The saddle is a single piece of equipment used by two athletes simultaneously. It distributes the weight of the rider correctly over the horses back, so the riders centre of gravity becomes one with the horses centre of gravity – and each can comfortably perform to the best of their ability.
A saddle needs to give you good position, be comfortable, feel secure as well as be in balance and harmony with the horse. Before focusing on how to achieve perfect fit, you’ll first need to understand how the design of the different elements of a saddle influences the fit for both you and your horse.
The tree is the base on which the rest of the saddle is built. The shape of the front of the tree influences the fit of the saddle over the withers, while the longitudinal shape effects how the saddle will suit the shape of the back under the saddle.
Firstly, the tree must be wide enough to accommodate the withers and shoulder. When too narrow, the points of the tree will place immense pressure directly onto the shoulders and surrounding tissue, which can lead to long-term irreversible damage if the saddle remains in use. Similarly, if too wide, the saddle will rock and cause instability and discomfort for you and your horse.
Designed to distribute your weight as evenly as possible over the broad muscular surface of the horses back, a correctly fitted tree is the foundation of a good saddle fit – nothing can overcome an ill-fitting tree that does not conform well to the shape of the horse. While the panels provide cushioning and a degree of adjustment, correct saddle fit always comes back to the tree.
Dictated by the front arch of the tree, the gullet is the space between the bars of the saddle. Intended to provide clearance for the spine and ensure the saddle does not place pressure onto it, it goes without saying that the gullet must be wide enough to ensure the panels rest comfortably either side of the spinal column, rather than on top of it.
If the tree is too narrow or the panels encroach onto the vertebrae, the horse will likely experience discomfort and demonstrate unwillingness to go forward or bend while under saddle.
The lowest part of the saddle’s topline, the seat is found between the pommel and cantle. The depth of the seat determines the level of security you have in the saddle – the deeper the seat, the more security.
Another important aspect of the seat is its size. Not only does this affect your comfort, seat size has huge influence over your effectiveness in the saddle and ability to move. Every manufacturers sizing’s will feel slightly different, so it is certainly worth trying a few different models and designs to learn which best suits you and your riding style.
Between the pommel and seat, the twist is where your pelvic bone rests. Just like tree width influences the horse’s way of going, the twist has a major influence over your comfort and performance. The twist needs to fit and support you, and if too narrow or too wide, you may experience discomfort – so again, it is worth your time trying different models and sizes to see which suits you best.
Usually dictated by the intended use of the saddle, the saddle flap sits between the leg and girth buckles, and the overall shape ought to mirror your leg position. When your stirrups are at the appropriate riding length (dressage length will differ hugely to jumping), your knee will indicate any issues. If your knee comes too far behind the flap, the flap won’t provide any support, but if your knee rests too far in front, it will force the lower leg back and disrupt your balance.
Determined by discipline
When looking for a saddle for disciplines that have you sitting upright with a longer leg, like dressage, the saddle flap will need to be longer and the seat closer to the withers, which will keep your centre of gravity in the correct place. You may also find designs with larger rolls – especially the thigh roll – which will provide extra stability in the saddle.
In comparison, for disciplines when you need shorter stirrups, such as show jumping, the saddle flap will be more forward cut and the flap much shorter. Also, your seat will be slightly further back – otherwise you would be forced ahead of the saddle when going over a fence.
When all these elements work together in harmony, suiting you and your horse, not only will it optimise comfort and way of going, it will ensure you can both perform to the best of your ability.
If you have any questions or concerns about saddle fit, please do get in touch with the European Saddles team.