Q. Could a different saddle help?
I have a good horse, take , regular lessons and would love to get back to competing but I just don’t seem to be improving.
A. It might, but it depends which aspect you are struggling with.
If it is a question of position which will affect how effective you are in the saddle then ask yourself whether the balance of your saddle is an issue. A well balanced saddle should allow the rider to sit with the shoulder, hip, heel line quite naturally without having to fight the balance of the saddle.
If your saddle is slightly behind the movement, this will encourage you to sit back on your buttocks and will encourage your lower leg to come forward and up. Raising the saddle underneath the panel at the back will give you the feeling of the difference it would make to your position were the saddle in this position but BEWARE of thinking that all you need to do is buy a back riser pad. Many saddles sit this way because they are too narrow and lifting them at the back just drives the points of the saddle into the area behind the wither and this can cause discomfort and damage to the horse’s back.
If, on the other hand, the horse is slightly higher behind than in front (very common in the NZ bred sport horse) this will encourage your upper body forward and that can lead to balance problems – your instructor will be constantly telling you to “sit up” or “sit back” and bring your lower leg forward. Put an extra pad under the front third of the saddle and note how this changes your balance.
If you think that the problem is one of balance ask a qualified saddle fitter to come and see if the flocking of the saddle can be re-aligned to improve the balance. With a saddle that has preformed or foam filled pads you will have to use pads outside the confines of the saddle and that too can work - just beware of causing extra pressure in the case of a back riser or losing contact and stability with a front raiser.
A Different Saddle:
Of course a different saddle might be able to help – if you are in a General Purpose saddle and you are struggling to work on the flat try some of the dressage saddles available – if the saddle is in perfect balance on the horse and the right size for you, it can make all the difference.
A supported lower leg, encouraged by the cut of the saddle, to be in the correct position, leads to a much stiller seat, which in turn leads to less movement in the upper body and far better hands result.
If you are trying to feel more confident and secure over a fence and your saddle doesn’t allow you to shorten your stirrups without your knee coming over the front of the saddle flap (often the knee roll too) then you will have a weak lower leg and all the problems associated with that. So try a more forward cut saddle which allows you to shorten your stirrups and gives you support where you need it
Treat yourself to a test ride – and this only works if the saddle tested fits your horse – the NZ custom of asking for a “test ride saddle” amazes me – if we were to send you a certain saddle in a medium fit and your horse needs a wide in that saddle, you will be totally out of balance and there is little point in even trying a saddle built on a “curly” tree if you have a horse with a wide flat back.
At NSC, we take a brief from you with details of you, your horse, your aspirations, what seems to be working, what doesn’t, preferences if you have any as regards color, finish etc. Armed with this knowledge we select as many saddles as we can from the depot, with quite a few either side of the information you have given to be on the safe side. (Further info under saddle fitting) This should give you the chance to try several different styles, all of which fit the horse, to determine whether there is anything that is really going to significantly help you.