This month I would like to talk about Dressage Saddles. Dressage is defined by the International Equestrian Federation as “the highest expression of horse training”. So what does that mean and why do we need a special saddle?
It is true that whatever your discipline or leisure activity your horse is entitled to have a comfortable well fitted saddle that allows him to move freely and without restriction, but in dressage we are asking for more. We are asking our horse to work to the best of his ability with rhythm and in balance. All our horse asks of us as his rider, is that we sit still, in balance, and only move with him. We can’t realistically expect our horse to perform with somebody flopping around on his back and constantly moving their centre of balance. This of course creates even more of a problem for young horses who have not yet achieved the level of training, or muscle development that we may see in an older, more experienced horse.
Rising trot creates its own issues. As we sit in a correctly fitted conventional saddle, our weight should be in the centre of the saddle allowing the saddle tree to evenly distribute our weight over the bearing surface of the horse’s back. Our centre of balance is in the centre of the saddle. As we rise, then gravity requires that we stand over our stirrup bars, which throws our centre of balance and our weight forward. Of course as we then return to the sitting position our weight transfers back again. This is true of all saddle styles but the more forward cut the saddle the greater the rocking effect we create on the saddle and consequently on the horse’s back. Many riders underestimate the effect they have on their horse’s ability to perform.
A good dressage saddle will assist in achieving a correct riding position and help to minimise the movement of the rider using 4 key elements.
- The deeper seat has 2 functions, obviously to hold the rider in a secure position but also the shape of the seat should rotate the rider’s pelvis forward putting them in a correct position with their legs more underneath them.
- The stirrup bars are extended which means they sit the stirrups further back on the saddle and more under the rider’s legs. This of course can greatly reduce the rocking motion created by the rider in rising trot and will help the rider’s balance in other gaits too.
- Straighter cut flaps encourage a correct position
- The larger knee rolls will securely hold your legs working in conjunction with the extended stirrup bars.