Why do some people seem to have an inherent ability to ride, while others struggle for years to "find their seat?" It has always been puzzling why some people excel in their riding disciplines, becoming world-class riders and sought-after trainers. Others seem to have every advantage - a good horse, natural athletic ability, discipline to train - and yet, something is missing.
About 15 years ago Dr. Deb Bennett wrote an article for Equus, discussing just this phenomenon. It was an in-depth study of the comparative muscular/skeletal structures of men and women, and how these differences relate to riding ability. Dr. Bennett's conclusion was that women may have a conformational disadvantage, but with exercises and muscular development, they could compensate and achieve a similar position on horseback to men.
It is difficult for women to achieve the classic "shoulders-hips-heels" straight line, due to the fact that the articulation of female hips is different than that of a man's. It is painful to sit on the pubic bone, and as a result, most women collapse at the hip to escape the pain. The leg shoots forward, and time is spent fighting the position instead of concentrating on riding.
Position and balance of the rider are the key ingredients in all riding disciplines, perhaps most notably in dressage, because the majority of time is spent sitting. The seat bones are the key structure for the foundation of position and balance.
For men, this does not provide the obstacle it does for the majority of women. Men have two "V" shaped seat bones set close together, giving them a bipod axis. Although the saddle manufacturer has, in the past, afforded special attention to that skeletal structure, it is not as complex as the woman's requirements.
Unfortunately, too many women ride in saddles built for men, which is why you often have a "hair seat" as a result.
Women have a broad range of hip shapes, all of which need to be accommodated when constructing a saddle. Unlike the "V" shaped man's seat bones, women's are usually flat. In addition, women have a more prominent pubic bone. This combination of three skeletal structures causes a woman to sit as on a tripod (see illustrations). Herein lies the problem for most women: unless the pelvis is straight, the pommel of the saddle interferes with the pubic bone, and unless the abdominal muscles are used, it is almost impossible to sit correctly in a saddle.
The traditional "male" saddles are built fairly wide in the crotch area, but are narrow in the seat. Women find themselves sitting with their legs pushed outward from the hip, and painfully sitting on the seat seaming. The anatomy dictates that the structure for women should be exactly opposite - narrow in the crotch area and wider in the seat area.
Future issues continue this topic, going into more detail about the female pelvis, how it affects position, the horse in motion, and equine anatomy. Each of these needs to be considered in the final equation of riding, riding well, and riding comfortably.
Sabine Schleese, BSc, MBA, along with her husband, Certified Master Saddler and Saddlefitter Jochen Schleese, is founder of Schleese Saddlefit 4 Life® - the Science of Saddle Fit and Design Promoting Equine Back Health. Sabine has been named one of Canada's Top 100 Women Business Owners for the last 7 years. The company has been profiled in the Wall Street Journal and on Discovery Channel - most recently seen in "How it's Made!" Contact her through Schleese Saddlery Service Ltd., 1-800-225-2242 ext. 22 or www.schleese.com