Fitting the Sidesaddle

Tips on how to tell if your sidesaddle fits your horse, and answers to frequently-asked questions about "riding aside."
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Tips on how to tell if your sidesaddle fits your horse, and answers to frequently-asked questions about "riding aside."

Like any other saddle, the sidesaddle must fit both you and your horse. Fit should be checked first without a rider. Then check it with a rider, as her weight will force the saddle down. A horse unwilling to move, aggressively swishing his tail, or otherwise acting abnormally should have his saddle fit checked.

A poor fit on the nearside of the saddle. The saddle stands up and out from the horse, instead of

A poor fit on the nearside of the saddle. The saddle stands up and out from the horse, instead of

Checking the fit on a sidesaddle is not very different than any other saddle, but there is more of it! When you lift the saddle to the horse's back, you will find a spot where it wishes to settle. This should be near the spot of your astride saddle, and the girth will fall in about the same place. You may find it useful to have someone hold the saddle still from the side you are not working on. First, be certain the tree sits smoothly on the horse's back. A narrow tree will perch. One too wide will settle close to the spine, or the lower edge of the stuffing panels will not touch the back. Second, check the pressure under the panels. The saddle's weight should be evenly distributed, with no pinching, gaps, or "bridging." Then feel under the points, all the way down to the tips. Again, the pressure should be even with no pinching. Finally, standing behind the horse, look at the seat to see if it is level and straight. Some saddles ride best with a little extra padding under the left seat, so that side may appear very slightly elevated.

Many smaller fitting problems can be corrected by changing the stuffing. Experiment with a variety of pads, lifts, shims, and the like to see if you can find the correct fit. However, if the tree is the wrong size, another saddle must be obtained. The fit should be checked as a horse's build changes, especially as he muscles up from training.

While checking the fit with the rider up, see how it fits her, as well. She should feel centered in the saddle, that it is not forcing her weight forward, back, left, or right. There should be a finger's width (1/2-1") or two between the fixed head and the back of the right calf. At the cantle, there should be an inch or a little more between her seat and the saddle's edge. A hand's width (about 3/4-1") should be between the left leg and the leaping head. The rider's seat and right thigh should not hang over the sides, and especially not over the back.

A rider in a properly fitted saddle will not feel in imminent danger of falling, though her muscles may feel odd while learning this new position. Congratulations are in order. You are ready to start riding aside!

SIDESADDLE FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)
Editor's Note: Names given are not intended as endorsements, criticisms, or a comprehensive list.

What is a good make of sidesaddle?
This one always generates much discussion. The "classic" sidesaddle names are always brought up -- Champion & Wilton, Martin & Martin, Mayhew, Owen, Whippy. These companies are either no longer in existence, or do not make sidesaddles anymore. There are also many smaller makers, both historic and current, who did good work. The real, if trite, answer is that a good saddle is one which fills your needs and fits you and your horse.

Is anyone making new sidesaddles?
Certainly. There are a number of individual saddlers who either build completely new saddles or rebuild ones on old trees. In addition, companies such as Niedersuss and Thorowgood have released prototypes of sidesaddles for general production. The Australian Stock Saddle Company has also announced a "soon" release. There are also a number of cheap saddles available, often made in India or Pakistan. These are of varying quality from good to downright dangerous. You may wish to use a dealer whose primary focus is sidesaddles when looking at these, as there are many specifics a general saddler may not be aware of. Actually, it is always a good idea to get a sidesaddler's opinion, no matter the make, for that very reason.

Where can I look online to buy a sidesaddle?
A comprehensive list of sources is impossible to compile. The resource bar on the right includes "Sidesaddle Links" which has links to various sidesaddle-oriented sites, some of which have sidesaddles available for sale. The Side-Saddlery at www.sidesaddle.com also has saddles available. People frequently post to this list about saddles they are trying to sell. EBay usually has at least one sidesaddle on auction, but be aware of the seller's return policy before buying in case it's not the right one for you. There are also a large number of tack selling services and tack shops which list individual used saddles from time to time.

What's this I keep hearing about a synthetic sidesaddle?
The Millenium saddle is in a pre-production phase. At least one prototype is in use on the US East Coast, and modifications are being made. Currently, adult saddles are scheduled for release in late spring, with a child's version to be released at a later date. Here are the vital statistics of the ladies saddle: 16" cutback to cantle; 20" front of fixed head to cantle; 12" seat width - one size , one style, one fitting , one price ?975.00 plus any local or import taxes. The tree is a composite GRP and carbon fibre and very strong. It comes with balance strap, leather, and stirrup. For more information, contact Vicky Spooner through www.sidesaddles.co.uk.

Has anyone ever tried reining, eventing, or [other discipline of choice] aside?

Yes! You are not alone! Members of this list have done parades, barrel races, cross-country, dressage, field hunting, and about every seat, discipline, and breed you can think of aside. Including a carriage drive-and-ride and the ever-famous "ride the working draft horse" classes.

What are the rules for showing aside?
This is a tricky and complex question. The only general rule is to talk to the show committee as soon as you are considering being at the show. Most open shows allow sidesaddle riders to compete in any class. Some shows providing a sidesaddle division do not allow aside competitors in any other divisions. Some breed rules, such as AQHA, ban sidesaddles entirely. Regardless of the rules, a sidesaddle competitor should always be courteous and follow all applicable rules, such as attire, protective equipment, and behavior.

Where can I get instruction?
The International Side-Saddle Organization, World Sidesaddle Federation, Inc., and the Side-Saddle Association in England have all posted online lists of their certified instructors. If there is not one near you, you might inquire if any of them are willing to critique a video of your riding. There are also a number of books and videos available through these organizations you may find helpful. Clinic announcements are often posted to this list. If absolutely nothing seems to be near you, ask, and you may well find someone nearby to help!

What sidesaddle organizations and publications are out there?
This cannot possibly be an exhaustive list, but here are some. Most of these sites have their own excellent links pages.
World Sidesaddle Federation, Inc. (publishes Aside World) (see link above)
International Side-Saddle Organization (publishes Side-Saddle News) (see link above)
Side Saddle Association (UK) (see link above)
NEA Sidesaddle Association, Inc. www.sidesaddleinfo.com
Side-Saddle International www.sidesaddleinternational.com (quarterly publication out of England)


Jeannie Whited of Northern Virginia has ridden aside since 1987, and became a certified sidesaddle Instructor/Judge by the World Sidesaddle Federation, Inc. in 2000.