Improving movement and your position
Only a few years ago ‘saddle fitting’ was something in which the vast majority of horse owners displayed little interest. It was only when something went wrong that they called in the services of a saddle fitter – and even then, it could be somewhat reluctantly.
Things have changed – and for the better. Today the riding public has far greater awareness of the important part the saddle plays in terms of welfare, comfort and success. A well-designed, well-made and well fitting saddle is an excellent tool. A saddle that is poorly designed – or one that has inherent manufacturing defects – or one that doesn’t fit well is at best a hindrance, at worst, a disaster in the making.
It is important that the dressage saddle fits horse and rider perfectly. If the saddle rolls to one side or pinches the horse’s back, the horse will never be able to work or move well, however skilled his training.
If the saddle is uncomfortable, there are times when a horse will simply stop working altogether and in the long run a saddle that does not fit will lead to soreness and injury.
In dressage the horse is trained to perform a series of accurate controlled movements with the horse responding to clear but minimal signals from the rider, so that the whole picture is one of harmony.
Whether riders intend it to or not, their weight influences the horse all the time. This ‘weight’ is the centre of gravity of the whole seat of the rider which runs from the chest through the stomach and pelvis into the thighs.
Through muscle tone and control of this middle part of the rider, assisted by the saddle, the weight becomes the control centre of all influence. The response to all leg and hand signals is dependent on the position of the weight and the seat.
A dressage saddle is designed with a long and straight saddle flap, which mirrors the leg of the dressage rider. They also have a deep seat and knee blocks that are usually pronounced.
The dressage saddle has been designed with a longer stirrup as well as longer and straighter saddle flaps. It has a higher cantle and pommel to help encourage the rider to have a deeper seat.
A dressage saddle is designed to allow the very best communication with the horse by placing the rider in the centre of gravity, providing a sufficiently deep seat to feel secure but still be able to absorb the horse’s movement and by placing their leg long and relaxed to enable the appliance of a minimum of aids.
The dressage saddle should encourage a good position without being restrictive. On a dressage saddle the stirrup bars are set further back to encourage a longer, straighter leg position.
A correct leg position will come from good balance and posture and it is better to buy a dressage saddle that encourages you in to a good position rather than one which forces you into that position.
To find out more information on The Society of Master Saddlers and to find your nearest Registered Qualified Saddle Fitter visit www.mastersaddlers.co.uk or contact on 01449 711642.