My Base of Support Improves

This week, as I walked and trotted around the riding rings, I had to spend a LOT of time up in two-point at Debbie's stable because both Bingo's and Mia's backs were sorer than usual. Bingo had been used in a beginner lesson the day before, he is ALWAYS stiffer after someone else rides him, and Debbie had changed Mia's arthritis supplement because Mia had started to refuse to eat all her food when the old supplement was added to her grain. As I kept my seat off their backs while I used my lower legs to get them to stride out and loosen their backs, I was so thankful that my new Butterfly Pegasus Claudia jumping saddle made it so much easier to get up into and to stay up in my two-point position for minutes at a time.

I have six saddles in my bedroom, saddles that I've enjoyed many hours using when I ride. One of my old saddles I simply LOVED riding in, my old Crosby Wide Front. But ever since I bought my Pegasus Butterfly saddle I have not even wanted to ride in my old saddles again. My question was WHY I did not want to ride in the older saddles, and I thought back to when I bought my Crosby Wide Front saddle almost 40 years ago. I had been riding in my first good saddle, the Stubben Siegfried, and in a Pariani jumping saddle (Italian, Forward Seat saddle.) I think that, in both the Stubben Siegfried and in the Pariani, I was forced into a chair seat, and when I bought my Crosby I was finally able to get out of that blasted chair seat into a more proper Forward Seat, where I felt like I was going WITH the horses' movements instead of being “pulled” by the horse, and falling behind the motion of the horse. I also found it easier to post and get up into the galloping position (2-point), I remember that the height of my post was reduced, so I eventually I could post really close to the saddle, saving me all kinds of energy and increasing my security in the saddle.

Then, after my car wreck (head on collision by a drunk driver) my back got hurting SO BAD when I rode and I was desperately looking for solutions. I tried pads, I tried riding differently, and I still hurt too much to ride. One day at my feed store I noticed this Western saddle that looked different than all the other Western saddles I had seen for sale, it was an “A-fork” Western saddle, and it was built so that the stirrups were right under the rider's seat. With this saddle I was able to ride a little bit more frequently for a short while, and while I greatly disliked how the VERY high horn and front swells limited my ability to stay forward in two-point, I REALLY liked that my seat was right over the stirrups and it was easy for me to get my butt off the saddle. But my then undiagnosed MS got worse and for several years I was lucky if I was able to ride once a year.

When I got back to riding finally I was lucky at first, my Crosby Wide Front fit the OTTB mare I was riding well enough with a triple fold Western wool saddle blanket. I was so distressingly weak back then but I was capable of posting the trot and getting up into two-point a while. Then that lady lost her stable lease and moved away and I had to wait to ride horses again. Then I went to a handicapped rider program for a few months where I was stuck in a Wintec All Purpose saddle which did not help me ride properly at all. After that I ended up at Shannon's stable, where my Stubben saddle was the best fit for the horses, and then at Debbie's stable where again my Stubben Siegfried was the best fit for the horses, and I occasionally used my dressage saddle because, once again, it was a better fit for the horses. So I was stuck in a chair seat for years as I re-started riding. Occasionally, because I have the Corrector saddle pad, I was able to use my old favorite saddle, the Crosby Wide Front, and every time I rode in that saddle I had a big smile on my face because I could ride better! But I listened to the horses, they did not really like either saddle but they thought that my Stubben Siegfried fit them better, even when I used the Corrector saddle pad with the Crosby, so I was doomed to years and years of riding in a chair seat, always behind the motion of the horse, always posting really high, and always feeling insecure in the saddle.

Then, finally, I was able to afford to buy my Pegasus Butterfly jumping saddle. I did not realize at first how much this saddle would improve my riding because I was having SO MUCH DIFFICULTY with keeping the saddle centered on the horses' backs. I learned a lot about shimming to stabilize the saddle, I went back to using string girths, and when I finally discovered the silicon full seat riding tights I finally managed to keep my new saddle centered on the horses' backs (most of the time.) I really appreciate how effectively my new saddle pointed out that my side-to-side balance is simply horrible, forcing me to listen to the horses and my teacher, and improving my riding in that way. With the saddle staying in place on the horses' backs I was finally able to RIDE in this new saddle, and discovered how much better I could post, and how much EASIER it was for me to get up into and stay in two-point.

I quickly realized that one reason for this was that, since the Pegasus Butterfly saddles do not have a “pommel arch”, my pubic bone was not running into the pommel when I tried to get my seat forward in two-point or while posting the trot. This meant that I could get my seat above my feet so that my weight really did sink down through my lowered knee into my heels. Thinking back to when I rode in my Crosby Wide Front all the time, the pommel on the Crosby was lower in relation to the sitting portion of the seat of the saddle than it was with my Stubben Siegfried or my Pariani saddles. Since the pommel was lower I was able to post and get up into two-point easily and comfortably. But when I ride in my Pegasus Butterfly saddle without the pommel arch, I can do this better, and I have no problem keeping my seat above my feet and I feel like I am moving WITH the horse again. When I sit in the saddle I can get my seat bones a lot more forward in the Pegasus saddle than I could in my Crosby Wide Front, I can still keep my seat over my feet, and I still can move with the horse instead of always feeling behind the motion. Debbie, my wonderful riding teacher, still gets after my riding faults, but she does so a lot less now than before. When I get my lower legs in the right place (below my seat) they stay there, I am posting a lot lower than I was previously, and I am irritating the horses less than I was before.

I am now finding it distressing that I cannot move the stirrup bars in my older English saddles! Many years ago the Wellep company (the same one that developed the wonderful Wellep bit,) developed an extended stirrup bar that gave the rider four or five places where they could hang the stirrup leathers. This sounds like a wonderful solution to me, unfortunately saddles are no longer made with these Wellep stirrup bars though over the years I have seen some used ones on Ebay, including a saddle seat saddle, with them. Since the key to getting out of a chair seat seems to be the relation between the stirrup bar and the deepest part of the saddle seat, these extended, multi-place stirrup bars look like a logical solution to all chair seats in saddles that come with these stirrup bars. Too bad all regular treed English saddles do not come equipped with these particular stirrup bars, giving the riders choices rather than forcing them into unsuitable riding positions. I imagine that these stirrup bars could make riding properly in a saddle that was too big a lot easier.

Getting my seat OVER my feet has solved quite a few of my riding problems. I do not have to struggle to keep a good position since it is SO EASY to stay in a good position when my seat is over my feet! This has been wonderful for me when I ride horses whose backs do not feel good until they are warmed up, since I can get my whole seat out of the saddle instead of staying in a “half-seat” with my crotch in the saddle, bearing weight. It is also wonderful riding horses with good backs, since I can keep up with the motion of the horse, I don't slam back in the saddle when the horse moves suddenly, and I can effectively stop my seat from bouncing in the saddle. The horses are so much happier with me than they were before. And my seat has improved in spite of the fact that my MS is still crippling me and leaving me without much sense of balance, leaving me all in all a less effective rider than I was years ago.

So if you are stuck in a chair seat in an English saddle, consider trying to put something on the front of the stirrup bar so the stirrup leathers hang further back. I know that there is not much room on an English stirrup bar for experimentation, but sometimes even a little bit can help. When you go to look for your next saddle, make a point of seeing if you can easily get up into two-point and stay there without swaying front-to-back. Yes, the saddle HAS TO FIT the horse, but it the rider cannot get out of that blasted chair seat the horse still won't be completely comfortable. Do not let anybody tell you that this is not important, that the saddle fits you “good enough” just because you can get that hand between your seat and the back of the cantle. I do not care if your saddle fitter is a certified expert, YOU have to ride in the saddle, and unless you can get your seat over your feet you will be stuck in a chair seat.

I find that riding with my seat over my feet, my base of support, greatly improves my riding. Maybe it could improve your riding too. All this makes my lower legs a lot more stable, they have stopped drifting forward and back under me. This means I can DEPEND on my base of support being right where I need it at all times. I feel so much more secure in the saddle now.

Have a great ride!

Jackie Cochran

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