The Bareback Rider

To understand saddle fitting, we should first notice where the rider sits naturally on a horse’s back.

The 'bare bones' of riding

The ‘bare bones’ of riding

This was a photo that I took at the British Museum of a human skeleton riding a horse skeleton (well, the Photoshopped version!).  What can we learn about saddle fitting from this photo?

The rider naturally sits just behind the longest thoracic vertebrae of the horse, which form the withers with their long spinous processes. The tops of the horse’s spine point sharply upward, like a shark’s fin. The rider’s seat bones sit to each side of this ridge.
Most importantly, the rider is sitting over the middle of the horse’s ribcage, where weight can be supported.

 

 

 

Ginger jump
Here I am, as a 12 year old kid, jumping Ginger – who had a very sharp spine and an enormous wither.  Ginger was 30 years old in this photo, believe it or not!

I naturally had to sit just behind the withers and in the center of ‘supported area’ of her back, right over her ribcage.

How many saddles actually help the rider to sit in this position? I see far too many that place the rider’s weight too far back on the horse, where the back is not as supportive. It can feel strange to ride way back toward the croup of the horse, so riders tend to place the saddle further forward, which then interferes with the shoulder movement.

 

Questions for the reader:
Does your saddle allow you to sit over this supported section of your horse’s back?  Long saddles, like many Western saddles, are notorious for placing the riders weight too far back. The stiff skirts of Western saddles can also interfere with the forward rotation of the horse’s pelvis – causing pain and potential physical damage.

Does your saddle naturally place your weight just behind the withers of the horse? Does your position in the saddle concentrate your weight here, or do you tend lean forward, or back?

Saddle-position-crop

The saddle (blue) should sit behind the shoulder blade and not extend further back than the last rib

Stirrup position can alter your balance while riding.  A stirrup bar position that is too far forward can cause you to fall backward and overload the cantle area of the saddle.  If you can’t stand up in the stirrups to post the trot easily (if it feels like you have to launch yourself forward), then your stirrups may hang too far in front of your balance point. Choose a saddle that naturally allows you to achieve a ‘standing seat position’, as if you are standing on the ground with your knees slightly bent.

A saddle that places you in the natural ‘bareback’ position will help you become a balanced rider and also keep your horse’s back healthy and strong.

Ride with passion!

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