Dressage Saddles and Rigid Legs

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Whenever I teach a clinic or start working with a new student I look first at the rider?s position in the saddle.? Of course, this is relative to the rider?s own conformation and their overall physical condition.? I'm usually soon putting my hand on someone?s leg trying to help them understand how to better open their hips and allow their leg to drape straight down.

This happened again last weekend at a clinic near Pittsburgh with a very nice group of riders belonging to the Western Pennsylvania Dressage Assn.? And, again, I felt like I was being a bit mean because exercises to open up the hips can HURT, at least at first.? The usual drill is to ask the rider (who might have an issue like a chair seat or toes pointing out) to drop their stirrups, lift one leg, rotate it forward from the hip, and allow it to hang down ? then do it again with the other leg.? I'll usually put my hand under the thigh so the rider understands there has to be real daylight showing under the leg before they can rotate it at the hip.? I tried this with several riders of various experience, ages and weight.? None of them found it easy.? They couldn?t even lift their leg a little bit without my help, much less rotate it forward.

I know instructors all the time remind riders to point their toes forward and/or draw the leg back under their bodies.? I wonder, however, if the problem stems as much from the construction of the saddle than it does from lack of practice or physical inability.? Now, I'm neither young nor slim, no one would call my waist area supple, and I desperately need a three-step block to mount my 16hh mare, but it's no biggie for me to lift my leg from the saddle flap standing still or at any gait. I think a key is that the saddle?s twist fits my pelvis area comfortably. ??Since writing the article in this month's Horse Journal about saddle design for women and then seeing a group of riders who lack flexibility in their hips, this issue has been swirling around in my head even more.? I'm going to keep thinking about it as I observe more riders and talk to more saddle-fit experts and maybe revisit the topic in the future.