The Importance of Saddle Fit
In the past few years, more and more people have become aware of the importance of saddle fit.
However, not as much attention has been given to fit and comfort for the rider. If the horseback experience is to be enjoyed to its fullest, a good fit for the rider is almost as important as fit for the horse.
I often talk about the three dimensions of saddle fit for the horse. Those are width, arch, and angle. Two of these, width and arch, have a lot to do with comfort for the rider also. We used our computer pressure pad system to examine saddle fit and the pressure on a rider’s seat. Some very interesting information emerged.
The arch or curve of the seat effects the total area of contact with the seat and this surface area determines the amount of pressure or PSI exerted on the riders seat. A flatter seat has less contact since the curve of riders seat is touching the saddle seat, in a shorter linear Dimension. This results in greater perceived pressure of the impression that seat is hard even if it is padded. Conversely a “deep” seat with rise in front gives more contact in the linear dimension as saddle seat matches curve of rider’s seat and thus much less pressure is experienced due to larger surface area distributing the weight. So when saddle shopping you want to get to get a deep seat, with a “pocket”, right?
Maybe, if you walk, or do sitting trots like a dressage rider, but maybe endurance riding is more your style
So when selecting a seat style you should first consider what sort of riding you are doing and how long you are in the saddle. If you like to gallop and do a positing trot over the country side for longer periods of time, like an endurance rider, the confining of a deep seat with rise in font of your crotch is going to be restrictive of the movement of the rider trying to stay balanced and centered over the stirrups at speed. This can cause some real discomfort if, as you move, you are banging the front and rear of your saddle seat.
At Specialized Saddles we offer two seat styles Trail (deeper) and Endurance (flatter) to help match the seat to the needs of the rider. Some Rise in front of seat, seems to better fit the pelvic girdle of women, and is usually more comfortable for all round recreational riding for women while some men prefer the flatter endurance seat..
Now lets consider width of the seat or so called “twist”. Clearly sitting on a barrel with you legs spread wide apart is pretty uncomfortable, however this is the position many traditional Western saddles put you in. This is party due to the thickness of the fleece, and three layers of leather you are sitting on over the western type saddle horse. The cut of the structural members of a tree, the bars and the built up of the seat also have a big impact of how quickly your legs are open when sitting on your horse.
To understand why English saddle have a narrower twist you must understand English saddle are built on Flocked panels which lift you off the horse back higher than most western type seats so by starting at an elevated height you have more room to transition to the width of your horses barrel (which ultimately will determine how wide your knees are) and thus how wide your legs will be, when sitting on your particular horse.
In designing our western and endurance saddles we have eliminated much of the bulk under your seat, and thighs, making our saddles have a narrower twist while maintaining a close contact with the horse.
Lastly the saddle seat should fit your seat and leg size and feel like your legs hang in the upward curve of saddle bars with at least 1.5 inches between front of your thigh and back of pommel.
To make sure your new saddle has the seats you want, and need, for maximum comfort, you should either ride one exactly like the one you intend to purchase,( thru the saddle makers demos), or if a friend has he same size and model, ask to borrow it. And take it on a long ride at least and hour because some discomforts don’t show up till you have been riding a while and the last thing to want is to be married to a saddle that doesn’t do its part to make your time spent riding a pleasure