ADJUSTABLE WESTERN SADDLE FIT AND FENDER POSITION
We are all taught to make sure we ride with the correct length of stirrups. Stirrups that are too long or too short could mean we can’t effectively balance and use our legs.
How Does The Fender Position Affect My Leg Position?
Unless the fenders are adjustable forward or back on your saddle, there isn’t much you can do to change the position if you find that it’s not ideal. The fender position can affect your riding position and your ability to keep your leg in the right position.
I find that some saddles affect my leg position so much that it’s almost impossible for me to balance. I didn’t realize that there was actually a different fender position until a few years ago. It felt really different to me to ride in a balanced position. I gradually moved my fenders back and posting got a lot easier. Now, instead of leaning forward to balance with each post I simply rise in my seat. My horses started to move more freely under me and my back and shoulder pain went away.
Fender Position Too Far Forward = Chair Seat
Fenders that are too far forward cause the rider’s leg to fall in front of their pelvis. This position is also called the “chair seat” because it almost looks like the rider is sitting in a chair. The rider’s weight is then pushed to the back of the saddle. When the rider rises to the trot a lot of effort is required to rise and it can cause the rider to be behind the movement. Do you feel like you are getting left behind? Could your fenders be the reason?
I also find that if I ride in a saddle with the fenders too far forward my lower leg isn’t quiet and seems to have a life of its own. My lower leg swings like a pendulum which then gives my horse incorrect cues.
Fender Position Just Right
When sitting in any saddle you should be able to easily achieve your balance. The classical seat position remains correct today.
A saddle that fits you as a rider should allow your pelvis to be neutral not tipped forwards or backward. Your leg should be in line from the hip to the ankle with the stirrup leather hanging perpendicular to the ground. In this position, you should feel that the stirrups increase your stability.
In the picture to the right, the rider’s hip sits over their ankle. The fenders allow the rider to obtain a balanced position. In this position, the rider has support from their stirrup and if we removed the horse the rider would still be able to stand.
How Do You Check Your Saddles Fender Position?
It’s not hard at all to see how a saddle is going to affect your balance. If you already have a saddle it’s an easy check. If you are thinking of buying a saddle it’s important you check before you buy.
All you need to do is saddle up and get on your horse. Take your foot out of the stirrup and hang your leg down in a position that ensures your ankle joint is under your hip. Is your stirrup iron hanging near your foot making it easy to put your foot in your stirrup? Is the stirrup iron too far forward or back? Get a friend to observe and take a photo of you or tell you what they see.
If you find that your fenders are not in an ideal position then you have unlocked another part of the saddle fit for the rider. If you adjust your stirrup length will this help? If you find your fenders are too far forward then there may be a fix. You could try to move the stirrup leather further back and block them there. While this doesn’t give much change it may be a short-term solution.
It’s also important to check that your saddle isn’t too low in front. If the saddle is too wide and thus too low in front it could tip you forward giving you the impression of poor stirrup bar placement. Similarly, if the saddle is too low behind at the cantle it could make you feel like you are tipping back.
Before you consider buying a saddle it is important to ride in it to ensure you are comfortable with the position it places you in as well as making sure it fits your horse. Sitting on a saddle in a tack store doesn’t give you any idea of how it will perform when you ride in it.
The best gait to check your saddle is the trot. If you can rise or post at the trot in balance and your lower leg feels stable then this is a good indicator that all is well. However, if your leg feels unstable and you feel like you have to work hard to rise or post to the trot then there is something not quite right that warrants further investigation.
Getting the balance right for the horse and rider brings rewards in both riding comfort and position improvement.