Riding shouldn’t hurt. Unfortunately many women are riding in saddles made for men, which cause discomfort and pain. Many female riders and saddle fitters are not aware of critical differences between the male and female pelvis, which dictate unique saddle design for each gender.
In the female pelvis, the seat bones are much further apart, which means if she is riding in a ‘male’ saddle, she will likely be sitting on the seaming, which is generally pretty uncomfortable. Often, the seat twist and seat width are mixed up, and she may end up buying a saddle with a wide twist when she really needs a wide seat (the twist is the width of the saddle that touches the upper inner thigh; this should be narrow for women). The seat width is determined by the space between the seam running along the outer edge of (at the widest part) of the seat. You need to look at the distance between the seams on the seat, which should be wide enough to allow the female’s seat bones to sit on the padding (if it’s too narrow it feels like you’re sitting on a ridge, or your seat bones are falling off the edge of the seat).
Another consideration is the position of the pelvis itself. The male pelvis has a relatively higher pubic symphysis. When he sits in a balanced position with his spine perpendicular to the ground on the saddle, his pubic symphysis will be tipped upward and not in contact with the seat. In contrast, when the female sits on the saddle with her spine perpendicular to the ground, her pubic symphysis is much lower and closer to the front of the saddle – to the point of contact and rubbing. When a male rider sits on a male saddle he can balance on his seat bines like a bi-pod, whereas in a male saddle the female finds her balance in a tripod position, which means her pubic symphysis will be in contact with the front of the saddle. This is very uncomfortable; usually the female rider collapses at the hip to escape the pressure and discomfort (also because of the lower cantle of a male saddle does not provide adequate support for her pelvis).
Make sure your saddle fitter understands the impact of female anatomy on saddle fit. If the rider is uncomfortable or out of balance because she is riding in a male saddle, this will affect her aids as well as the comfort of the horse. Your professional Certified Equine or Saddle Ergonomist or saddle fitter will evaluate 25 points for achieving optimal fit, balance, position and comfort for the rider.
Jochen Schleese is author of ‘Suffering in Silence - The Saddle fit Link to Physical and Psychological Trauma in Horses’ (2013). Through the Saddlefit 4 Life global network of equine professionals Jochen Schleese provides industry education to help equestrians recognize and prevent saddle fit issues and long term damage to horse and rider. Find answers in a personal 80 point Saddle Fit Evaluation to horse and rider.