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Saddle Fitting for the Rider

How to Fit a Saddle to the Rider

Seat Size

Seat size affects your comfort level, ability to move and your effectiveness in your riding. Rider height and weight should be considered. Every saddle brand and specific saddle model will feel different depending on the style of the saddle. It is important to get actual seat measurements of every saddle as the seat size differs between all brands. Most saddles require that you fit between three to four fingers (or a hand’s width) behind your bottom and the tip of the cantle. If you feel confined in a deep seated saddle, then try the next seat size up. Many taller riders will find that they need to go up a seat size to accommodate their longer leg.

Seat Depth

Seat depth is the length of seat surface that bears the riders weight. In a deep seat, it is shorter and helps to hold a rider in position. It may make it difficult to rise out of the saddle if needed as in trot work. Seat depth will depend on the disicpline you choose to ride and how much support the rider wishes to have from the saddle. In dressage the saddle seat is usually deeper and aids the riders ability to sit to the horses movements. Many hunter saddles offer a flat seat which enables riders to sit in a half seat position freeing up the horses back. With a deep seat, you may need a larger sized saddle seat and a flat seat may allow you to ride in a smaller seat size.

Seat Twist

The seat twist occurs where the bars of the tree “twist” to form the transition between the front and back of the tree. The twist is located behind the pommel and at the front of the actual seat. It is the width of saddle between the upper thighs, just under the pubic bone. The width of the strip of leather over the twist doesn’t indicate twist width. A twist that is appropriately sized for you will allow your legs to hang down loosely on either side of the saddle. If you feel like you are sitting on a wide board, then the twist is too wide for your build. The potential problem with riding in a saddle with a twist that is too wide for you is that it could force you into a chair seat position. If a twist is too narrow for you, you may feel that your thighs are not being supported.

Seat Width

The seat width is the width of the saddle beneath the seat bones. It needs to be wide enough to give the rider good support. You cannot balance if your seat bones keep slipping off the edge of the seat.Every saddle brand and model will have saddles with different seat widths, so it is important to have accurate measurements to ensure the seat width will work for your body type.

Thigh Blocks & Knee Rolls

The saddle supports on your saddle will very depending on saddle type. Dressage saddles usually incorporate thigh blocks which are usually large and voluminous and offer good hold for thighs and knees. Close contact saddles usually offer knee rolls which are smaller and offer less support for the knee but more freedom of movement for the rider in the saddle, this makes it easier for the rider to find the right balance especially when jumping. If the blocks or rolls are placed incorrectly too far back, your thigh will be pushed into too vertical of a position; you will be tilted forward onto the front of your pelvis and be told “Sit up!” If the rolls are too far forward, your legs may move too far in front of you and place you in a ‘chair’ position, hence you are constantly being told, “Bring your legs underneath you. They are too far forward.” Both positions prevent you from balancing correctly and your ability to follow the motion of your horse. Both positions interfere with proper positioning of leg aids. A small adjustment can make a big difference. Some saddles come with moveable rolls and remember it is possible to have blocks and rolls removed or replaced with a more desirable size and shape by a reputable saddler.

Stirrup Bars

Stirrup bars need to be placed so that your leg hangs down with your ear, shoulder, hip and heel in line. If they are too far forward, again you sit in a chair position and are told to “bring you legs back.” If they are too far back, your leg will be too vertical and you will be positioned forward onto the front of your pelvis. Incorrect positioning of the thigh roll and the stirrup bars create similar problems and prevent proper leg aids but placement of the stirrup bars cannot be changed.

Flap Position

All saddle makes and models have flaps set at different angles. Some brands will give you a choice between standard, forward and extra forward flaps. The different options are dependent on your hip to knee length. When you try out saddles, look to fit this part of your leg first. The rotation and size of the saddle flap should complement the angle of your leg. Your knee should hit at the top point of the flap with at least two fingers to spare. Even if you are not a tall rider, you may find that your hip to knee length may require a saddle with a more forward position.

Flap Length

Flap length is less important than the way the flap shape complements the angle of your leg. As a very general guideline, the flap should fall only about a third of the way down your calf. If it is too long, it interferes with your leg aids. If it is too short, it can catch on the top edge of your boot.