Finding the right saddle for you – finding the right accommodation for your seating area.


Finding the right saddle for you – finding the right accommodation for your seating area.

The weighty issue of obesity has now got it’s teeth into the equestrian industry and this time we’re not talking porky ponies but the knives are out for the rotund rider.

The average British woman is a size 16 and booties on saddles are becoming bigger, Finding saddles for the plus-sized riders which is equally good for the horse need proper research and a saddler and addle fitter who can appraise your needs honestly.

The size of the saddle is important to the rider’s comfort too. I know from experience that it’s no fun riding in a saddle even as little as half an inch too small. Having to keep scooting back in the saddle to stop from bumping on the pommel or horn, or having to worry about hanging over the cantle are not condusive to good riding!

The larger rider needs to look for a saddle which has specifically been designed with a longer, larger seat without making a longer saddle. Many weight-carrying horses are short-backed. The panel of the saddle will need to measure18” as a minimum to accommodate a larger sitting area. Wow have a Dressage saddle called Bounty but to date this is the only maker who has actually got a saddle to market for the larger seated rider.  Fuller Fillies where to have bought out a 22” saddle but I cannot actually find anymore about that makers actual saddle.  So I am not sure if it actually happened or not.

As with any horse and rider combination, the fit of the tack is essential. With a badly fitting saddle, a horse can get sore even with a lightweight rider. Care should be taken to make sure the tree of the saddle is the correct width for the horse, and that it is stuffed properly, so that pressure points aren’t caused when the rider sits in the saddle. This is true regardless of the weight of the rider, but weight distribution is especially important if the rider is heavy. Some of the newer gel and closed cell foam saddle pads can help with weight distribution, but they won’t make up for a badly fitting saddle.

A study published in the Journal of Veterinary Behaviour, would seem to compound this opinion as they found that a third of recreational riders are overweight (cue another pop at pleasure riders!)  They claim that as a consequence horses are suffering health problems, such as arthritis and lameness, and behavioural problems like bucking and rearing. Although in my opinion, the fact the horse can still get two hooves off the ground, should be taken as a good sign!

The study which analyzed 152 horses and their adult riders from Devon and Cornwall found that just 8 of them, (5%) weighed less than 10% of the weight of the horse, which adheres to recommended veterinary guidelines, 95 riders (62.5%) weighed between 10-15% of the horse’s weight, which they considered ‘satisfactory’ whilst 49 (32%) weighed more than 15% which they claim to be a welfare issue.

From this they concluded that because so many riders are, by their calculations, too heavy for their mounts there should be industry-wide guidelines to protect horses. They also suggest that larger riders need to ride bigger horses.

This plays into an old saying of mine, ‘If you want to look like you have a smaller bottom, get a bigger horse!’ But, joking aside, there are already too many people who are over-horsed because they get themselves a stonking big, athletic warmblood, rather than a gentle giant like a shire X or a heavyweight cob. As a result there is a glut of unhappy riders and unhappy horses. These horses may look gorgeous and shiny, groomed to within an inch of their lives and caccooned in designer rugs but unfortunately they’re hardly ridden because their owners are afraid to. Bigger can be better as long as it’s the right breed.

On the subject of breeds, shouldn’t that have been taken into consideration? Am I wrong in thinking that our stocky native breeds can bear a larger weight proportionate to their size?

And if you are a big rider, who carries your weight well because you’re well balanced, with a strong core and good hands, aren’t you less of a burden to a horse than a wisp of a rider who hasn’t got those attributes?  To my mind, big people can be light riders and vice versa. When it comes to hoofing it, just think back to the wonderful Lisa Reilly on Strictly Come Dancing-she’s a large lass but definitely displayed much more poise on the dance floor than many of her more reed-like competitors.

Also a well ridden, well schooled horse can carry weight better too.  Picture a big person on a horse engaging it’s stomach muscles and lifting it’s back Vs a skinny rider on a horse with it’s head in the air, back dropped, pulling itself along on the forehand-which do you think is the most damaging?

Riding is a sport, so yes I do believe we should be ‘fit to ride’ but that’s about more than dress size. There are big bottomed girls who can do it just as well so let’s keep the issue of rider weight in proportion.

Mounting the horse can be a problem for heavy riders, who may be less agile than their more slender counterparts. I’ve got short, stubby legs and so I need to use a mounting block to get my foot anywhere near the stirrup on my 16.2 hand TB gelding’s saddle. Using a mounting block makes it easier on me and on my horse — the saddle doesn’t get pulled over to the side, possibly damaging his back or withers, my foot doesn’t dig into his side as it does when I try and climb up from the ground. Don’t ever be embarrassed to use a mounting block, no matter what size you are!