Stirrup Bars and The Dreaded “Chair Seat”  

Rider and horse

Finding yourself in chair seat is actually part of the natural progression of your riding skills. It’s hard for new riders to understand what good saddle fit feels like. They’re not sure what it feels like to be properly balanced on a horse. This is because people spend a great deal of their waking lives sitting in their cars, office chairs, and couches.

So, new riders often buy a saddle because it feels comfortable to them. Sitting in a chair seat position seems like a normal and familiar way to sit. As they advance in their riding skills, they realize the importance of balance, including when they have it and when they don’t. After a few years, that old comfy saddle often doesn’t work for them anymore.

A common problem for these riders is this dreaded “chair seat” position. This position isn’t caused by poor riding, but rather poor saddle fit to the rider. Oftentimes, the distance between the working center and the stirrup bar is too great for the size of the rider’s feet.

How Stirrup Bars Affect Rider Position

For many years there was only one standard stirrup bar, which gained approval according to British Safety Standards. It has a small hinged section you can flip upwards. (Side Note: most riders neglectfully leave it in the “up” position for years. It eventually corrodes and will not release during an emergency.)

A number of years ago – in response to requests from dressage riders – extended bars were developed. These bring the rider’s leg backwards about an inch into a more balanced ear-shoulder-hip-heel alignment. Extended bars are now standard equipment on many dressage saddles. They work for many riders, especially those using a 17 ½” or smaller seat.

A lot of riders need a larger seat, but their feet are the same size as slender riders using a 17” saddle. Normally as seat size increases, the distance from the stirrup bars also increases. This is because the bars are still attached in the same place on the saddle tree. The front of the saddle doesn’t change with increased seat size. So as seat size increases, the rider is placed farther away from the stirrup bars.

In response, the historic Smith-Worthington Saddlery Co (1794-2021) researched, designed and contracted with a foundry to produce a “super-extended” stirrup bar. This bar became standard in their modern dressage saddles sizes 18 ½” and larger. They also retro-fitted many saddles with this and other styles of bars when possible.

How To Get Out of Chair Seat

If a rider needs to bring their leg back an inch and the saddle has standard bars, then ordinary extended bars will do the trick. Note that it’s also possible to extend too far.

Some riders might need super-extended bars on one saddle and not on another, because the working center was placed differently. When the webbing is stretched over the framework of the tree, seat shape and the location of the sweet spot is determined. Some saddle designs have a centered sweet spot, while others have a more rearward placed sweet spot. Your butt will ALWAYS land in the lowest part. If that part happens to be closer to the cantle, you may need super-extended stirrup bars to keep you out of the chair position.

Adjustable stirrup bars are a third option, especially if riders of different body types are using the same saddle, or if a rider is using an AP saddle for multiple disciplines. The downsides are that those tiny little screws that hold the bar in position are really hard to find if you drop them in the arena. Another downside is that adjustable stirrup bars are considerably more bulky than non-adjustable bars.

Overall, sometimes a change in stirrup bars can be a good fix for the dreaded chair seat. If that doesn’t work, then it’s time for some serious saddle shopping. It’s true that the more you know, the harder it gets. But when you find the right saddle, you’ll be amazed at how much your riding improves.

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