May 2, 2019

Stirrup Bar Placement, Who Knew?

My best friend Mary was a CWD saddle fitter for a few years after college - got flown to France to spend a month learning about saddle craft and fit and taking a practical test on it at the end, the whole nine yards. And she was GOOD at it too, just an amazing eye for both horse and rider movement.

All pictures are from that ride, but before she made any changes.  PC all photos in this post: my mom <3

On the way home from Land Rover, she came out to the barn with me to play with Connor.  I told her I had been fighting with my Dressage saddle for a few months, and had recently been riding without stirrups a lot because it felt better to me that way, but I couldn't articulate why.


After I warmed up she put me on a 20m circle and had me do a few laps each direction with and without my stirrups at the trot and canter.  She asked me if my trainers are constantly telling me to pull my foot back, and I said yes, all of them do (even Kate!)

"Okay, stop.  We're going to shim you."

Side note, how bout that square halt.  Also Mary is so good at wrapping polos, she makes me want to not even try it myself.

She put a fleece half pad with rear shims on him and had me get back on and do the 20m circles again.  I could not keep myself from exclaiming "HOLY COW.  It feels like the seat is an inch bigger and my stirrups are a hole longer!  What did you do?!"

I mean I knew what she did, but I wanted to know why. 


"Your saddle fits both of you great, honestly.  But the stirrup bar placement is an issue for you.  Because your thighs are so short, the stirrup bar is going to be set too far forward for you on most saddles, which is going to pull your foot forward.  I put the rear shims in to lift the back a bit which puts your leg in the right place, which is where it hangs when you ride without stirrups too."

Now, this is the same fit issue the saddle fitter identified in July, and we widened the tree to improve the situation, but clearly we didn't go far enough.


Yesterday I had my weekly lesson, and the change was incredible.  I felt like I was balanced over his back and like the saddle wasn't in my way.  I got the same feeling riding with stirrups as riding without.  My trainer said it was some of the best rhythm and relaxation she had seen out of us.

I bought a shimmable half pad of my own, a Prolite tri-pad, and I'm looking forward to playing with it tonight.

Underside shown


It's a great feeling to head into a biomechanics clinic this weekend knowing my saddle isn't in my way anymore!

18 comments:

  1. I really wanted a saddle with an adjustable stirrup bar for this reason. One saddle fitter helped me by wrapping baling twine around the front of the stirrup bar so that the the leather sat further back.

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    1. Adjustable stirrup bars sound amazing! Before she shimmed me I asked her about doing something like that. She wasn't opposed to it, but felt confident in the shimming. It's good to have options though, now that I'm thinking about saddle fit in this way.

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  2. Amazing to have someone like Mary be your eyes on the ground and fix a big issue!

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    1. Totally! As much as I miss her, it probably helps that she doesn't see him very often, means she sees these big changes a lot more easily.

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  3. It always surprises me a bit that when talking about saddle fit, it's all about the horse and NOTHING about the rider. Like it makes sense, but there are two beings that have to use the saddle and I'm surprised there aren't more customization options specifically for the rider for just this reason!

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    1. Yeah, all of the saddle fitters I've worked with have been good about working with both, but it's interesting that the rider is often expected to put up with less than perfect fit.

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  4. I love the prolite pads. They are awesome!

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    1. So glad to hear that! I've never seen one in real life before so the endorsements are good to hear.

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  5. I'm so jealous you have such a great resource available, good saddle fit people are so hard to find! Prolite pads are awesome too, Mr. P used one until he retired and now one of my friends has used it on her horse on a long term loan since I won't sell it, lol.

    I also have the stirrup bar problem but in the opposite direction since I have such long femurs. I had a CWD rep out last week who had me add a little lift in front to fix my balance. Crazy how then I could stop gripping with my knees quite so badly - now just to break the part that is habit!

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    1. I'm so glad to hear the good feedback on Prolite pads! The only bad thing about them for me is that they only come in one size, huge, but oh well. It's black so it'll blend in at least? That back riser thing must be something the CWD reps get taught!

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  6. It wouldn't really occur to me to pad for rider adjustment, but that makes a lot of sense! Glad it was a pretty easy fix!

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    1. Same! I've only ever thought of half pads in terms of horse saddle fit, not rider fit. It's cool that it can work like this.

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  7. So it wasn't the same as shims, but I was having serious tipping issues and while I have a propensity to tip I knew my saddle needed to be adjusted before I beat myself up too much. Sure enough she came out, stuffed about 8 lbs of wool in the front of my saddle and now I sit like an arrow.

    Sally went on an interesting rant in one of her clinics about monoflap saddles. The stirrup bar tends to be farther back which creates a deeper (and more secure feeling) seat. The trade off of that is since your leg is more underneath you it's REALLY hard to keep your heel down. Once I got a double flap saddle it was so much easier to keep my base more stable because I could get my heels down!

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    1. Yeah, I struggle a lot with this. You don't want to blame the gear all the time, but at the same time, it does make a big difference sometimes and can be really holding you back.

      That's interesting about the monoflaps. Mary has told me in the past that with my conformation and his, I should look at monoflap Dressage saddles when I go to buy my "Forever" saddle. Maybe that's why, because I do need it farther back just because of my thigh length. Fascinating.

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  8. I have that pad and love it! I used it for the exact same purpose with my old dressage saddle. Interesting re: the stirrup bars, I think I may have the same issue - here I was thinking it was something in the balance of the seat, but I almost always end the ride with my feet kicked out of the stirrups and it's instantly a relief and perfectly comfy that way.

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  9. From what I understand, a lot of stirrup bars in saddles are made more for men with longer thighs (as was tradition). I had the exact same problem with my Albion - i constantly fought the stirrups and fought a chair seat. When I finally figured out the problem on my own, instead of shimming or anything, I just sold the saddle & bought one custom made to me & my horse. The difference it made was insane. So glad you got this figured out!

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  10. It's amazing what a little shim can do!

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  11. Whoa, this just set off a huge lightbulb - I struggle with the opposite of a chair seat - my lower leg is ALWAYS too far behind me. I feel perfectly balanced, but my leg is out there 2-3" behind my girth. Suddenly, I'm wondering if the stirrup bar on my saddle is actually too far back and pushing my leg back behind me... I wonder if front shims would do the opposite here?

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