It’s not hard to find information on how to help determine if your saddle fits your horse, but your saddle should fit you, too. If you’re beyond a beginner level, and maintaining the proper position is the primary focus of each and every ride chances are your saddle may not fit you well.
Let’s assume that your saddle fits your horse well — after all, that is the most important element — and focus on how your saddle fits you. With all the available saddle choices, you should find one that helps you with your own particular position flaws.
Your saddle choices start with whether you’re more comfortable in a saddle with a wide or narrow twist, which is the width of the saddle at the center top where you sit. This choice is based mainly upon comfort. Next, you need to determine if you want one with plain or padded flaps. Again, this depends upon what you’re doing in your saddle and what you’re most comfortable in. There are no firm wrong choices here. However, you can easily end up with a wrong seat size.
Seat size appears to be a simple choice, but it’s often made incorrectly. While you don’t generally see many people riding in saddles that are too large, it’s common to see riders in saddles that are too small. As a rule of thumb, you should be able to fit at least a four-finger width between the end of your seat and the cantle. Any less than that and the saddle is too small. In a properly fitted and properly balanced dressage saddle, you may be able to place slightly more than four fingers behind your seat.
Riders should not be embarrassed to purchase 17 ??”or larger saddles. Choosing the proper seat size will help you ride by allowing and encouraging you to sit properly in the saddle, regardless of whether you jump, event or do dressage. An average-sized adult woman most often fits a size 17” close-contact saddle and a 17 ??” dressage saddle. The trouble comes in when you try to determine what’s “average.”
For example, a slim 5’11” rider, weighing 145 pounds, might choose a 17” seat with a longer flap for her longer leg (more on that later). Saddle size is not determined solely by height and weight but also by the rider’s “seat” — literally. Someone with large hips and bottom will need a bigger saddle. In fact, deeper-seated saddles, which are growing in popularity, will generally require a larger seat than flatter saddles. This has to do with the area the saddler creates specifically for your bottom.
When riding in a saddle that is too small in the seat, the rider will be encouraged to “tuck” the seat, rocking back toward the tailbone, rather than to “sit” on their seat bones. When not sitting on your seat bones, your back can’t influence the horse, making it more difficult to use your seat and legs for balance and stability, to create impulsion and to apply effective half-halts. When a rider doesn’t have stability in his seat and legs, the only result is that he will ride more with the hand.
The rider needs to also consider her knee when selecting a suitable saddle. The fit of the rider’s leg to the flap of the saddle has to do with the measurement from the rider’s hip to knee. When choosing a close contact or jumping saddle, the rider’s knee should rest comfortably behind the front edge of the flap. It should not creep beyond the edge.
In a dressage saddle, where there’s significantly less “angle” to the leg because the knee should drop straighter down from the hip, the rider’s knee should not be located at the bottom of the flap. Rather, it should rest comfortably into the knee roll. Conversely, if the flap is too long, the rider’s knee will be at the top of the knee roll or bumping the thigh blocks. In extreme cases, a saddle with too short flap, may cause your seat to push to the back of the cantle.
A well-fitted saddle should help you feel confident and secure. It should allow you to sit properly and balanced, which will help you ride less from your hand. You shouldn’t struggle to maintain your position. If so, you may have a saddle that either does not fit you correctly or does not compensate for your weaknesses. We don’t want you to neglect saddle fit on your horse, but both horse and rider must be comfortable in order to perform optimally.