The benefits of a good fitting saddle.

An interesting read about the correct fitting saddle kindly written by Samantha Rhodes of Chunky Monkey Saddles. 

What is more important? The way the saddle fits my horse or whether it fits me?

Its a common thing for owners to say to me that as long as the saddle is a good fit for their horse they don’t care if its good for them, they will make do.

So firstly lets start with horses saddle fit.

It is very important that your saddle fits your horse well, that its not too long in the panel, that its the right shape tree, that it doesn’t restrict the shoulders, all things that most of us are now aware of.

But lets also look at the rider and how they fit or don’t fit in the saddle. This will also affect how the horse goes in the saddle no matter how well the saddle fits the horse.

1. Saddle is right length for the horse but the rider doesn’t fit in it.

This can be for two reasons; Firstly, if the rider is too heavy for the panel surface area of the saddle this will cause damage to the horses muscles due to overloading them.

Second, rider is lightweight but tall or long legged, they don’t fit in the saddle properly so they end up sitting on the back of the saddle placing too much weight in this area causing muscle wastage.

2. Saddle is a good fit for horse and rider but flap shape and block positioning doesn’t suit the rider.

This is a funny one as it won’t cause any physical problems to the horse but if the rider isn’t secure and confident in the saddle it will affect the way they ride. They may hang on to the horse’s mouth to balance themselves causing the horse to not go forward. They will grip with their legs too much which might cause the horse to rush forward. If the rider isn’t confident that they are going to stay on, this fear can be passed to the horse and cause napping and reluctance to hack out etc.

3. Wrong type of saddle for activities you are doing.

I go to customers quite often who are wanting to jump and have been sold a straight cut saddle sometimes even a working hunter saddle (which is basically a show saddle). They’ve been told they need a straight cut saddle because of their horses shoulders. The problem with this is that if you want to jump you need enough saddle in front of your leg to allow you to ride a little bit shorter and to go forward over the jump. If you can’t do this you end up without realising it sitting bolt upright over the fence and not really giving with your hands which causes your horse to jump in a very square up and down way.  This obviously doesn’t feel good so causes you to sit up even more eventually your horse will stop jumping as you are making it very hard for them to use themselves properly over the fence which can cause them to repeatedly knock the fence with their hind legs. 

I know we all know someone who jumps in perfect style and balance in a very straight cut saddle but not all of us are blessed with such a good seat and core strength, me included.

4. Block is wrong size and position for our body shape/leg length.

The new trend is for very large surface blocks on dressage saddles if the block is in the right position for you it will feel amazing and secure if it isn’t it will be your worst nightmare.

If the block is pushing your leg back from where you can physical ride you’ll probably end up with your knee slightly on top of the block, this will push your knee out and bring your leg away from your horses sides making it hard to use your legs. In effect it has just made your horse about two inches wider each side.

If your horse is very wide its sometimes necessary for your knee to be slightly more forward than the classic dressage leg, this is because it won’t put as much strain on your hips with your legs like this. Again this varies from person to person but if its painful to ride, you wont be riding to your best ability.

5. Seat shape doesn’t suite the discipline.

In dressage a deep seat is nice, it holds you in position and feels nice and secure.

So you may think that would be a good idea for your jumping saddle too, but sadly this would cause you no end of problems when jumping.

As you go over a jump your upper body goes forward, but to do this your bum moves backwards, if your seat is high at the back this will smack you up the bum in some extreme cases actually firing you forwards as the horse throws it hind end up over the fence. Believe me this is not a very nice feeling! A lot of people don’t realise this is what is happening and wonder why they keep falling off after the fence. Sadly a lot of people actually give up jumping without ever finding out it wasn’t their riding but their saddle that was letting them down.

So please bear in mind in future that its equally important that the saddle is right for you as well as your horse. I’ve been to many customers who have lost their confidence and aren’t getting the full enjoyment out of their horses and its down to a saddle that just doesn’t enable them to ride to their best ability.

When fitted with a different saddle they have quickly come on in leaps and bounds, going out competing, hacking out by themselves, so make sure your saddle is working in partnership with you and your horse as there are plenty of new options of saddles out there to suite every horse and rider.