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.
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
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.
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!
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
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.