Saddle Fit Part II – The Rider

A proper fitting saddle is as important for the rider as it is for the horse. Riders cannot reach their full potential without a saddle that fits well!

General Guidelines:

There are a few simple guidelines to follow when fitting a saddle to the rider.

Fig. 1: Upper Thigh Measurement
  • A saddle’s size is found by measuring from one brad on either side of the pommel and across the seat to the middle of the cantle. You can get an idea of the size saddle a rider needs by measuring her upper thigh. Have the rider sit in a chair with her knees bent at a 45-degree angle and measure the length from the end of her knee to the backside of her bottom (Fig. 1). If the rider is in between sizes, it is best to go with the larger size so that she is not sitting on the cantle and putting too much pressure on the horse’s back. These measurements alone will not decide the perfect saddle fit; you also need to sit in different saddles!
Length of ThighSaddle Size
16.5 – 18.5”16”
18.5 – 20”16.5”
20 – 21.5”17”
21.5 – 23”17.5”
Fig. 2: The Twist
  • Once you have some saddles to test, you need to try them. There should be a hands width between a rider’s bottom and the cantle. The length of the flap should only extend 1/3 of the way down her calf so as not to interfere with any leg aids given. If it is too short, the rider’s boot can get caught on the bottom of the flap, and if it’s too long, the flap will prevent her from using her leg aids properly.
  • The rider’s thigh should be parallel to the front of the flap.
  • The rider’s knee should hit the small indentation on the flap. The knee should be about two fingers behind the edge of the flap. If the knees are over the edge of the flap and block, the rider’s balance will be too far forward.
  • The stirrup bars need to be set in a place that allows the rider’s legs to hang down directly under the hips.
  • The twist in the saddle occurs when the front of the tree meets the back of the tree. It is located behind the pommel and at the front of the seat. Most of the time the width of the strip of leather over the twist represents the width of the twist (Fig. 2). A twist too wide for the rider will force her into a chair seat, whereas a twist that is too narrow means her thighs won’t be supported.

Male vs. Female Saddles:

Fig. 3

It might be a surprise to some, but saddles are built differently for males and females. Female anatomy is very different than male anatomy, so the saddles need to be adjusted to fit properly. The hips of a female come outward first, before angling down, whereas the male hips hang straight down from their sockets (Fig. 3). This means a female saddle must have a steeper flap angle to prevent her knees from going over the edge (Fig. 4). The twist of the saddle should be narrower for females because the distance between their upper thighs is narrower than a male’s. If the twist is too wide for a female, she won’t be able to keep her leg underneath her in a straight line from hip to heel.

Fig. 4: Flap with steep angle

Stirrup bar placement is another important factor when choosing a saddle. Females have a longer upper leg than lower, whereas it’s the opposite for males. If the bar is set too far forward for a female, she’ll end up in a chair seat. Instead, the bar should be set back farther, or it should be longer to accommodate her longer thigh so that her leg will hang properly in the saddle.

The last thing to look at is the seat width. The seat bones of the rider should fall within the seam lines of the saddle. A male’s narrower pelvis results in seat bones that lie close together, therefore he can have a narrower seat. Females need a wider seat to accommodate the wide seat bones of a wider pelvis.


The depth of the seat, the size of the knee blocks and the type of leather are all personal choices. Many females prefer a softer leather to eliminate pressure on the front of the pelvis, which sits at a lower angle than a males’ pelvis, hitting the pommel. Some riders prefer a bigger knee block, which affords them a more secure seat, while others prefer a smaller knee block, which allows for more leg movement.

Assuming the saddle fits the rider when she’s sitting in it, she then needs to try riding her horse in it to make sure it’s comfortable at every gait. Now that the rider knows what type of saddle fits her best, it’s time to make sure the saddle fits the horse too! Check out Saddle Fit Part I- The Horse to discover how to fit your horse properly.


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