Fitting The Rider
Few things can ruin an outing on horseback faster or surer than riding in an ill-fitting saddle. It’s well worth your time to inspect and test as many saddles as possible until you find one that fits you as well as it fits your horse.
Although comfort will be an important issue during this selection process, it should not be your only consideration. In addition to providing a secure and cozy seat, a properly-fitting saddle must place you in a correct and well-balanced riding position. This is important for every rider, but it is especially crucial for novices who may not realize that they are being forced into the wrong postures and may pick up bad habits that are hard to break.
If you’re used to the Western riding tradition, an English saddle may feel a bit strange. The seat is more forward-facing, the stirrups are located farther up, and there is no horn. Climbing onto as many English saddles as possible will help you adjust to the change and determine which saddles fit you best. You should take prospective saddles for a test ride to ensure that they don’t throw you off-balance by forcing you backward or forward as the horse moves.
Finding Your Comfort and Safety Zones
Here are some of the main factors that influence rider fit:
• Seat: On an English saddle, seat size is the distance from the nail (or screw or rivet) at the side of the pommel to the middle of the cantle. English seat sizes run about two inches larger than Western ones, expressed in half-inch increments usually ranging from 15” for small children to 18” for large adults.
Manufacturers publish seat size on each saddle, so it seems like an easy way to match saddles to riders, but it is only one of many factors affecting fit. Other saddle dimensions, such as the depth of the seat or the position of the flaps, as well as a rider’s height, weight, hip width, and thigh length, will affect fit. You must sit in a saddle to ensure that you are comfortable when centered in its deepest part, without being pushed against either the cantle or the pommel.
• Stirrups and Stirrup Leathers: When in the stirrups, your feet should fall beneath your center of gravity, and you shouldn’t have to wrestle the irons or experience discomfort to achieve that position. Very tall riders may need stirrup leathers that are longer than the standard ones, and very short riders may need to put additional holes in the straps.
• Flaps: Flaps keep the rider’s knees from rubbing against the horse, and their various shapes and sizes reflect the riding postures used in different disciplines. Ensure that the flaps provide support when you assume the correct position for your intended activity. Your knees will clear the flaps and remain unprotected if the flaps fall too far behind, and flaps that are too far forward will push your lower legs backward and throw you off balance
• Weight: English saddles are trimmer than Western ones, generally ranging from 12-20 pounds, although racing saddles can weigh as little as 11 ounces. You should always lift a saddle to determine whether you can handle it comfortably. Most riders will not have trouble lifting an English saddle, but anyone who needs less bulk can choose a synthetic saddle or one of the lighter versions in a company’s line. Just keep in mind that the ease you gain from a lighter saddle is offset by the fact that it is less durable.
Your English saddle should fit your horse, feel comfortable to you, and promote the proper riding position. If the saddle you’re considering falls short in any of these areas, keep looking.
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