By Martha Josey with Alissa Burson-Kelly
Finding the right equipment for you and your horse can be a large factor in your success. Sometimes in the race to the top, riders often overlook saddles and pads as reasons they are not clocking desired times. Is your saddle helping you go forward or causing you to get behind?
Proper fit of the saddle is critical not only to the horse but to the rider as well. Before you fit the saddle to the horse, be sure you are looking at the correct size seat for the rider. Often, riders will ride in a saddle that is too big for them. This causes a rider to get off-balance and thrown forward or sideways in the turns. The moment a rider falls forward in the turns, they lose their ability to guide the horse correctly in the turn. Some people are riding a saddle that is too small for them. Sitting in a saddle that is too small brings the horn right up against your stomach. You want the horn to be in front of you so you can take hold of it to sit down and push to hold yourself in as you go into a turn and then pull yourself up as you leave the barrel Many times, the rider is actually sitting up on top of the cantle instead of down in the seat.
The fit of the saddle varies a little for each rider based on several factors. Fitting a growing child can be tricky. You must allow enough room for growth without setting the rider in a seat that’s too big. Determining the rider’s age, build and meeting the parents to determine future growth will help accomplish proper saddle fit. Ideally, you’d like a young rider in a saddle that has no more than two fingers of growing room between the rider’s thigh and the swell. Riders who have finished growing can be fitted based on their comfort. Some riders like to have a little room between their leg and the swell; others like to be just touching the swell while some like to be wedged in a little.
What you want to avoid is a large gap between your leg and th swells—more than two fingers. When you stand up in your stirrups, you’re looking for two to four inches of clearance between your seat and the saddle, depending on the person. It’s important, if possible, to try the saddle on the horse, as the fit will differ slightly between a saddle stand and a live horse.
In many cases, a rider can have a correctly fitting saddle, but still get their feet behind them. To correct this problem, we developed a forward-hung stirrup for all my saddles, which eliminates this issue by keeping the rider’s legs and feet forward, allowing them to sit down in the saddle. When choosing the correct size for the rider, you should always do it while sitting on the horse, especially if trying a Josey saddle, because the forward-hung stirrups keep your feet in front and require less room between your leg and the swell. Once you find a saddle that fits you, it’s time to make sure it fits your horse, which we will discuss in Part 2.
This article was originally published in the September 2017 issue of Barrel Horse News.