It's amazing how many saddles your bottom may have to kiss before you find the perfect match for you and your horse. Which is why it still surprises me that there are still riders who set their heart on a particular saddle as 'the one' they must have because it's either fashionable or because their favourite rider has one . The more experience I've had of buying saddles for each of my horses that also suit me, the more difficult I realise that this saddling game is, particularly when it also seems hard to find a good saddle fitter.
However the saddle also needs to suit us because if it isn't right for our physique then it will put us in the wrong position so we're always fighting to keep our balance. This isn't good for our confidence and it isn't good for the horse either. So, as I've discovered, unless money is no object, finding a saddle can end up being a compromise. However, I always prefer to make sure that the horse has the last word. Here are a few variables to look out for…
For starters, we usually have in mind what style of saddle that we want; General Purpose, Dressage, Jumping or Cross Country. However, if your horse has a big shoulder then some forward cut saddles will compromise his or her shoulder and you'll need a straighter panel.
Then the next priority is usually the width of the saddle tree (narrow, medium, wide etc) but often people don't realise that there is another element to take into consideration; the saddle tree angle which is really important for allowing shoulder movement and if wrong will inhibit performance, cause behavioural problems and produce long-term damage.
There are also different shaped trees from flat to curved and you need to find the right profile for the shape of your horses back and ribcage.
Check the width of the gullet. It should be wide enough for your horses spine, and yes, again, they're all different! And make sure that the gullet is an equal width along the whole length of the saddle.
Regarding saddle length - make sure that the saddle never extends past your horse's saddle support area which ends at the last rib otherwise it will put pressure on the vulnerable lumber region, leading to a tense back.
Now on to you. These are the things I've found you need to take note of if you want to be a comfortable, balanced and effective rider….
• Firstly, the saddle has got to be the right size for your bum. Don't for vanities sake try and squeeze yourself into a smaller size because you'll probably end up putting too much weight down through the back of the saddle which won't be good for your position or your horse's back.
• Saddles come in different seat widths with different twists (the narrowest part of the seat). If it's too narrow for you, it can be very uncomfortable; too wide and you might feel unstable and get pains in your hips and back. If you prefer a narrow twist then check that it doesn't come with too narrow a gullet for your horse.
• Different knee and thigh blocks will suit you according to your overall leg length and particularly your length of thigh. For instance if you have a short thigh, you may find it difficult to get your knee to reach some knee rolls, leaving you feeling a bit insecure, but you'll be the rider who won't mind a straighter panel if your horse has a large shoulder (see above.)
• Stirrup bar placement is different on different saddles. Yes, this was a new one on me but it's amazing what a difference this can make to the position of your leg and hence the balance of the rest of your body. If it's too far forward you'll always find it hard to get that perfect shoulder, hip, heel alignment. If you find it hard to keep your lower leg still then this could be your problem.
So these are just a few of the things that I've come across which I hope will give you an indication of how complicated this saddle fitting business is! I don't claim to be an expert but hope that this will prompt you to do a bit more in-depth study so you are better at assessing saddles and saddle fitters!