Years ago I was saddle shopping and struggling to find my balance in every trendy saddle out there. I was complaining at the saddle shop about how the blocks were in my way and they showed me an old stubben tristan Schultheis model. And praise the lord, I was home. I have been flying up the levels ever since. I later found you here and on dressagetainingonline. Learning the method behind the saddle design has been huge for me. I thank you for that! Who knew my 'average' moving thoroughbred really is an expressive mover after all.
Thank you for putting into words where I have been unsuccessful! This blog is being posted in my barn today. Clients wonder why the horse moves different when I ride them in my saddles (Tristan Schulteis) versus theirs. You have explained it rather well. Thanks!
A question: To go along with the myth of straight line riding (ear/shoulder/hip/back of calf): do the thumbs really have to be "up?" The feature picture does not show you riding that way - it seems so unnatural to keep the thumbs up all the time and is a continuous problem for me (senior citizen and still learning). Love your blog info - it so makes sense!!!
Dear Jeannine, I do think that the hands look better when carried with the thumb up, however, what I find more important is that a rider maintains both a rotational and forward/back elasticity in the lower arms at all times. By rotational, I mean that you should be able to make the motion of twisting a doorknob with your lower arm without effecting your contact on the reins. You should also be able to give your elbows slightly toward the bit without greatly changing contact.
Because rotational flexibility is important, there will be some instances when the knuckles are up. Catherine
Thank you Ma'am. I very much appreciate your explanation. J.
I starting my riding career with a well used Stubben Siegfried then earned enough to get a new Stubben Tristan, the women instructing me at the time was a student of Lillian Whitmack Roy. After purchasing the Tristan, the first thing my instructor did was open up the panels and remove about a third of the flocking in the saddle; this shortened the breaking time and allowed me to put my leg wherever the instructor asked. There was only one other saddle that I ever felt was as useful - a cutback Kieffer that received the same treatment as the Tristan. If I did that today I think everyone would freak. Anyway, nothing replaces the time needed to learn dressage correctly and no shortcut (saddle) will replace the feel of the horse between your hands and legs. Thanks for Anatomy 101. P.S. There was an Amish harness shop in Blue Ball, PA that use to have a ton of used Tristans, upstairs, for reasonable prices, don't know if it is still there but it's a scenic drive.
But not all of them. Catherine- my name is Krystl and i'm a Qualified Saddle fitter with the society of Master saddlers.
1- If a saddle is properly fit- the panels at the rear (yes even ones who extend past the cantle) shouldn't be putting pressure spots there. If they are- it's not correctly fit.
2- the TREE distributes your weight across the saddle length- the panel is the buffer that absorbs pressure between the tree and the horse. YEs we want the horse to be able to feel us. Bigger panels aren't always about getting more buffer between horse and rider- but are about balancing the saddle front to back so the rider can ride in balance. Allowing the horse to do it's job.
2- Where the saddle should be properly placed puts the TREE of the saddle (not the front of the saddle bu the TREE) about 2" behind the scapula. This is because as we all know the scapula rotates back as the horse extends the foreleg. The tree being the most rigid peice of the saddle doesn't need to be on or jabbing into the shoulder blade. the saddle however shouldn't be further back then this. So now we have riders not shoving it up on the shoulder blades- but do find riders placing it too far back.
3- agree the saddle should NEVER be behind the T18. the panels must not extend past that. On a shorter backed horse this often means finding a saddle with upswept panels or a small enough seat.
4- Saddles will only put pressure at the BACK of the panels if the saddle either a- doesn't fit correctly b- isn't balanced or c- has a rider riding off her seat pockets on the cantle all the time.
5- YEs short girths need to fit properly. The girth should end with in 1-2 inches of the flap- it should not be down by the elbow by any means. It's a common problem we run into!
6- AGREE the heel doesn't line up with the BUTT- i was always taught hip as in HIP BONE. which is at the front of your pelvis.
7- agree- some knee rolls are darn big. some too big for many people. but also a lot of people who like to call themselves dressage riders are lower level riders who ride a couple times a week. And often on horses who are way to good of movers for them. Lets give them a bit of help so the horse doesn't suffer more :)
SAddle fit itself is an art. Good fitters (and i'd like to think i'm included in that group) Spend 3-5 years apprenticing before becoming a fitter. Like instructors there are theories that are different and many roads to rome and you need to find what works for you. There are some facts however which have been proven scientifically. The SMS does research using computer imaging to help prove or disprove a lot of beliefs when it comes to saddle fit.
Dressage saddles have become huge, like big easy chairs. Coupled with thick sheepskin and gel pads, the whole saddling process I have seen on some is more like readying a horse for combat! There is so much saddle and padding enveloping the rider that i cannot imagine that the riders are able to give subtle seat cues or truly feel the back of the horse.
The only thing in your article that I question is the use of long girths/short billets. Does this not create bulk under the upper leg. I am getting ready to order a new saddle and will consider short billets but worry about the bulk.
Sandra, If your saddle is designed for use with a long girth, like mine is, and you use the proper length of girth, the buckles will rest exactly behind your knee and not interfere with any part of your leg. C.
Thanks Catherine, I am actually getting ready to order a Genesis Deiuxe and have been mulling about the short billets option. I am told that I will never be able to resell the saddle, but hopefully I wont have to. Where would I order a long cord girth?
You can order a long, cord girth from Stuebben. 100% nylon is the best. C.
There are problems with the horse skeleton labels in your blog of 22 March 2011. Mobility of various regions of the horse's spine have been measured and the results published. These are direct measurements of activity in the living equine spine (this means that they are not guesses) that would help your understanding of its functional anatomy. In your blog you should also take account of bending in the thoracic spine (see articles below), as well as range of motion and activity at the lumbar/sacral joint. One of your comments discusses flexible trees for saddles, but it is not clearly connected to the diagram of the skeleton with motion regions documented in the scientific veterinary literature. You are a prominent rider and writer and information presented needs to be as correct as is feasible for your audience. Please read as much of this material as you can when you have time from your busy schedule:
Peham, C., Frey, A., Licka, T.,and Scheidl, M. 2001. Evaluation of the EMG activity of the long back muscle during induced back movements at stance. Equine Veterinary Journal Supplement 33: 165-168.
Faber, M. Johnston, C., Schamhardt, H., Van Weeren, R., Roepstorff, I. &mBarneveld, A. 2000. Basic three-dimensional kinematics of the vertebral columnof horses walking on a treadmill. American Journal of Veterinary Research 61(4): 399-406.
Faber, M. Johnston, C., Schamhardt, H., Van Weeren, R., Roepstorff, I. & Barneveld, A. 2001. Basic three-dimensional kinematics of the vertebral column of horses trotting on a treadmill. American Journal of Veterinary Research 62(5):757-764.
Faber, M. Johnston, C., Schamhardt, H., Van Weeren, R., Roepstorff, I. & Barneveld, A. 2001. Three-dimensional kinematics of the equine spine during canter. Equine Veterinary Journal Supplement 33: 145-149.
Additional information in:
Haussler, K. K., Bertram, J. E. A., Gellman, K. and Hermanson, J. W. 2001. Segmental in vivo vertebral kinematics at the walk, trot and canter: a preliminary study. Equine Veterinary Journal Supplement 33: 160-164.
Thank you for sharing! Although after reading this and watching your Stubben saddle videos I'm kind of kicking myself for buying something else very recently.... :-)
Do you think there would be any benefit for those of us with long billets to using a "short" cord girth over the bulkier leather ones?
Tori, I would stick with the girth that is made for your saddle. To ride comfortably with a long girth, you need a special flap and billet construction. If your saddle is not originally designed this way, you will only screw things up by shortening your billets and adding a long girth. Catherine
I've ridden in every kind of dressage saddle over the last 30 years and I simply can't ride in something that's too flat and doesn't have enough knee roll. I have a hip problem, as do several women I know, and one hip has significantly less movement than the other. On a flat saddle, the stiff side simply slides around rather than hinging and moving fluidly. Whereas if I have a kneel roll to stop that side sliding too far, it forces my hip to stretch a little more.
Yes, I know you'll probably hate he use of the word "force," but I'm talking about MY body, not my horse's. And my horse clearly appreciates the change in my position, since he moves much more freely forward and with far more swing than in a flatter saddle.
(Btw, all saddles were custom saddles properly fitted to me and my horse.)
This is the first year I've had regular acces on TV to high-level dressage and have been asking myself about leg position - so glad you've raised it! I wish I had seen this and earlier blogs before buying my dressage saddle last year. Hopefully I can change in a few months time, finances permitting, but I'm clinicking with you in a couple of weeks so apologies in advance for the saddle ...
I have read this blog entry with interest and although you have made numerous good points, I have to question the the line you wrote about the equine skeleton, in which you said that the last 9 pairs of ribs are floating and are not attached to the spine.
This is completely false. ALL of the horse's ribs are attached to the spine, and they are also attached to the sternum, unlike the last two ribs in a human which are also attached to the spine, but not attached to the sternum.
There are no floating ribs in the horse.
I am also confused regarding your comments about saddleseat riding. Saddleseat riding, as it is practiced today, no longer emphasizes the rider having a ear, shoulder, hip, heel alignment, but has instead continued to place the rider further and further back in the saddle, with the seats of many modern cutback saddles now almost positioned into the lumbar region of the horse, and the rider sitting in a severe chair seat, requiring them to pinch inward with the knee for grip in order to rise in trot. This also requires the rider to turn the toes out and pull the entire calf off of the horse. They then rise far enough out of the saddle(throwing the weight forward which will then throw the horse forward) to be standing straight up out of the stirrups. The severely bent knee from the extreme chair seat positioning of the saddle and it's placement way behind the shoulder has gained fashion because of the extreme action and upheaded look it creates.
Dear Dawn, You are correct that all the ribs are connected to the spine. The floating ribs are not connected to the sternum, as are the other nine pairs. That was my error in the orginal draft of this blog. It has been corrected since then. I apologize for my hasty publication and lack of proof reading.
The fact remains that the last nine pairs of ribs do not support the horse's spine as well as the first 9 pairs. Horses are built to carry weight close to their withers.
As for saddleseat riding, I haven't done it in over 30 years and we don't have it here in Europe so please forgive me if I am behind the times about this sport. But your description of the current saddleseat seat, does actually adhere to what I was taught 30 years ago.
Best regards, Catherine
I would like to "Thank You" for this well thought out blog. I have been trying to ride dressage for the past 17 years and always feel like I am fighting the saddle. I have a very long thigh and most saddle fitters that have tried to fit me just look at the seat size and not the rest of my anatomy. Since reading your blog, I now know exactly my problem. I need a saddle with a more forward flap and no knee roll to let me knee move into the proper riding position. I am currently riding is an older Passier GG, 18.5 inch. I love the saddle, but I find my knee is over the roll everytime I feel like my horse is moving more freely! Ugh! Thanks so much for putting into words what I have felt all these years! When are you coming to live and teach in the USA? I would love to have you come to my farm in Kentucky for clinics. Good Luck showing this year! Please keep giving us your educational and insightful thoughts!
I had the same problem that Vanessa Adams did--very long thigh, though I am medium height. Also, I am not the most physically flexible person. I now own 2 Stubben Tristan Specials and feel more secure with no knee rolls than I ever did in my saddle with them. It took a long while, but after riding my new Western saddle for a while and being in balance, I finally realized that my first dressage saddle was balanced all wrong for me in addition to forcing me into a pose my hips and lower back were not meant to be in. It was a relief to understand that it wasn't only my own physical limitations preventing me from developing a good, balanced seat with proper alignment of shoulder, hip, heel.
I think saddle fit for riders is not well understood or addressed. My trainer didn't understand that I COULDN'T physically align myself in the old saddle, and that I COULDN'T keep myself from tipping forward. Then I got the Tristans :) and it was a revelation to us both. I am a better rider for having them and have gained a lot of confidence in my ability.
Thank God for Tristan Specials!
My trainer and I are looking forward to auditing a Catherine Haddad clinic in June here in Colorado.