Optimal saddle fit for both horse and rider is key for being balanced in the saddle. The rider needs to be in balance in order to not throw the horse off of its own center of gravity. The natural balance point of the static horse is at the sternum. The horse moves slowly forward while grazing with its head down and most of its weight on the front. In later life the rider influences this natural sense of balance as we try to keep the horse ‘off the forehand’. The horse’s center of gravity (centre of balance) is further forward for green horses and moves back on the horse’s body as it is trained.
The rider’s goal of achieving the ‘shoulders-hips-heels’ straight line is referred to as the ‘plumb line’. In order to ride in harmony and in balance, the rider’s legs will be slightly bent at the knee. When riding, the rider will be almost in a ‘standing seat’ with his legs, back and pelvis in a straight vertical line. Whereas a person who is standing balances himself with his foot position, when seated this balancing job is done with the seat bones. The four natural curves of the spinal column and the slightly bent knee position allow the rider to maintain a light and balanced seat in harmony with the movement of the horse, acting as shock absorbers to the motion.
This balance in the saddle can only be achieved if the rider’s pelvis is basically in the same position vis-à-vis the rest of his body as it is when the rider is walking. It is the ‘feathering’/shock absorption of the feet, knees, and hips - as well as in the spine and through the pelvis, allowing the rider to maintain balance on the moving horse. The diagonal movement of the horse used in all his gaits feels quite natural to the rider, who in the upright position (similar to walking) will move his arms and legs in this same diagonal way.
One function of the saddle is to position the spinal column and the seat bones in such a way as to allow the four natural curves of the spine to act as shock absorbers and move with the motion of the horse and its horizontal spine. This will allow the natural harmony of horse and rider to enhance the overall movement by compounding the dynamic energy of both. The balance of the horse will certainly be impacted – positively or negatively – by the rider, which makes it very important that the saddle fits correctly. Balance will be checked during your annual saddle fit evaluation by a Certified Equine or Saddle Ergonomist.
Author of ‘Suffering in Silence - The Saddle fit Link to Physical and Psychological Trauma in Horses’ (2013) Jochen Schleese teaches riders and professionals to recognize saddle fit issues in Saddlefit 4 Life lectures and seminars. We help you find answers in a personal 80 point Saddle Fit Diagnostic Evaluation.