"There is no secret so close as that between a rider and his horse"
(Robert Smith Surtees, 1808-1864)
Virtual Lessons - Saddles
(Reproduced with permission from the copyright owners www.newrider.com)
Saddles are the first, and most major cause of the rider finding it difficult to sit in the correct position. Unfortunately, saddles are generally designed and made by saddlers who rarely, if ever go near a horse. They are mostly very good craftsmen, but not good designers. To design a saddle that assists, rather than hinders the rider, you need a good knowledge of the correct rider position on the horse, that where you could run a line down through the ear, shoulder, hip and heel. It is similar to a standing position, but with the knees slightly bent, so that if the horse were whisked away from underneath you, you would land standing on your feet.
If your feet are in front of your knees when sitting in the saddle, if the horse were whisked away, you would land on your backside, if your upper body is tipped forward, often bringing your lower leg too far back, you would land on your nose. The Classical position on a horse was not developed because it undoubtedly looks much more elegant, but because it is the only position of balance which enables the rider to move as one unit with the horse. It is far less tiring for both horse and rider, and enables the rider to stay aboard much more effectively.
Saddles, in general, get in the way of this position. The stirrup bar, the piece of metal to which the stirrup leather is attached, is invariably much too far towards the front of the saddle. The lowest part of the saddle seat is not central in relation to the saddle flap, (the large piece of leather that goes under the rider's leg), and so it pulls the rider out of position, and out of balance. This is why so many riders find it easier to sit correctly without stirrups than with.
Quite apart from the stirrup bar problems, most saddles are instruments of torture! The seat is usually made from a closed cell foam which is springy, if you drop a hammer on it, it bounces off. A drum tight piece of leather goes on top of that, with a couple of seams strategically placed to bruise your seat bones! You are then expected to be able to sit to a bouncy trot, with the saddle reverberating away under you, pinging you up like a pea on a drum! My theory is that if the rider is wriggling around in discomfort, think how uncomfortable the poor horse is going to be too, with all that movement on his back.
There seems to be a notion in the horse world that 'no pain, no gain'. Of course you will be a bit stiff after your first few lessons. You will be sitting astride the back of a horse, stretching your hip joints sideways, and using muscles in a way that you would not do for any other sport or activity. Discomfort is fairly inevitable, but you should not be in real pain.