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Really basic saddle questions

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  • Really basic saddle questions

    I've never really thought about what all the modern blocks and rolls bring to the rider.

    Compare something like the old Crosbys--PDN type and the new saddles with huge thigh blocks and monster knee blocks, please. What is the virtue of a huge knee block? I can certainly see how thigh blocks would help keep you from slipping back, but the knee blocks seem to be under the knee itself. What is that supposed to do?

    Question was brought on by looking at the Ryder line of jumping saddles here:
    "I'm a lumberjack, and I'm okay."
    Thread killer Extraordinaire

  • #2
    I have no idea, I personally don't like a huge knee block. They always fit awkwardly with my leg, and make it seem like I can't feel the horse under my knee. I do like a little "squish" from a slimmer knee block, just because it's more comfortable on my knee when I've got my legs gripping pretty tightly.


    • #3
      No idea. I don't like any external blocks at all, I just think they look hideous, but I definitely wouldn't want anything like that around my knee. I agree with above-a pencil knee roll with an air flap is nice just because my messed up knees appreciated the extra padding. More than that, no thank you.
      Life doesn't have perfect footing.

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      • #4
        I think preferences differ according to style and (rider) conformation, and in my past life I did fine showing h/j in a flat-flat saddle (no knee roll even - I was younger then!), but I find that the little bit a small block under a knee roll pops my hip angle open helps me to place my calf correctly - so I don't pinch at the knee, and my lower leg doesn't slide back

        It's funny you say the thigh blocks make more sense, because intellectually I get that, but practically speaking I tend to find them uncomfortable if they have any kind of size to them. Maybe because I'm small? Don't know.
        Talk to the Hoof


        • #5
          It really depends on rider conformation.

          I can ride with the small knee blocks that really sit above the knee but they have to be high since I have a long thigh and ride with short stirrups. The thigh block (which really tend to sit low and block the back of the calf from slipping back) can be useful but can also be a crutch. Since I ride in monoflaps for the most part, I do ride with the blocks and I find that I am more secure in the saddle. When I was riding in a more traditional cc saddle I found that my whole body would slide back in the saddle.
          "I'm too sexy for my blanket, too sexy for my blanket, these mares-they should take it..." (J-Lu) - Featuring The Skypizzle Pony aka Classic Skyline


          • #6
            I can't stand saddles with particularly large blocks. My dressage saddle (old Stubben) has pencil rolls that are basically just a little padding under the knee. One of my jumping saddles has absolutely no padding, an old school Stubben Wotan. My Stubben Roxane is my most padded saddle and its on the far end of what I find comfortable to deal with. Its got very small blocks and they all hit in just the right places so they don't get in my way. I needed something that was better suited to foxhunting than the ancient Wotan, which was originally used as a polo saddle, but it does okay for jumping too.

            I grew up in FLAT, slippery cutbacks riding saddleseat. I cannot stand feeling trapped in a saddle. I've ridden in some very nice, very expensive saddles, both dressage and jumping that have huge blocks. While the saddle itself is *comfy* in the squishy, couch-like sense, I don't like actually riding in them. I want to be able to put myself wherever I want to, not just because the saddle is holding me there. I know a lot of people love them though.


            • #7
              I'm a big fan of external blocks because you can have close contact without the bulk. I've gone to external blocks on both jumping and dressage saddles. It is easy to tell if the blocks are placed properly because if they are, they aren't underneath your leg but are set just so your thigh/leg/calf don't move if you get tossed about.


              • Original Poster

                Originally posted by ahbaumgardner View Post
                I'm a big fan of external blocks because you can have close contact without the bulk. I've gone to external blocks on both jumping and dressage saddles. It is easy to tell if the blocks are placed properly because if they are, they aren't underneath your leg but are set just so your thigh/leg/calf don't move if you get tossed about.
                Saddlers must think there is something positive about them because they are showing up on more and more modern saddles. As I said, I do understand the theory behind the thigh blocks, but with a humongous block under the knee (that's where most of them seem to be) what do they do except push the knee away from the saddle/horse? I just cannot fathom how a huge knee block could add to security. There has to be something about the geometry in action that I'm not understanding. Do they put the calf closer? Thinking about it, if you push the knee out, the calf must come in, mustn't it?
                "I'm a lumberjack, and I'm okay."
                Thread killer Extraordinaire


                • #9
                  I like a saddle with well placed blocks. I find that if the blocks are in the right spot I do not feel them/use them - unless I get jostled in which case they help keep me in the right place.

                  I always wanted to be one of those riders that could ride in a flat/blockless saddle and stay put. I've given up on that dream. My dressage saddle - after trying many! - is one of those external block monsters. I love it. When things are going well, I don't even feel the block and my leg can hang down beautifully. When we are motoring (i.e. sitting trot) the block helps me stay on. Of all the saddles that I tried, this was the only one on which I could really sit the sitting trot. I presume the block has something to do with that, though it could be a balance point issue as well.

                  I will confess that the horse I ride is a bouncy springy huge gelding. He makes sitting the trot on every other horse feel like a walk in the park. I feel justified in purchasing the extra help vis a vis the blocks. If the grand prix riders "cheat" by having big blocks why wouldn't I give myself the same advantage? I'm just a lowly amateur and don't ride for a living.

                  I came across this interesting article from Jimmy Wofford recently which speaks a bit about different saddle design:


                  • #10
                    I went from a totally flat Kieffer cc to a Stubben Roxane with pretty good- sized blocks. I find that I never touch/ notice the thigh blocks and if they went away tomorrow I probably wouldn't realize. I do feel more aware of the knee blocks, but I only really "use" them when a horse puts in a big one (which with my old guy was every other fence!) Occasionally they really saved me, sometimes painfully when my knee hit them.

                    I ride someone else's trail horse in a Marc Tolouse with the velcro blocks and never quite felt they were in the right place, and even with them removed it feels like there is quite a bit of padding under my leg, which I hate. (Actually it's the most uncomfortable saddle I've ridden in anyway!)


                    • #11
                      I personally hate any sort of knee block, thigh block or rolls. I ride in an old monoflap Beval. I think blocks/rolls just give people the ability to cheat their way to a good seat. It's a shortcut plain and simple in my mind. You want to be secure in the saddle? Ride bareback or in a simple monoflap. Fall off, get back on and repeat. You'll eventually get the hang of it. Simple as that.
                      "One reason why horses are happy is because they are not trying to impress other horses."
                      "Never approach a bull from the front, a horse from the rear, or a fool from any direction"


                      • Original Poster

                        According to the Wofford article, I've been using the wrong terminology. He calls what I'd call a knee block (because it's in about the same place as a knee roll) a thigh block and the one at the back a calf block.

                        If the knee sits on top of the front block, how can it act as a block?
                        "I'm a lumberjack, and I'm okay."
                        Thread killer Extraordinaire


                        • #13
                          The knee doesn't sit on top of that front block, it sits behind. The large blocks form a channel for the leg, keeping it quite secure, which is why some people like these saddles. No work to keep your leg quiet! Those large blocks just lock you in. They also limit just what you can do with your leg, though--no hiking up your stirrups here!--which is certainly a downside.

                          I've not ridden in saddles like you posted in your first link, but I have sat in several. They feel pretty good if your leg wants to go where the saddle wants it to go, although I find do them a bit claustrophobic! Then again, I ride in a flat-flat Pariani that's probably older than I am. Mostly because I'm cheap and it fits the horse just fine


                          • #14
                            I have a Conquest with big squishy blocks. I said no no, no when she pulled it out for me to try. She said trust me, just try it. I fell in love. My knee is behind the front block, and I really don't feel it at all unless popped out of the tack. The rear block as well, I only feel it if left behind a bit. I rode for years and years in a pancake saddle. I did fine, but LOVE this saddle. Now my dressage saddle does not have big blocks, it's a Dover Circuit and just has a small pencil roll that you don't even feel. I've never ridden in a dressage saddle with big blocks, but I imagine like my jump saddle, it has to fit just right for your leg to fall where it should.


                            • Original Poster

                              In the line of saddles that I posted, would I be correct to say that the huge front blocks actually fit against the quads just above the knee? And that their purpose is to lock the leg in place behind/below them?

                              My first reaction is that it would be kind of like riding in a strait jacket. But I did ride in a Roxane S for a time and never noticed anything constricting and felt my leg position was the best it's ever been. Blocks of that size look rather shocking without a covering flap.

                              Could you ride with shortened stirrups, though?
                              "I'm a lumberjack, and I'm okay."
                              Thread killer Extraordinaire


                              • #16
                                I think the biggest myth in saddles these days is that big blocks and deep seats will increase your stability in the saddle. Stability and security come from being in proper alignment in the saddle - with a solid leg beneath allowing the upper half to act independently. If not balanced correctly, you're just as likely (or more likely) to come off even if your saddle has mammoth blocks.

                                That being said, properly placed blocks and rolls have their advantages. But if they are properly placed, you should not be aware of them until you need them, say when you are doing hillwork or your horse is giving you very "exuberant" canter departs.

                                The trend is, for the most part, for "bigger and deeper," and I can't help but think some of it is coming from the sheer number of amateur riders buying big-moving horses that perhaps they are not quite ready for. As a fitter, it can be very frustrating to have a very appropriate saddle for that rider but be sent back for something else "with a seatbelt."


                                • #17
                                  Originally posted by vineyridge View Post
                                  In the line of saddles that I posted, would I be correct to say that the huge front blocks actually fit against the quads just above the knee? And that their purpose is to lock the leg in place behind/below them?

                                  My first reaction is that it would be kind of like riding in a strait jacket. But I did ride in a Roxane S for a time and never noticed anything constricting and felt my leg position was the best it's ever been. Blocks of that size look rather shocking without a covering flap.

                                  Could you ride with shortened stirrups, though?
                                  I just ordered a custom saddle with large blocks in front. The saddle maker aligns the blocks so your legs are not touching them in the angle your leg lies, so while I'll notice if I start to lose leg position it's definitely not holding my leg in place. He adjusted some when I did some sitting trot work, too. There's no way I could ride with short stirrups in that saddle and have my legs under me. And I can't imagine jumping with blocks, but I was always a close contact girl.

                                  For me, the blocks are in part because I have to remember to keep my hip angle open for alignment and it will remind me (though doesn't hold my legs there when I'm riding properly) and because my horse has bucks which I refer to as handstands - hind legs nearly straight up above him. I apparently can't ride through them for more than 40m, but having properly placed blocks will help keep me situated in the saddle so I have more chance. (That, and his current bootcamp sessions with a trainer who is simultaneously kicking my backside on his horses so we both get better at the same time.) The blocks are set so the end of them is just above my kneecap along my quads as you thought.

                                  I can not ride in a deep seat very comfortably. Besides having a more copious backside, my hip shape and back shape mean saddles with a very deep seat which put me in a perfect position 1) actually raise me out of the saddle so I can't use my seat as effectively and sit "into the horse" and 2) hurt my back because they prevent me from properly absorbing the horse's motion in my hip joints. My new dressage saddle's going to have a fairly moderate depth seat - not flat by any means, but not deep and definitely room to move.
                                  If Kim Kardashian wants to set up a gofundme to purchase the Wu Tang album from Martin Shkreli, guess what people you DON'T HAVE TO DONATE.


                                  • #18
                                    The first calf block I remember seeing was about 15 years ago on a saddle a master saddler was showing me. She grinned and said the reason they first started adding them was for big jumping horses who stretched across big oxers with lots of forearm rotation. Jumping efforts like that could cause a girth to slip back and supposedly the blocks helped keep the billets and buckles/top of the girth from sliding back and sometimes off the back curve of the panel. It had nothing to do with rider position.

                                    She grinned when she explained it because she said people will assume it's for rider position and it will be the next big thing people think they have to have when only a handful of horses ever have need for it and it does next to nothing positive for riders. I thing she was right thinking it would catch on and that it's a gimmick.

                                    Personally, I think most of the add ons don't do much and if we spent more time and effort finding saddles that fit both horse and riders people would feel more secure. Security doesn't initiate from your seat and legs as much as it does being balanced.


                                    • #19
                                      I have a Collegiate Diploma. It has a moderate knee block--not tiny, not big. It's higher up, so when I'm in the saddle it's at the top of my knee/thigh. I'm not entirely sure what the intended purpose is, but I love it when I'm riding my witchy chestnut Thoroughbred mare. She'll toss her head and try to yank me around, and all I have to do is drop my heel, keep my shoulders back, and she can't do any more than pull me into the knee block.
                                      Against My Better Judgement: A blog about my new FLF OTTB
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                                      • #20
                                        I find that the Wofford article says it best - it's not actually the knee or thigh block that affects your leg and stability, it's the padding underneath. if you have a lot of padding underneath your thigh so that it actually pushes your leg away, you'll be more likely to grip with your knees in an attempt to wrap your leg around your horse. Your saddle should ideally form a "pocket" where your knee tucks in (hope I'm describing this correctly) so that you have contact with your horse completely through the length of your leg. The knee blocks and calf blocks are only there in case of an emergency (like landing from a drop).

                                        I have a Chiberta and I never notice the blocks, either the thigh or calf. When I switch back to riding in my Black Country, I definitely notice the way the padding on the panels push my leg away from my horse - I'm more likely to pinch with my knees and jump ahead in the BC than in the Chiberta (which is why I gave my BC to my hubby and use it for my trail/hacking saddle).

                                        Subk - that's very interesting observation about the calf blocks! That makes total sense to me - I never knew why those were there, as my leg will slip back if the blocks were ten feet tall.
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