and the way the femur is attached to it. We can begin by separating the boys from the girls. Figure 2 illustrates the basic skeletal differences between men and women with regard to the shape of the pelvis. As you can see, women's seat bones tend to be further apart than those of men. This can cause a problem if the twist of the saddle is too narrow. In this situation, the seat bones are not correctly positioned on top of the saddle but fit down around the twist of the saddle - a very uncomfortable position! But before you go out and buy a broad twist saddle, you should hear (as Paul Harvey says), the rest of the story.

Figure 2
Left: Female  Right: Male

Since women's seat bones are more broadly spaced than men's, saddle makers should all broaden the twist in their saddles to accomodate us ladies, right?

The bad news is that while our seat bones are farther apart, the femur in women tends to angle inward, making us a bit knock-kneed (see Figure 3a.), as opposed to the femur of men which drops nearly straight down (Figure 3b.). Thus you have the situation where the pelvis may demand a relatively broad place to sit but the legs demand a narrow saddle in order to hang correctlly downward. Additionally, many women don't match this model at all, but have pelvises shaped more similarly to men.

Now you can see that the variation possible in women's anatomy with regard to saddle fit is nearly endless. So don't be suprised when your best friend offers you the chance to ride in her new "world's most perfect dressage saddle," and you hate it!



how can you be sure the saddle fits the horse?

While there are many subtleties of saddle fit, you can always be sure you're on the right track when balance is present. Figures 4, 5a, and 6a all show correctly balanced and fitting saddles even though each illustration looks quite different. Each represents a different manufactuerer's concept of the dressage saddle and the differences are those iinherent to each design. Consequently if you try to fit these three by applying a certain rule such as, cantle should be X inches highter than the pommel or, you should have X fingers clearance at the pommel, it becomes very confusing.

The one rule that can always be applied to saddle fit is balance. Line a. is drawn through the deepest part of the seat of each saddle and Line b. is drawn perpendicular to the center of the stirrup bar.


Figure 7 shows a saddle that is too narrow for the horse and consequently sits with the deepest part of the seat too far back from the stirrup bar. Figure 8 shows a saddle that is too wide and has the deepest part of the seat too close to the stirrup bar. The former will place your legs too far to the front while the latter will tend to tip you onto your crotch.

Figure 5b and 6b illustrate the same saddles shown in Figures 5 & 6 but from the front, showing the fit along the horse's shoulder and barrel. Again, you can clearly see that while both saddles fit the horse equally well, the fit does not look identical due to differences in the design of the saddles.

Figure 9 is a combination of Figure 1 superimposed over Figure 4 to show you just how things should line up.

Use this little guide to help you fit yourself and your horse and it won't seem like such an insurmountable task to select the most appropriate saddle from among the many choices available today. And please fee lfree to call us at (978) 363-8881 to answer any questions you may have.

To book a Saddle Fitting Appointment, go to our Inquiries page or call 978-363-8881.


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