There has been a lot of talk lately about the female saddles and what that means so, this month I want to share some of my experience and hopefully shed some light on the subject.
Some manufacturers specifically label a saddle model as a female saddle. The truth is the saddle needs to fit the rider's seat and the horse's back. Just because the model description says "for the female rider" it doesn't mean it will work for all female riders. Sorry, it is just not that easy. It is simply a guide and to be more honest and accurate, they should say "most prefer" this model.
First lets look at the difference between the female and male pelvis. The female pelvis has wider more forward seat bones. On it's own the female pelvis is off balance and will fall backwards putting the rider into a chair seat position. The chair seat is when a rider is rocked back in the saddle with their feet out in front of them. If the horse was removed the rider would fall on the ground instead of on their feet. The male pelvis is more centered and in addition to the narrower seat bones, there is a longer tail bone. This tripod provides a much more stable seat and makes it a lot easier for a male rider to be balanced on the horse even without a saddle.
If the female rider wants to ride in a balanced position, she needs a saddle that allows her seat bones to comfortably sit flat on the saddle and her legs hang down not forward. If a female feels any pressure on her soft tissue parts, she will rock back away from the pressure into a chair seat. Because she has a shorter tail bone, if she doesn't have support behind her either from the saddle or her own padding, she will rock back in a chair seat position.
The male rider can sit on the horse even without a saddle and be balanced because his back is straighter, his pelvis is center balanced and his leg falls straight down from the pelvis.
A female rider with strong thighs is usually more comfortable with a narrow twist (the area where your thighs rest on the seat jockey or flap of your saddle). If the twist is too wide her knees will go out and her back, hips and/or knees will hurt because of the excessive pressure on her hip joints. The male rider is usually more comfortable in the rounder more supportive twist because he doesn't have the thighs to distribute his weight.
Another important difference in the male and female rider is the stirrup position. A female femur is almost always longer than the lower leg. The male rider is usually the same. If the femur is a lot longer compared to the lower leg, the stirrups need to be hung further back or the female rider will be in a chair seat. A female rider with a long femur needs to have her stirrup leathers or fenders hung further back under her seat to be in a balanced riding position.
On the cover of the The Rider's Pain-Free Back, you can see the spine of the female and male rider. These riders are balanced but if they were in a chair seat (legs forward and sitting back) the spine would be rounded pinching the discs. The discs are the protection between the bones therefore keeping our backs straight and the muscles healthy is the best protection we can give the rider's aging back. Fortunately, the body has a built in preservation system that causes the muscles to tighten to protect joints and bones. If we are experiencing back pain while riding or after riding it is a warning that something is wrong and we should stop riding in that saddle before the real damage is done.
It is just as important for the rider to have the proper length of stirrup for the riding discipline. The dressage and trail rider have a long stirrup because they sit and the jumper has a shorter stirrup to allow the forward seat, but both have their feet under their body. The difference is only in the angles. The only way a rider can be balanced on the horse or off the horse is to have their feet under the body.
As we walk around on the ground, the hip, knee and ankle joints are our shock absorbers. The shock that is not absorbed in our joints goes into our lower back, that is the reason for the curve. It is the same on the horse. When we are on the horse, the stirrup acts as the ground, it supports the weight of the riders leg. If a rider has long stirrups and a rounded back all that shock is going into the rider and horse's back instead of being absorbed in the joints.
Since you can't feel the seat and stirrup placement without actually riding in the saddle, I always recommend riding in a saddle several times before purchasing. If the seller won't give you a trial period to ride your horse in the saddle then move on or be prepared to resell it. There is absolutely no way to know if a saddle will work for you without actually putting it on your horse and riding in it.
It is very important for the health of the horse and rider that the saddle allows the rider to be in a balanced riding position. Even a properly fitting saddle can hurt a horse's back if the rider is not sitting in a balanced position. For some female riders, the female seat will definitely be a comfortable fit. For some female riders, the female saddle will be uncomfortable. The truth is the saddle needs to fit the rider and the horse, both are equally important.
Terry Peiper, Fit Right Saddle Solutions
"Spreading the word about proper saddle fit and how it affects our horse's behavior, performance and ultimately the health of horse and rider."