Saddle Fit for the Rider
Gender, as well as anatomy, plays an important role in saddle fit. Men generally have an easier time finding a saddle because saddles have traditionally been built for men. Women may have a conformational disadvantage, but with a saddle that accommodates their anatomy, they can achieve a proper position on horseback. The saddle has to fit the rider.
Because the female hip attachment point differs from that of men, it is difficult for women to achieve “shoulders-hip-heels” alignment. As well, the female pubic bone is lower, so most women rock the pelvis back to avoid the pain, causing the legs to move forward. Male hip sockets are more forward, allowing their legs to hang naturally straight down. An adjustable stirrup strap will allow a female to find her balance.
The position and balance of the rider are essential in all riding disciplines. The seat bones serve as the foundation for position and balance, but the gluteal muscles also play a role. Because a man’s tailbone is longer and his glutes are lower, he does not require as much “behind” support at the cantle as many women do. To get the same support from her saddle, the female almost has to slouch. This causes back pain because the natural four curves in her spine cannot function properly as shock absorbers when she rides.
All men have two seat bones that are close together, while women have a wide range of hip shapes, all of which must be considered when designing a saddle. Women’s seat bones are usually flat and wider apart, as opposed to men’s “V” shape. Furthermore, women have a more prominent and lower pubic bone. The problem for most women is that the pommel of the saddle will inevitably interfere with the pubic bone unless the pelvis is straight, and unless the abdominal muscles are used, it is almost impossible to sit balanced in a saddle without the proper support from behind.
Traditional male saddles are built broadly in the crotch area and narrowly in the seat. Women frequently find themselves sitting with their legs pushed outwards from the hip and/or painfully seated on the jean seam. According to anatomy, women’s saddles should be narrow in the crotch area (the saddle between the upper inner thigh and the seat area).
Because the majority of western saddles on the market today are still made the traditional way to fit the male anatomy, it is relatively easy for men to find a saddle that fits them. The rider must first feel comfortable, and then the saddle must be fitted to the horse—it needs to fit at various other key performance indicators as well, such as the gullet channel, the length, etc.
Unfortunately, except for cosmetic changes, Western saddles have not evolved significantly over the years. With a few exceptions, most companies continue to use the same tools, technology, and manufacturing processes that they have always used. This is unfortunate when you consider that the majority of riders are female. Women are beginning to realize that riding doesn’t have to hurt as there are alternatives available.