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Your Balance

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Learn how to improve your balance so that you feel more secure when riding. This book is the second in this series and it shows you how to increase your balance. It contains 18 lessons for you to follow in your own time.

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Your saddle

Approximately 1,900 words article

This article covers some of the issues that are commonly raised in my (Horse Rider’s Mechanic) clinics with regards saddles. It describes different types of saddle and then goes on to explain how your choice of saddle affects your riding position, balance and security. For information about fitting a saddle see the article Your horse’s gear.

The differences between the most common types of saddle.

There are many different types of saddle to suit the many different disciplines of horse riding. Some of the commonly used types of saddle are:

‘English’ (European) saddles which are used for the ‘Olympic disciplines’ but are also widely used for everyday riding. This group includes dressage saddles (picture below), which have the straightest flap (on the vertical plain). When riding dressage the rider has longer stirrups than when jumping.

Jumping saddles are at the other end of the spectrum (picture below). The rider has much shorter stirrups when jumping and the flap of a jumping saddle reflects this.

An ‘all purpose’ - AP (or general purpose - GP) saddle is a compromise between a dressage and a jumping saddle (although as you can see it looks more like a jumping than a dressage saddle - picture below). These saddles are meant to be ideal for riders that want to do both disciplines with the one saddle, but they favour jumping much more than flat work. All of these types of saddle have padded panels underneath the seat that should conform to the shape of the horse’s back.

‘Western’ saddles also have many variations depending on which western discipline they are designed for. These saddles usually have a horn at the front for roping cattle (picture below). They have no padding underneath the seat and therefore must be used with thick saddle blankets or saddle pads for padding.

Australian stock saddles (picture below) evolved from English (cavalry) saddles but are used for a similar purpose to ‘Western’ saddles (for long hours spent in the saddle, working cattle or sheep). Again there are variations within this type. Like the ‘Western’ saddle they are designed for comfort and rider stability when riding in steep country or when making sudden changes in direction (rounding up cattle or sheep). They have padded panels under the seat like an ‘English’ saddle.

‘Half breeds’ (picture below) are a combination of a ‘Western’ saddle and an Australian Stock saddle. These are becoming increasingly popular with pleasure riders due to having the comfort of a ‘Western’ saddle but they are ‘hornless’ like an Australian stock saddle. They do not have padded panels on the underside.

Why is the right style of saddle so important?

It is important that the type of saddle you use is suitable for the the type of riding that you do. A ‘Western’ saddle, Australian stock saddle or Dressage saddle is not suitable for jumping for example. So if you do various activities with your horse you may need more than one type of saddle. For example ‘Event’ riders (as in 1, 2, or 3 day eventing - dressage, cross country and show jumping combined) usually have a jumping saddle and a dressage saddle to cover the very different riding styles needed for these very diverse disciplines.

When you are riding ‘on the flat’ (not jumping) you should be aiming to ride with your heels under your hips, and your hips under your shoulders and ears. In fact, if you are sitting correctly, you would land on your feet without tipping backwards or forwards if your horse were to disappear in a puff of smoke (diagram below). This position makes you easier for your horse to carry and puts your legs in the right position to effectively apply the aids.

Your saddle plays a crucial part in the correct alignment of your legs (diagrams below) and body, and this correct alignment, in turn, is crucial to riding well (see Horse Rider’s Mechanic Workbook 1: Your Position).

If you only ever ride ‘on the flat’ (i.e. don’t jump) an Australian stock saddle, a ‘Western’ saddle or a Dressage saddle will all be suitable, depending on what you are doing. These types of saddle, although different to each other in some ways, are all designed to put your legs under your hips, more or less.

A good modern dressage saddle is particularly designed to do this, but the other two styles, providing that the anchor point for the stirrups (or fenders) is set far back enough, will also put your legs in the correct position (please note though that the ‘ears’ on an Australian stock saddle can prevent the rider from rising to the trot and standing in a balanced position - covered in detail Horse Rider's Mechanic Workbook 2: Your Balance).



On the other hand, a jumping or ‘all purpose’ saddle does not really help you to put your legs directly underneath you. These saddles are designed with the stirrup bars set further forward, so that the rider can ride in a forward position, between and over jumps, with shorter stirrups. The picture (below) shows where your legs naturally end up in an ‘all purpose’ or jumping saddle.

The diagram below illustrates why a rider cannot put their legs directly under their hips in an ‘all purpose’ or jumping saddle - because the stirrup bar is set too far forward. In the first diagram (below) you can see the difference between where the stirrup bar actually is and where it needs to be for a classical ‘flatwork’ (longer leg) riding position.

When a rider tries to put their legs directly under their hips when riding in an ‘all purpose’ or jumping saddle there is a discrepancy between where the stirrup bar actually is (a) and where it needs to be (b).

The next diagram, (below), shows what happens when a rider tries to get their heels directly under their hips (when riding with longer stirrups, in an ‘all purpose’ or jumping saddle), they have to actually pull the stirrups backwards to archive this.

If the rider tries to get their heels directly under their hips (to achieve the correct shoulder, hip, heel alignment) they have to pull the stirrup backwards.

As this is difficult to maintain, what actually ends up happening is that the rider’s feet keep sliding forward again (diagram below) because that is where this type of saddle is designed to put the rider’s legs.

Because this position is too difficult to maintain the legs end up too far forwards again.

Riding in a saddle that is designed to put your leg in the correct position when riding with longer stirrups, on the flat, (a dressage saddle, below) makes more sense when you understand why it is so hard to achieve the correct leg position in a saddle that is, at best, designed to be a compromise between two very different riding disciplines (jumping and flatwork).

In a dressage saddle your legs can achieve the correct position much more easily because the stirrups bars are in the correct position.

A good, modern dressage saddle not only has stirrup bars that are positioned well back but also has correctly positioned thigh rolls that help enormously with the accurate positioning and security of the legs. When buying a saddle it is important to check that it helps rather than hinders correct leg alignment before you buy it. Notice that I said a good modern dressage saddle. Some older dressage saddles and even some newer dressage saddles still have the stirrup bars set too far forward. Aim to try before you buy.

So, you need to think about what style of riding you are planning to do when buying a saddle. If you are planning to jump, you need a jumping saddle with forward cut short flaps that will accommodate your legs when riding with shorter stirrups. An ‘all purpose’ saddle will also be fine for low level jumping because of the forward cut flaps. If you are not planning to jump then a saddle that has straight flaps will suit you better because you will be aiming to ride with your heels directly under your hips. This position makes you easier for your horse to carry and puts your legs in the ideal position to apply the aids.

The width and depth of a saddle seat is important too.

Other considerations when choosing a saddle is the width of the ‘twist’ (the area directly under your seat bones) and the depth of the seat. Saddles range being from narrow in the twist to wide in the twist. Likewise the depth of the seat can be either shallow or deep (diagrams below).

Because everyone is so uniquely different it stands to reason that different people will have different requirements. Some of the complications that can affect a riders requirements are;

So, while most riders are able to ride in a range of saddles without any difficulty, occasionally a rider may have a huge problem trying to get a saddle that fits them (as well as their horse).

This is one of those areas that the Internet can be very useful. As well as trying out as many saddles as possible a rider can ask around on rider forums to see if other riders, with a similar problem/build, have come across a saddle that suits them.

An inexperienced rider needs a saddle that ‘holds them in’ right?

Inexperienced riders sometimes think that they need a certain type of saddle to help them stay on a horse. This is not strictly true. Buying a saddle that ‘holds you in’ (such as a ‘Western’ or Stock saddle) without actually addressing the issue of your position and balance is counterproductive. So, by all means ride in those types of saddle if that is what you find most comfortable (and as long as it fits your horse) but don’t do it simply because you think you will fall off more easily in a saddle that does not have a horn (a ‘Western saddle) or ‘ears’ (an Australian Stock saddle). When you have a good position and balance your saddle will of course enhance your riding, but it is not what keeps you on your horse. Learning to distribute your body properly, and use your body properly, is what keeps you on a horse. Therefore improving you position and balance is imperative for your safety.

Horse Rider's Mechanic Workbook 1: Your Position and Horse Rider's Mechanic Workbook 2: Your Balance cover these interrelated subjects in detail. Start reading these books now (for free) by clicking the titles above.

We hope this article has been useful to you. If you think it could be added to or improved please let us know (contact us).



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