I'll start by saying I've done hunter/jumper my whole life and I'm an intern at a breeding farm that does eventing with their horses (I've been there 5 months). They have a good trainer that I like and gives me free lessons on one of their horses (otherwise the horse wouldn't be getting ridden). We've been concentrating on flatwork for the few lessons that I've done, with a little jumping in the last one (horse still isn't fit and is a bit rusty on his flatwork). The trainer does all of his flatwork in his dressage saddle on the horses, and only uses the jumping saddle when taking them out up and down hills for conditioning and jumping, of course. For my first lesson, he put me in his Devoucoux dressage saddle- a very very nice saddle. However, I just couldn't get truly comfortable in it with the long stirrups. The saddle is the right size and the stirrups were the correct length, but I'm used to close contact saddles with relatively short stirrups. I found it much more difficult in the dressage saddle to get him moving because it seemed harder to really use my leg but stay well balanced in the saddle. I know I have pretty good leg strength- I'm a little out of riding shape but I can post around without stirrups for a while fine with my leg very solid, but only in a "shorter" position if that makes sense. The other two lessons I have done with this trainer I used the jumping saddle and had a much easier time, but we also incorporated a few jumps at the end.
Point is- how can I get more comfortable in a dressage saddle? Practice? Is it just not the saddle for me? I know I can't stand riding in my aunt's [very nice] Stubben close contact but I love my Crosby and the trainer's County Stablilizer, so could it just be that the Devoucoux isn't quite right? I don't have a choice as far as brands of saddles go with this particular barn, because the Devoucoux is the one that fits the horse the best (which is fine). But I do want to be comfortable in a dressage saddle because that's the discipline I want to do with my just-broke mare (eventually) and I would like to eventually purchase a saddle that will fit her well. Will I get comfortable in a dressage saddle eventually? Did it take time to get used to it for anyone else?
The answer to this question is lenghty and involves several parts. I hope that lots of other readers will weigh in on this.
First, you didn't say if you were female, but if you are, you may never be comfortable in a saddle that is comfortable for a male rider. The pelvis bone and hip joint is very different for men and women. Some women find a lot of difficulty in dropping their leg straight down since their hip socket may be located more to the front than to the side.
Second, You come from a hunt seat background and quite likely have learned to keep your thigh tight against the saddle. For dressge you need to have soft inside thigh muscles so your knee can come a bit away from the saddle and then down. I ask people to have equal soft pressure from both the thigh and calf until they want to give an aid. Then they can choose thigh or calf,or both.
Third, you have to shift your weight in the saddle towards your seat bones and lose the arch in your back. With an arched back, the seat bones point to the rear and for dressage they should point straight down. If you sit on your hands on a chair, you can feel the different positions as you arch, straighten and round your back.
Forth, it takes tome to change your seat. It is usually not possible to do so by just lengthening your stirrups. Riding without stirrups without pinching your knees and thighs is very helpful. So is being lunged.
Several books are very helpful - both of Sally Swift's Centered Riding and Mary Wanless' For the Good of the Rider. If you live in an area where there is a Centered Riding instructor, s/he can help you adjust your seat; it wouldn't matter how they ride - just how much they know about helping you make this change.
I hope this is helpful.
Equestrian art is closely related to the wisdom of life - Alois Podhajsky
Try riding in the saddle without stirrups for 10 minutes at the walk, trot, and canter. Then pick your stirrups back up and see if that helps. I just bought a dressage saddle and found myself reaching for my stirrups at the "right" length and generally felt uncomfortable and ineffective with my legs. The no stirrups thing helped 80%, now after 5-6 rides in the saddle I can't imagine how I lived without it. Good luck!
You might be very tight in the hips, especially if you aren't used to stretching your legs down and opening up your hip angle. Try doing some stretches off the horse, and if the horse is safe, ON the horse, by taking your ankle in the same hand as the leg and stretching your quads and hips. everybody else's suggestions of no stirrups in the dressage saddle also will help.
"Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work." - Thomas Edison
So, the Zen Buddhist says to the hotdog vendor, "Make me one with everything."
Thank you everyone for all the great suggestions! And I am a female. I will try shortening the stirrups at first and stretching out when I'm sitting on him to get a little more comfortable, plus dropping the irons. Horse is rusty and young, but very quiet.
It may just take some time. I just bought my first Dressage saddle and, even though I have ridden in them before, I haven't ridden in them much, so I'm finding that it is taking a period of adjustment for my legs (and muscles and ligaments, etc.) to get used to the new position. For now I am riding in stirrups that a are somewhat shorter than ideal, I plan to lengthen them bit by bit as my legs gradually become used to the new position.
There's lots of good advice here, but I would NOT suggest shortening your stirrups unless the trainer thinks they are too long. You should not be reaching for them but I think that making them shorter will not really help you get used to riding in the dressage saddle.
I am also a H/J person turned eventer and here's what helped me:
1. Mount, drop stirrups and really get SEATED in the saddle. You want your thigh draped down the panel and your 2 seat bones in the seat of the saddle.
2. Unlike a hunter seat, dressage is ridden FROM the seat. Rather than using your legs to hang on (so to speak), your seat should "grow roots" into the saddle and become your point of balance. Your legs should be though of as aides the way that the reins are aides: you use them to give directions but not for your own balance on the horse. However, you do not want a driving seat. I liken the ideal "pressure" of your seat as being the same as when you first get on and get settled into the saddle. You would only want to engage more seat when collecting or doing a downward transition, etc. The trainer should be able to monitor this.
3. Think of engaging your core when you ride. Dressage takes a TON of core strength. My trainer used to say that I knew I was riding correctly when my abs were sore the next day!
4. Miles: You just kinda have to get used to the sensation of riding so differently. Remember that this is a new discipline and, therefore, you ARE a beginner again in a certain sense. Cut yourself some slack and don't be afraid of looking "ugly" so long as you are trying to figure the feeling out. When it comes together you will FEEL it!
Have fun! I now LOVE dressage... I know... I never thought I'd say it, either!!!
"We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals" Immanuel Kant
I recommend riding at the end of a lunge line, no stirrups, with a trainer who is working on you, not the horse, and who knows what they are doing. Hard to find
I rode for more than 20 years before I found a dressage trainer who actually taught me how to ride a horse. Amazing learning to sit properly in a dressage saddle and use my seat -- truly amazing. It took months at the end of a lunge line with no stirrups and no reins -- just walk/trot. (And I'm tall, lean, very athletic and coordinated -- it's not easy.) I spent about a year doing this and taking lessons on my own horse. It's incredible the difference in my seat/riding. I can stay on anything, and I don't have to grip with my legs. It's all in the seat. Plus, all my aids come from my seat.
Seriously, it was like an epiphany for me. I hope it happens for you!
I recommend riding at the end of a lunge line, no stirrups, with a trainer who is working on you, not the horse, and who knows what they are doing.
So true--I swear my ability to sit the trot took a ten-year leap forward after just a couple of longe sessions with a good instructor who just focused on ME, rather than making the horse do anything special on the longe. Side reins, no reins or stirrups for the rider, (grab strap is OK, things happen!) and let the longeing person worry about the horse. A good, solid, steady horse on the longe, naturally, is a must.
When I bought my first dressage saddle, my trainer watched me in a lesson then instructed me to ride in it at a walk for two weeks.
I had sat in it at the store and it felt fine, it was just getting used to the deeper seat, position and longer stirrups.
If I were you, I would sit in the saddle while it is not moving (horse standing still or better yet on a saddle rack of some sort) and see if the saddle fits you. If it is uncomfortable in this environment, then you need a different saddle. If it is not, then likely you just need to get used to it.
BTW, the dressage saddle that I learned to really ride in did not fit me perfectly. It did fit the horse. It was an old Passier and the seat was stone My trainer told me stories of her old trainer expecting her to have calusses on her behind The flaps weren't perfect for me, either. However, it didn't pitch me forward or back (that would be very difficult to ride in, and I wouldn't bother), and I could get a good position in it. It taught me how to sit on a horse and use my aids properly.
It also taught me to really appreciate a slighly softer seated saddle!
So, as long as you aren't being thrown out of position in the saddle, it should work. It will be very difficult and hardly worth it if you have to fight the saddle to get a decent position and ride properly.
One other exercise I do almost every time I sit into my dressage saddle: drop your stirrups and let your legs hang long. Then, pull each leg off the horse's side - straight out to the side - and let it lightly flop back as you think about turning your leg in from the hip. You'll feel your leg rotate (and probably have an oh-wow-that's-tight feeling in your outer hip. It'll get better over time). Next, take your whole leg and slide it back from the hip, and then let it drop down underneath you (this is usually easier with someone from the ground helping pull your leg here). What you're trying to get at is to remove the flesh from under your thighs and snug your leg around the horse while dropping from the hips. As you sit into the dressage saddle, you think of opening up and down through your hips, which helps pull your seat into the saddle and open up your position from a jumpseat.