The number of female riders is on the rise, yet women are still underrepresented when it comes to saddle design and fit. Learn the key differences between male and female anatomy and how they affect your comfort in the saddle.
Human anatomy is a crucial factor in saddle fit, and gender is a major part of this. Because saddles have traditionally been built for men, they have it much easier when trying to find saddles that fit. In this article, we’ll discuss five key points to consider when determining proper saddle fit for women. After all, it’s important for a female rider to have a saddle that conforms to her shape, and not the other way around.
1. The twist
The “twist” is the part of the saddle that’s felt between the upper inner thighs. It’s generally easy for men to find a saddle that fits in this area, since the majority of English saddles on the market today are still made to allow the male anatomy to sit comfortably and balanced. Generally speaking, you are looking at a fairly wide twist and a smaller seat to accommodate the male pelvis.
The width between a woman’s upper inner thighs affects the width of the twist she will need in her saddle. Because of a phenomenon called “Q-flexion” (whereby female thighs tend to angle outward at the hip and back inward at the knee), women will carry more weight on their upper inner thighs than a man. Because traditional “male” saddles are built fairly wide in the crotch area, but narrow in the seat, women find themselves sitting with their legs jutting unnaturally outward, and/or painfully sitting on the seat seaming. A woman’s legs are pushed forward and the knees and toes are out at a 45° angle, which isn’t ideal. In fact, anatomy dictates that the saddle structure for women should be exactly opposite – narrow in the twist and wider in the seat area.
2. The stirrup bars
For most males, the upper leg (hip bone to knee bone) is approximately the same length as the lower leg (knee bone to ankle bone). This means their legs will hang down straight when using a “normal” stirrup bar placement. Most women, on the other hand, have a longer upper leg than lower leg. With a regular normally-positioned stirrup bar, a woman’s leg will usually end up being too far forward because it will fall according to its center of gravity. (“Get your leg back!” – does this sound familiar?) Therefore, women generally require extended stirrup bars to allow their legs to find their center of gravity.
3. The flaps and thigh rolls
A woman’s hip bones are articulated at the joint differently than a man’s. Male hip sockets are much further forward, so their legs can naturally hang straight down.
In dressage especially, it is difficult for women to achieve the classic “shoulders-hips-heels” straight line, because the articulation of their hips causes their legs to naturally angle out. 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. Changing the angle of the flap and the position of the thigh roll will address this problem.
4. The seat
A lower pubic symphysis can cause friction with the seat. The male pelvis (see photo at right) has a higher pubic symphysis (PS) than a female pelvis. When a man sits in a balanced position with his spine perpendicular to the ground, his PS tips upward and does not make contact with the seat. When a female sits on the saddle with her spine perpendicular to the ground, her PS is much lower and closer to the front of the saddle. This can create rubbing, which can cause significant discomfort, recurring bladder infections and even bleeding.
Unfortunately, aside from cosmetic changes, saddles have not evolved much over the years. Most companies still use the same trees, the same technology, and the same manufacturing process they always have – with a few exceptions. This seems paradoxical when you consider that the majority of riders are female. The adult amateur female rider is the market, and thankfully women are beginning to realize that a) riding doesn’t have to hurt, b) there are alternatives available and c) if they are vocal enough with their demands the industry will change.