What Makes a Great Saddle?
A great saddle is
- comfortable to the horse, allowing the horse to move freely,
- reasonably comfortable for the rider,
- aligns the rider with the horse’s center of gravity,
- allows rider and horse to ‘vibe’ together (see explanation below) and
- is suitable for the task at hand.
You see, I did not elaborate on the advantages of patent leather, narrow twists, knee rolls and other intricacies. It is simply irrelevant, as long as it meets the above requirements.
Any time you deviate from fulfilling these core requirements, you risk
- a horse that develops compensation issues from avoiding discomfort caused by a saddle
- a rider, who has a hard time synchronizing his or her movement with the horse’s movement
- unnecessary reliance on ‘mechanical’ means of communication between rider and horse
- difficulty in the chosen equestrian discipline (e.g. dressage saddle for distance riding).
The Horse’s Comfort (1st Priority!)
5 Factors to consider in saddle fit
- Balanced (if not, look for a different saddle or custom fit, no need to continue 2-5…)
- Room for the shoulder
- Room for the spine, including withers
- Even contact with the horse’s back
- Length not beyond 18th thoracic vertebra (end of weight-bearing area)
The Rider’s Comfort
5 Factors to consider in saddle fit for riders
- Enough room, 4 fingers from ‘bum’ to cantle (if not, look for a longer saddle, no need to continue 2-5…)
- Comfortable twist* (important for comfort in the pubic area)
- ‘Bum’ support or cushion, if desired (this is actually a tail bone relief…)
- Adequate flap size (room for the upper leg)
- Adequate flap length (relative to knee/boot edge)
The best saddle for your horse is one that
- Fits well to be comfortable
- Is suitable for your equestrian discipline of choice
- Is one that puts you, the rider, in a position that is natural and aligned with the horse’s center of gravity
*CAUTION – Myth Busters
Moving saddles back and away from the shoulder, does not create better saddle fit.
It puts the rider away from the center of gravity and puts stress on the horse’s thoracolumbar junction. A well-fitting saddle will provide enough room without being pushed back.
Saddles for men, saddles for women – There should be options for narrower or wider twists for all riders. Simplifying this into a gender topic does not help. Sticking to the facts does: Some men have a wider pelvis, some women a narrower pelvis (especially Norther European…). Try and see what feels comfortable to you!
A shorter saddle is OK – Not so. You need enough room to be comfortable in your saddle. Don’t get distracted by seat sizes. Feel your way through this, make a decision on the facts. If fact is, it’s comfortable, the seat number does not matter!
Check 1, 2! (Saddle Comfortable for Rider & Horse) – Now What?
You and your fitter checked all 5 points for horse and rider above? Now, that you found the best saddle for your horse, there is more that you may want to consider:
Added Requirements – Must-haves
Good vibes – Personally, I value being able to feel my horse through the saddle. This can happen, if the saddle is made of natural materials, meaning leather plus metal, wood, and wool. Note: Foam and synthetic fillers are excellent sound insulators! You will appreciate this for your son’s drumming room in the basement. However, using these materials in a saddle will lead to muffling of sound vibrations between your and your horse’s body. Therefore, I highly prefer and recommend a saddle with high-quality wool flocking paired with a natural material pad. Of course, there is always an exception: School horses appreciate the ‘muffled’ sounds of a synthetic tree under an unskilled rider. Older or sway-backed horses may also appreciate this feel.
Saddle tree elasticity – Look for a saddle with a somewhat elastic tree that will allow you to have a natural, harmonious seat and will take pressure off your horse’s shoulder, plus just about eliminate the possibility of bridging in most horses (if not, your saddle needs custom adjustments). Traditionally made wood trees fulfill this requirement. Most synthetic trees do not.
Added Requirments – Nice to have
One with the planet – If you can have naturally tanned leather, meaning leather tanned in a purely plant-based process versus toxic chemicals, why not go for it? Ask about this detail if you care about this aspect.
That little bit of bling – Not needed… or is it? If it makes you feel good, it’s great to have the option. Colors, Swarovski, there are no limits to the wonders of a custom saddle!
- Fits comes first, looks comes second!
- Find the best saddle for your horse first, rider fits comes a close second!
- Stick to the facts, do not let ‘hype’ or emotion (do I really need this seat size?) get the better of you.
For questions or to schedule a Saddle Fit Evaluation (your current saddle(s)) or Custom Saddle Fitting (Passier Saddles) appointment, please fill out this form with the best time to contact you. I would love to help you find the best saddle for your horse (and yourself!).