(Author’s Note: Wow, this turned into a long post of my ramblings about personal saddle discoveries I’ve made over the years, because I’ve literally been working on it, off and on, all day. I think there’s a point to it. It might just be buried somewhere in there.)
So I grew up with the riding school of thought that said it didn’t matter what the saddle was like, you learned to ride through it. As long as the seat vaguely fit, there was no such thing as taking into account the saddle’s natural balance, leg position, and whether or not it truly fit.
When you end up riding in three different saddles over the course of one show day, and spending a lot of time climbing in and out of those saddle in between classes, it’s easier to adopt that school of thought, and when you subsequently watch videos of yourself riding, just chastise yourself for not spending enough time working on keeping that lower leg still.
Must ride without stirrups more, was a common thought.
Imagine my surprise when I got into distance riding and learned that, Wow, improper saddle fit was making this a lot more uncomfortable than it really has to be. Also on the “Why Did I Learn This Sooner?” list was the concept that things like rise and twist in a saddle make a huge difference in lower leg stability and the ability to retain one’s position instead of falling forward in a heap every time a certain pony would root her head and yank forward on the reins.
I can stop my horse without completely falling apart, position-wise?
It was a revelation.
Never mind the fact it took several years of distance riding, quite a few hours in the saddle, and going through multiple saddles before all these little revelations finally connected in my brain.
Hey, maybe there’s a reason for the fact I’m constantly fighting for a proper position and balance, other than the fact I might just suck as a rider?
But it’s made for an interesting look back at old ride photos and such.
Not going through my old show photos, mostly because they’re a disorganized mess. Someday I’ll get them sorted into photo albums. Today’s not that day.
But I rode in five different saddles when I was showing:
A Circle Y Western Equitation saddle. After Mimi and I both outgrew the first one, I got pretty much the same saddle, in a larger size and with more silver. I couldn’t help but have decent equitation in this saddler, especially the second one. The leather on it was so thick, stiff, and pre-formed, my legs weren’t going anywhere. It was just a matter of keeping my upper body in roughly the same hemisphere as my legs.
When I started, I already had a saddle: a Miller Collegiate Close Contact. I actually had the saddle long before I had the horse…my parents got it for me the first year I started riding. So I literally grew up with that saddle. It worked for Mimi and I for several years, and then my legs finally outgrew that saddle. (I was very excited about this. I was really quite short for my age until about halfway through high school. Now I’m just short-approaching-average. But I’ve gotten over it, mostly because it means I can still ride ponies.)
That saddle was literally the classic definition of “postage stamp of leather.” No knee rolls, very flat seat. No wonder the horse I rode for that first year was able to launch me with such ease. Short little legs didn’t offer a lot of grip, and virtually nothing by way of saddle security.
I replaced that saddle with a Stubben and finished out my show career in that one. Mimi eventually outgrew it, though, and by the time we were done showing, it was definitely too narrow for her. I hung on to that saddle for a number of years, out of sentimental value, and finally just sold it about a year and half ago…to my friend Kaity. So I know it’s in good hands and being used instead of gathering dust in my bedroom. And it was a step up from “postage stamp”: tiny knee rolls and a flat seat. These days, I’ve found that while I still adore and prefer an English-style saddle, I like more security in the form of a deeper seat and substantial knee rolls.
And of course I had my Big Horn Barrel saddle. I used this for most of my lessons and for running gymkhana at the shows. When I started distance riding, this was what I started with. It got me through all of our conditioning up to our first NATRC ride, through the first ride, as well as the next one. All in all, I probably did distance in that saddle for about a year.
Shall we play several rounds of “What’s Wrong With This Equitation?” with some of my old ride pics? (I apologize for the quality…I should have scanned the pics before I stuck them all in an album. Actually, I did have them scanned. And then the computer ate/wiped the flash drive they were on. Nice.)
|photo by Jane Gray Impressions|
Awww, our first NATRC ride, First of Spring, April 2002, El Cajon, CA. Gotta say, I don’t think I’ve ever seen the pony have that much knee action. Sooo, the rider. This one does a really good job of illustrating the faults I tend to make: I lean too far forward., and my legs swing too far back. Back then, I was also still in my “jockey-esque stirrup” phase left over from many years of huntseat riding, in which I equated shorter stirrups with great security. Not always the case…but that one took me a long time to figure out.
|photo by Jane Gray Impressions|
First of Spring NATRC, April 2003, Warner Springs, CA. New saddle! Well, next saddle after the Big Horn. After surviving two NATRC rides without the pony having a meltdown, I felt more comfortable exploring saddle options that didn’t include the pseudo-security blanket of a Western saddle. One of my knees was also occupying the Complaint Department on a regular basis, so I wanted the flexibility of English leathers again. Plus, I started riding English…riding an English saddle and the accompanying equitation is as natural to me as breathing.
Still leaning a bit forward…it’s a chronic problem. But I’ve actually got my leg on the horse and in a good position. Because I’m not fighting the saddle and fighting for security, it also means less fighting with the pony.