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How to sit in a dressage saddle?

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  • How to sit in a dressage saddle?

    Ok, that sounds like a really dumb question to 99% of you on the dressage forum, but I hope you will bear with me.

    I ride primarily endurance, and jump one day a week for fun. I have ridden forever but have never sat in an-honest-to goodness dressage saddle before this week.

    I would like to start doing some dressage work with my 7 year old because he could use the work on suppleness and balance. I ride in a Stübben jumping saddle which I absolutely love which it fits my horse like a dream, so I am looking at Stübben dressage saddles of the same size and width (17" and 30 width).

    I have had two saddles on trial (Scandica and Tristan DL) and I simply can't see how to ride in them. They both have rather robust kneerolls and I feel like my leg is being cranked backwards. In order to have my leg in the position that the saddle dictates, I have to have my stirrup so long that I have to stand on tip-toe to post, and even then my knee is rammed uncomfortably up against the kneeroll.

    I am rather long from hip to knee and am wondering if I need a larger saddle size? With the 17 there is still plenty of room behind my butt, but perhaps a larger saddle would give me more room forward to the kneeroll? Or is it just a matter of getting used to it?

    A lot of endurance riders I know use dressage saddles, and that is one of the reasons I had thought to buy one (so I can have my jumping saddle as a dedicated jumping saddle), however so far I can not imagine spending 15 minutes in one of these saddles, let alone several hours.

    Any advice to a dressage ignoramus is welcome!

  • #2

    well, compared to a jumping saddle your legs will be in a weird position.

    the average stirrup length is about middle finger tip to arm pit, straight arm.

    any longer - no good.

    you really kinda have to sit on your back pockets, long relaxed leg, heel low...and find a saddle that fits. The big knee rolls are not every body's thing, but it's a matter of getting used to it.


    • #3
      OK, first off. I hate Stupid Stubbens. They are bad for the rider, bad for the horse.

      Second of all, you should ROUGHLY be able to place your hand sideways, on the cantle, side of pinky touching your butt and along side of your thumb touching the top of the cantle, when you are sitting in the deepest part of the seat. This is how you guestimate the correct seat size.

      Thirdly, sit up tall, do some arm circles, rotating your arms like big wheels to get your ribcage up and your shoulderblades flat against your back. Most people need to lift their crotch over the pommel then slide slowly back into the correct position because they sit with their seat bones pointing backward too much.

      WIth your legs, you should feel like your kneeling. It sounds like you have too closed of a hip angle. Do big circles with your thighs so you rotate them from your hip out and down, now try to get your thigh perpendicular to the ground, now try to get it even further back. Can you do it? You may need more flexability here. When your riding your thigh should not be straight perpendicular to the ground, a slightly more closed hip angle, but at the walk you should work on being able to make your thigh go straight perpendicular to the ground.

      Then rotate your leg below the knee, can you point your toes into your horse? Can you rotate your toes in, and lift your toes up so that your heel is the lowest point without having to press on the stirrups.

      There is a lot of flexability that needs to be created in people that have not ridden dressage. Ankles, hips and knees. Do lots of exercises where you have your toes on a step and you stretch your heels below the step and stuff like that. Hope this helps. But it sounds like your main problem is that your thigh is not perpendicular enough to the ground, and your heel is not able to go down enough. On Stubbens especially since the stirrup bars are WAY TOOO far forward your stirrup leathers should be hanging not straight perpendicular to the ground, but back further than that, so if your stirrups were the head of an arrow they would be pointing more towards your horses back feet. Like a 10 degree angle from where they would be if they were perfectly vertical.


      • #4
        My first response was "butt first."

        But I think what you're looking for is "open the hip angle." The angle between your upper body and upper leg needs to be more open- if you close it and draw your knees up, you'll have to reach for your stirrups and you'll wedge in against the knee rolls.

        This will also happen if you try to grip with your knees (ask me how I know this...).

        Anyway, it's possible that the saddles are just not a good fit, but that's the first place I'd look.


        • #5
          Originally posted by cute_lil_fancy_pants_pony View Post
          OK, first off. I hate Stupid Stubbens. They are bad for the rider, bad for the horse.

          no really, that is funney!


          • #6
            If the 17 fits your butt and your thigh bone is that long, don't go up a size. Keep shopping around different styles/brands and find something that fits.

            Find something that has no knee rolls and try that. I've a long thigh and in most saddles my knees go right over the rolls. Hate that.

            I don't like the rolls anyhow and I refuse to "get used to them". To me they are a crutch. I don't like the feeling I'm being "held in place". Off they go.

            Mad Mare™ Studio
            Custom Swarovski®, Czech glass and gemstone browbands in Circlet, Diadem and Tiara styles. Matching stock pins, bracelets and belts.


            • #7

              How tall are you? I am 5.6 1/2 inches/130 lbs and can jump in a 16.5 or 17 (if I have to) or a 17.5" saddle but I am a firm 17.5" dressage saddle. I have squeezed into 17" thornhills and Scheeses, but I'm really a 17.5" kind of gal.

              The length from your hip to you knee is really important in fitting a dressage saddle. Your knee should be in the kneeroll, but not near the roll/stitching of the saddle edge so you feel like your legs are turned out from you hips. I've never ridden in the Scandica but I don't recall the knee rolls being large. Aren't the knee rolls of the Tristan DL similar to essentially no knee roll at all? I think I was made to ride in this saddle with a BNT who does not believe in knee rolls... educational.

              Drop your stirrups...raise your TOES...that is where your dressage stirrups should be. Drop your stirrups...your stirrups should hit your ankle bone but is different by a hole or so if you are riding a very wide or narrow-barreled horse. Maybe it does feel very different to you but the above guidelines should help you fit your stirrups. If you are not used to a dressage saddle, some saddles do make you feel cranked back but sometimes it is because you are used to a forward seat. If in doubt, it is very very very usefull to take even one lesson or clinic with a good dressage rider/trainer to help you figure out where your leg should be.

              BTW. IMO-many stubbens have a very narrow channel...make sure it actually fits your horse. Good luck!!
              Proud member of the Colbert Dressage Nation


              • #8
                I have to go up almost a whole size in a dressage saddle with knee rolls. My jumping saddle is a 17, but my Verhan is an 18, and could really be a 19.


                • #9
                  I'm sure this will get me flamed to the high hills, but if you're just looking for some BASIC dressage training (suppleness and balance), what's wrong with taking dressage lessons in your jump saddle?

                  It's entirely possible to achieve an excellent Training Level frame in a jump saddle. Thousands of eventing/hunter/jumper riders do it every day. Even me, a total incompetent on horseback, manages to achieve it several times a week. I rode at one barn where a 13-year-old girl regularly achieved top dressage scores in her Stubben Siegfried All Purpose saddle.

                  Would it help to have a dressage saddle? Sure, and it would be an absolute necessity if you intended to climb the levels in dressage. But it would also cost you a lot of money for something that's not your primary (or even your secondary) discipline. For your purposes, it seems foolish unless your trainer advises it.
                  Head Geek at The Saddle Geek Blog http://www.thesaddlegeek.com/


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by cute_lil_fancy_pants_pony View Post
                    OK, first off. I hate Stupid Stubbens. They are bad for the rider, bad for the horse.

                    Sorry, the advice of a 12yo is not what's needed here

                    But I agree with J4J; if you just want to work on basics, start with your jump saddle. You should be able to lengthen your stirrup a bit. A lot of people used to a jump saddle have issues with the stretch of a dressage saddle when you first start - even if you start with a dressage saddle you may need to slowly edge the stirrups down until you're comfortable.
                    "Adulthood? You're playing with ponies. That is, like, every 9 year old girl's dream. Adulthood?? You're rocking the HELL out of grade 6, girl."


                    • #11
                      I'll second Roan ... try something with no knee rolls. Or, if you find a saddle that is otherwise suitable (fits you, fits the horse) check to see if the knee rolls can be removed.

                      Both of my saddles are sans knee rolls. I have very long thigh bones for my height and any knee roll tends to push me backwards and cause my knee to rotate outwards. One saddle I had made specifically without knee rolls; on the other I had the knee rolls removed post purchase. Since this model of saddle had the knees made as a separate piece sitting on top of the flap, it was an easy correction.

                      "Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit."
                      - Desiderata, (c) Max Ehrman, 1926


                      • #12
                        I Started in a all purpose saddle that worked great for a long time. When I started getting into lengthenings, leg-yields and other lateral movements I realized that I needed nice knee roll or thigh block. So the whole block thing you may have to grow into.

                        Saddle seat sizes are a lot like dress sizes. A 17 thornhill does not feel like a 17 Prestige and definitely does not feel like a 17 Devoucoux (sp?). I tell everyone that asks me about saddle and seat size is to ignore the number and sit in a many as saddles as you can. If you have friends that ride dressage even better barrow their saddles and try them on your horse or ride their horse in the saddle. You can get a feel for the saddle on the horse many times it can feel different than on the plastice horse at the saddle shop.

                        I mean obviously if you are a 17 or a 17.5 there is no point in riding in a 15 or a child's saddle, but there are variations in a dressage seat that can make it more or less comfortable. There are wide to narrow twists. Don't ask me what this means I just know that if a dressage saddle makes my left leg feel like it is on fire it's a wide twist. From what the saddle shop tells me I love everything with a narrow twist. There is full or mono flaps, there is flap length. There is block width and length. And don't forget that there is the depth of the seat. Deeper seat you need a larger seat size. How much larger will depend on the size of your but and the length of your leg.

                        So now that I have your hair standing on end go out and have fun because once you find the saddle that you love you get to bring it home and try to get it to fit your horse. We will be waiting for your next post. However when you find the right saddle for you and your horse you will love it! Until you sit in one that feel even better.
                        Life's a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death.
                        -Auntie Mame


                        • #13
                          "Twist" is basically how wide the seat of the saddle is. The part where you sit, not the part that is fitted to the horse.

                          Some people can't deal with a wide twist as they don't have a lot of pelvis room between their femurs. People with a lot of space in the pelvis can't get comfortable in a narrow twist. All depends on your skeletal structure.

                          Me, I like a medium to wide twist.

                          Mad Mare™ Studio
                          Custom Swarovski®, Czech glass and gemstone browbands in Circlet, Diadem and Tiara styles. Matching stock pins, bracelets and belts.


                          • Original Poster

                            Thanks so much for all the great advice. The two stübbens have been returned already, so I think now I will broaden my horizons and try some other brands for comparison. LOTS of used Kieffers on the market...

                            And in the meantime, I will stick with my beloved jumping saddle until I find the match-made-in-heaven dressage saddle. I'll let you all know what that is when I find it


                            • #15
                              If you are so uncomfortable in that saddle, that saddle does not fit you. If you had to tip-toe to post, that stirrup leathers are too long. The length of stirrup leathers should be so the irons are between right below your ankle and the bottom of your foot.

                              As to seat size, many people don't understand the seat size is determined by both your buttock size AND your thigh length, not just your buttock alone. And if you have long thigh bone... well, you are in the category of hard to fit rider... Many times you do need to get one size bigger, or have a flap that is more forward to accomodate your thigh.


                              • #16
                                Exactly, Gloria, and I have a big butt and a short femur, so I'm hard to fit . But I can manage...


                                • #17
                                  Wintec Isabell?

                                  Have you tried a Wintec Isabell? That's what I'm currently in after several years in a Kieffer that I loved (but put me in a bit of a chair seat) and trying everything that Albion makes (several models I loved, but couldn't afford). I have a very long femur (5'11" with 36" inseam) and the Isabell is very comfortable and puts my leg under me nicely.

                                  It has removable/adjustable knee blocks, but I ride without them. Several people in my barn, including our trainer, ride in them. There are some horses that they don't fit well even with the adjustable tree, but if it fits your horse, it's a nice and ECONOMICAL option. Also, very easy to keep clean and it doesn't matter if they get wet!

                                  Just to clarify, I don't really like the other Wintect Dressage options...but haven't tried the brand new models.
                                  Thoroughbred Placement Resources, Inc


                                  • #18
                                    Most people I know (myself included) go up a half size for a dressage saddle from their hunter/jumper saddles. The wintecs and Bates saddles are designed to give an open feel, which is comfortable for someone coming from the hunter/jumper world.


                                    • #19
                                      You will be looking for a saddle which allows your leg - your knees and lowerleg, to fall under your hip. Your shoulders will be stacked above your hip. I also have a long thigh and lower leg. The wintec saddles throw my leg forward. Mine, not necessarily anyone elses, just my experience. The albion is very minimal and I like them. Your experience with a stubben jumping saddle is the opposite of correct - it gives you a particularly incorrect chair seat and I have heard something similar with the stubben dressage saddles. Sit in many. Look for the feel of the leg dropping down straight under your shoulders, under your hip, with your lower leg back so the stirrup is also under your knee and under your hip, no matter the length of stirrup at the time. Be sure you can bring your heels down, down below your foot. If your toes are pointing down, your stirrups are far far too long. If you can't get your lower leg back, look for a different saddle. You need about a hand's width behind your butt to the cantle. I have seen some begining dressage riders with their butt pouring over the back of the cantle; this is a saddle woefully small for them. I personally do not like dressage saddles with much knee rolls and I like no thigh rolls which might force my leg out of correct placement. Good luck

                                      Edited to ad, found some lovely albion saddles used recently, 1000.00 and less. Once you find what you like, look for used, would be my personal agenda...
                                      Airborne? Oh. Yes, he can take a joke. Once. After that, the joke's on you.


                                      • #20
                                        One exercise I find helpful to open the hip angle, both before and after riding, is sitting on an exercise ball. I try to sit on it in such a way that my knees are pointing straight down to the floor, so my two seat bones are pointing straight down, and engaging my stomach muscles so my back is straight. (to do this, my leg from the knee to the foot is behind the ball almost on the floor) It's easier said than done, and really helps my hunter/jumper hips stretch. I really love my Wintec Pro dressage saddle - the seat is very flat - not confining, and the knee blocks are small, velcro, and easily removed! It's also cheap, which is a nice perk. Good luck!