One of the questions I am often asked by my female clients especially is ‘can wide horses cause my hips to hurt?’ The answer is yes – but there is an easy solution. Too many times the concept of twist of the saddle is misunderstood – it is defined in saddler terms as being that part of the tree that the rider feels between the inner upper thighs. As such, the twist is absolutely instrumental in combatting the feel of being ‘pulled apart’ at the hips. You can have a very narrowly built horse and still have this feeling – if you are riding in a saddle which has a twist that is simply too wide for the rider’s conformation.
The tree shape and design is critical in determining the final fit of the saddle to both horse and rider – everything else is just ‘fluff’. As such, the bottom of the tree should be made to accommodate the needs of the horse, including panel shape and length, gullet width, and tree point position. Crucial for the rider will be stirrup bar placement, the twist, the seat depth and the cantle height and position. Therefore, you can still have a tree built for a wider-backed horse while still accommodating the needs of the rider with a narrow twist, and thus avoiding that ‘pulled apart’ feeling that riding a gender inappropriate saddle on such a wide horse usually brings with it.
There are exceptions to every rule, of course, but most women will feel more comfortable riding with a narrower twist and extended stirrup bars. The reasons for this are purely physiological and are actually quite logical when you think about them. The hamstring and quadriceps muscle on female upper thighs are much rounder than a man’s, which means there is less space given between the upper inner thighs (as shown in the picture depicting both male and female legs). A man’s quads and hamstrings on the other hand are much flatter and positioned more on the front and backs of the femur rather than being as round as the female’s. Consequently, he will usually feel more comfortable riding in a wider twist, since there is simply more room between the upper inner thigh.
In addition, the length of the female upper leg is usually 1-2” longer than her lower leg (measured hip to knee and knee to ankle) vs. a man’s upper and lower legs – which are usually more equal in length. This means that already the natural position and inclination of the female’s leg when she is sitting in the saddle is to hang forward beyond the perpendicular, often putting her in a chair seat. (The reason for this position also has to do with several other facts that I won’t go into detail in here, but include a) it hurts to sit on the pubic symphysis, b) the hip joints are articulated differently than a man’s and thus automatically turn out the leg and c) there is not enough support from behind to keep her sitting straight in the saddle).
The solution to assist in the position of the legs is to have extended (or sometimes even extra-extended) stirrup bars, which will pull the leg back underneath the rider and allow her to more easily stay in the ‘shoulder-hip-heel’ plumb line.
With consideration given to especially the twist, riding a wide-backed horse should not cause issues that result in hip pain for the rider.
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