Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Measuring the Rider for a Side Saddle

In our search for a saddle to correctly fit the unique individual curves of our horse's backs, we must not forget to find just the right fit for the rider. As a taller person (5' 9") with long legs and a curvy figure I am on the lookout for a larger than average saddle.  I am told, and have experienced this myself, that each make of saddle will ride just a bit differently as far as size.   My first saddle was well broken in and there was a distinct "sweet spot" in the seat which drew my seat bones in.  My M&M saddle measured 22.5" and I felt that I was right at the back of the cantle.  The 23" long Mayhew felt as if I had ample room, much more dramatic than a mere half inch.

The trick is to measure the length of your thigh from the back of your buttocks to the bend of your knee.  The following link to the ISSO website shows the tried and true standard method of estimating what seat length will work for you.

Finding a surface to sit on that will place you firmly upright against a wall but keep your thigh horizontal while not interfering with the way your leg will naturally hang is tricky, as is measuring the length of your thigh yourself.  Deb Smith of the Side Saddle Connection has reverse engineered this idea and come up with what I think is an easier method.  I was able to duplicate this on my own coffee table and found it to be so much easier to actually do myself. 

Photo courtesy of Deb Smith The Side Saddle Connection

 *  sit on a flat surface with lower leg over the front edge (eg: a low table, tack box, saddle stand with a flat  top, as you would sit in a saddle)

push a right angle object, such as a weighted box back until the back of your knee is against the flat surface. The box is weighted so it doesn't move or twist when the rider stands up.  (my note**: The box should be quite tall, but I think if you got it too tall leaning back could skew your results.  Belt height would seem to be most accurate.)

Photo courtesy of Deb Smith The Side Saddle Connection

* Measure the length shown by the blue line, this will give the riders leg length
Jeanne Cracknell, also of the Side Saddle Connection, states that she believes that in order to not hang off the back edge of the seat, you should still add 1" to your overall number.
When I measured myself using the wall method, I came up with 22.5".  This was confirmed by sitting in both 22.5" and 23" measured saddle seats.  Using Deb Smith's method I got 21" to 21.5".  Adding an inch makes my likely measurement 22.5" which is consistent with the wall method resuls, but, the box method is so much easier to set up and do yourself.

Jeanne Cracknell and Debbie Smith joined forces in The Side Saddle Connection in order to provide riders with the best possible advice in regards to Side Saddle fitting and riding. They offer clinics, saddle sales, fittings and demonstrations.  My thanks to them for their providing this info and the photos used.


  1. Hi, I am a new side saddle rider and at 5'9" myself I thought for sure I would need a larger saddle. The surprise? I measure only for a 20" saddle, when I got a 20" saddle I still have an inch behind me. Really taught me something new, don't assume your saddle size.

    1. It all has to do with the length of your thigh bone. I need "long" pants, but "tall" sizes do not fit because the rise is too long. My thigh is long, my upper body is shorter. Never assume ANY size!