have had so many questions lately about saddles and saddle fit
as well as fitting my new horse, Redge, that I think it is time
to share more information with you about this important piece
this: "A man can ride in a woman's saddle, but a woman cannot
ride in a man's saddle."
start with this idea and move through the various traditions
of riding and riding equipment.
english saddle traditions come from the military, the cavalry
and the hunt field. Before World War I there were english saddles
made specifically for men and english saddles made specifically
for women both side and astride. World War I changed everything
as the demand for cavalry and military equipment was needed.
All other saddlemaking was done away with. With the disbandment
of the US cavalry in the 1950s, military saddles began to disappear
and the hunt saddle for jumping and the cutback saddle for gaited
horses took over for pleasure and show riders. Today, even though
the horse rider market is predominately women, we still have
a tremendous selection of male oriented english saddles and
only a handful of female friendly english saddles to choose
The western saddle traditions come from ranching and farming.
Late in the 19th and early in the 20th centuries women had western
saddles specifically made for them to choose from including
a Mexican and South American variety. But these saddles had
high pommels and high cantels to hold "the lady" in her seat.
This was not desirable to ranch women who wanted to be equal
with the ranch men. Over the last 100 years western saddles
have been designed for their use and not for the sexes. There
are barrel racing saddles, reining saddles, cutting saddles,
bronc riding saddles, ranch saddles, bulldogging saddles, and
pleasure saddles. Almost all western saddles are built for the
male body biomechanics and only three or four saddlemakers are
considering the female rider biomechanics.
are also Australian saddles, endurance saddles and hybrids out
there that are making their way into the mainstream market.
These saddles are almost always custom made giving the buyer
the opportunity to have it fit their body and the horse's body,
which of course is the ideal.
If you, as a female rider, go to a stable to take riding lessons
you will be put in a saddle that more than likely will not give
you the advantages you need to learn riding in a safe, comfortable,
supportive way. I want you to realize that yes, you have a lot
to learn when you take riding lessons, but your equipment has
to help you in movement not work against you. So, in these riding
lesson situations where you are borrowing a saddle and riding
different horses, try to find a saddle that will work for you.
The stable probably has a large selection. Even if they don't
have a female friendly saddle, don't just accept what is given
to you if it hurts, chaffs, pinches, or keeps you off balance.
If worse comes to worse and you just cannot find a comfortable
saddle try buying and using a seat saver. They come in wool
and fleece and fit over any saddle's seat to give you some comfort.
Now, the next question is "What is a female friendly saddle?"
The tack store employees don't know, your instructor probably
doesn't know, your friends probably don't know - but you do
need to know. And hopefully, in our lifetime people who are
selling and making saddles will all know how to find a female
friendly saddle for riders. It's a tall order I know, but it's
one of my big wishes because in the end the horse's benefit.
female friendly saddle is a saddle that:
a seat which supports the female pelvis and gives a base to
the points of the pelvis or seat bones (ischial tuberosities.
The seat of the saddle meets/joins the seat bones and is firmly
underneath them. In narrow twist saddles the female is sitting
more on her crotch than her pelvis. She is literally teatering
in the middle with no support.
a twist or waist to the seat which tapers off slowly allowing
the hip joint and upper thigh to move freely.
the proper amount of rise to the pommel which will alleviate
friction on the pubic symphasis or soft tissue area of the
the stirrup bars under the hip joint for proper biomechanical
line up of the leg under the torso.
cushioning in the seat for extra comfort and give, tender
seat bones, long hours sitting and menstruation discomfort.
a list of female friendly saddle makers
on my website but highly recommend Balance International. I
worked with them on fitting Anna's saddle and am doing so again
with Redge and I continue to be impressed with their service,
the professionalism, their attention to detaila and their superior
product. This is a saddle company based in England. Balance
International is owned, run and managed by two women who design
and make all of their saddles. The saddles are made by women
for women and if that weren't enough, they are also the best
I have found for the horse.
saddle fitters take tracings of the back of the horse at the
withers and again in mid-back. They make the saddle to fit into
the deficits of the horse's back from those tracings on that
day. The saddle will hold this shape unless it is reflocked,
but the tree remains the same. No matter how the horse grows,
changes in muscling, in diet, in exercise, in age the traditional
custom saddle fit remains as it was on the day of the tracings.
People will use pads and shims to adjust the fit as the horse
changes, but the tree holds that initial shape and restricts
the horse from growing and expanding through his back as he
needs to in his work over time.
International concept (please
go to their website to read more www.balanceinternational.com)
is to make the tree wide enough for the horse to always grow
and expand under it.
saddles look traditional and some of their models are more traditionally
made than others, but the shape of the tree is allowing and
always open for the horse to grow into. It never restricts or
limits the back through any changes.
seen these saddles settle horses that were nervous or flighty
or bound up in their bodies. After only a short while in a BI
saddle they begin to let down and relax and stretch out with
their necks and through their stride. BI is only making English
style saddles now but hopefully they will, in the future consider
making western and endurance saddles too. I have ordered a new
BI saddle for my new horse and it will last us a lifetime. It
is made to fit me as a female athlete on his back and it allows
him to move without restriction.
As you look
at and ride in various saddles notice where and how they affect
you. Keep trying saddles until you find one that works for you.
It is an integral and key part of the horse/rider relationship
and has to be supportive to both of you.
in the next year or two, I will be coming out with a line of
female friendly saddles that everyone can afford. Until then,
educate yourself and continue to search for something that will
work for you. My book, "Fitness, Performance
and the Female Equestrian" has all of the saddle fit drawings
for the different genders. Use it as a guide and contact
me if you have specific questions.
A good contact
for female friendly western saddles is Dave Genadek at About
the Horse. He custom makes saddles with all of the criteria
listed above for women in his saddle line.
have to go the used or borrowed saddle route for now, look for
a saddle with a wide seat that tapers off slowly, a stirrup
leather or skirt that hangs down from under your hip joint not
out in front of your leg, a pommel that has a slow rise to it
and when you sit in the seat you shouldn't feel as though you
are sitting on the front part of your pelvis but in the middle
with no soft tissue pressure. The seat of the saddle should
not set you back on your tailbone either. The lowest part of
the seat or center of the seat should meet the center of your
pelvis. Also, when the saddle sits on the horse's back the lowest
part of the seat should be level with the ground.
this will help you a great deal in finding a saddle that works
for you no matter what type of riding you do. Just realize that
for now it's a little harder to fit the female rider properly
because the products are customized and not in the mass market,
and Happy Riding, Mary