There are often many discussions that involve how the saddle fits for a horse, yet the way the saddle fits a rider doesn’t get half the amount of press. And believe it or not, it is equally important that a saddle matches up to the rider how it should for the horse. I often hear riders saying that if a saddle fits their horse well, they are not too concerned about how it feels for them and that they will learn to start loving it. This statement is as equally untrue as the riders that state that if the saddle suits them, they are not too bothered about how it fits their horse, and the horse will just have to get used to it. If the rider and the horse are not comfortable with a saddle, then they will both end up suffering.
So how will you know when a saddle is fitting a rider? There once was something called the “one hand” rule, which involved that a saddle is right for a rider when they are able to place one of their hands over the saddle-seat behind their buttocks to the end part of the saddle’s cantle. Yet, when it comes to the latest range of depths for the seats and different saddle types, this is a rule that is no longer applicable. In my personal experience, the fit for riders is far more subjective when compared to how a saddle fits a horse.
There is a lot that depends on the overall depth of the seats. This includes the position of the blocks and flap, where the stirrup bar is placed, along with the overall support and balance that the seat provides. This doesn’t even touch on the preferences of the individual. Certain riders prefer more room so that they can move around in the seat, while other riders prefer more support. There are also the riders that prefer smaller blocks, which means the opinions and combinations are just about endless.
Obviously, there are a few defining red flags. For example, you do not want a rider that slides from the pommel to the cantel due to a seat that is too large, where they struggle to give aids from the flaps which are hanging down to their ankles. On the other hand, you also want to avoid a rider from overflowing due to the seat space that is too small or sitting with their legs up to their ears, because the knee has extended past the block and as well as over the front part of the flaps. Here is an overview of using riders in different saddle types, and we will discuss what we are seeing.
In this image, things appear to be pretty relaxed and calm:
The rider is well-supported, with good balance, without any restrictions. The riders thigh is in a parallel position to the flap as well as in a snuggled up position towards the back of the saddle’s block. The flap is extended approximately 1/3 down the calf of the rider, which has enough length to clear the top of the boot, while at the same time also short enough in order to not cause any interferences to the leg aids. This is a nice picture overall.
When you ride for pleasure or trail riding, aesthetics is not such a big deal. What is more important is that the rider feels comfortable. If this rider had to tell me they love this saddle and that it matches up to her horse, then I would say it is a good choice. If, on the other hand, the rider planned to use this saddle for showing, then I would suggest a saddle that is more streamlined which would match up to the build of the rider.
The length of the flap is another important consideration. In the photo below, the size of the seat seems okay, yet the flap is a bit too long.
This is a type of flap that has enough length to interfere with the leg-aids. Unless this rider gives aids just about only with their seat, it would probably be a better choice to go with something else ( or find out if the saddler would be able to shorten the flaps to the correct length).
Here is something that is the opposite of what we just discussed. In this photo the size of the seat is acceptable with flaps that are too short:
With both these saddle types, should the rider need to use leg forward from the ideal position, or when she rides in half chaps or shorter boots, the tops may become entangled in the bottom part of these flaps.
The leg length that you use to ride with can also make a significant difference. In the photograph below, the stirrups are up when the rider is in the jumping position:
This fit maybe alright, yet if this rider decided to shorten the stirrups in order to achieve bigger jumps over fences or a cross-country gallop, her knees would extend past the block as well as over the front flap. A flap-set that is more forward is needed in this case.
Here is an example where the leg position of the rider is too long to match up to this type of saddle:
The thigh of the rider is not parallel when it comes to the flap front, while the knee extends under the block. This position can result in a “floating” unstable leg. A less-forward and straighter flap would match up to the rider better.
Even when the rider had to bring her legs upwards, this is still not a suitable saddle:
If the rider was happy with the size of the seat, where certain riders prefer more room so that they can move, the flap on this saddle is far too long as well as far forward when it comes to this rider. The flap goes past the calf and her knee, which means there is no way to even try reaching the block when it comes to this saddle, regardless of how short she makes the stirrups.
Body placement and shape are also essential for the saddlers to consider when it comes to the fit of the rider. In the following photograph, everything may look good, excepting that the knee of the rider extends below the “sweet spot” when it comes to the block. This is the small indentation found close to the top part of the knee-cap of the rider:
If the rider tried to change her position in order to move her knee into another spot, this would happen:
She would jam her buttocks into the cantle along with locking the lower back, which is not great for either her or the horse. This is a block that would need re-shaping with a “sweet spot” that is lower in order to accommodate this rider.
The way that a saddle fits the horse has a lot to do with how the rider will feel. For example, if the saddle is sitting pommel-high, then the rider will be thrown against the back-seat.
If the saddle is sitting pommel low, then the rider rolls forwards onto the pubic bone in the front, while the back will start to hollow:
When considering all the different saddles along with an extensive array of fitting options when it comes to both the rider and the horse, there is really no reason as to why either the horse or the rider should sacrifice comfort and fit in order to accommodate the other. It will usually take a bit of experimentation and time, but you will find the right saddle that works well for you and your horse.