When A Saddle Is Too Small For The Rider

A saddle that fits a horse properly but is too small for the rider will cause both the rider and the horse to become uncomfortable. When a saddle is too small for the rider it causes the rider to compensate and can quickly lead to pinching and soreness in the horse.

Here are the four major things that happen when riding in a saddle that’s too small: 

  1. Extra Friction. The rider is uncomfortable because of the constant friction between the ramp of the saddle and the pubis bone. This can lead to bruising, chafing and general discomfort in the rider. Since it’s virtually impossible to ride correctly in this setup, the horse will have a harder time carrying the rider.
  2. Poor Position. Due to the extra friction, the rider has difficulty sitting in the working center of a saddle that’s too small. This makes the rider sit further back towards the cantle (also known as the dreaded chair seat position). This off-balance position makes riding more difficult for the rider, and the horse must work harder to carry the rider like this.
  3. Disproportionate Surface Area. The weight and size of the rider must be proportionate to the surface area of the saddle. When the saddle is too small for the rider, it creates extra powerful pressure points on the horse that would be more evenly distributed if the rider used a saddle that fit them and was able to spread their weight out appropriately. In the too small saddle, most of the rider’s weight will be concentrated at the rear half of the saddle, causing the cantle to drop under the added weight while the pommel becomes higher. This leads to the rider being thrown off balance even more.
  4. Gradual Shifting. With every beat of the trot, the saddle is pushed forward because the rider’s weight is not evenly distributed.  As the saddle moves forward, it eventually meets the horse’s shoulders which can lead to pinching and soreness.

As an example, imagine the saddle moves just 1/100th of an inch forward with each beat. After 100 beats the saddle will be one inch closer to the horse’s shoulders. After 200 beats, it will be two inches closer. Now, if the saddle was appropriately placed two inches behind the shoulders to begin with, after 200 beats, the saddle is banging into the shoulder muscles with every stride. 

The number of strides it takes for a horse to go around the arena will vary depending on the horse. But typically after about three times around the arena in an undersized saddle, the saddle will have shifted two inches up and will be wearing on the horse’s shoulders. 

In order for both the horse and rider to have a comfortable riding experience, the saddle must be the right size for both of them! In other words, even if a saddle fits a horse properly, it will cause problems if it’s too small for the rider. 

>> Read our Saddle Fit Size Guide so you can have a perfect fitting saddle

If you really care about your horse, you will invest  in a saddle that fits you and can be custom fitted to your horse.

One way to know if your saddle is too small is to look at the sweat marks on the saddle pad. A sweaty saddle pad tells a lot about saddle fit since the sweat marks happen dynamically while the horse is moving. 

The too-small saddle will create lots of bridging and heavy contact at the cantle and shoulders, as evidenced by extra dark sweat marks on the saddle pad. In a saddle that fits correctly, there is much lighter pressure at the cantle and shoulders, and less bridging. 

4 More Signs Your Saddle Is Too Small

  1. You struggle to keep your balance. You have difficulty aligning yourself correctly and you don’t feel secure while sitting on your horse. You may feel off balance from side to side or from front to back.
  2. You’re sore after riding. You may have pain in your knees, hips, pelvis, back, or neck. This is caused by the extra tension your body takes on to compensate for your tiny saddle.
  3. Your legs hang off the front or your seat spills off the back of the saddle. An appropriately sized saddle will have you sitting securely in a natural position where you have some space both in front of your knees and behind your seat.
  4. You’re tilted forward or backward in the saddle. This can also be caused by the saddle being poorly fitted to your horse, but if you feel like you’re riding uphill or downhill all the time, check to make sure your saddle is the correct size for you.

These four points in combination with the saddle pad sweat mark patterns mentioned above can help you decide if your saddle is too small. If you’re experiencing one or more of these signs, it’s time to get your saddle fit checked by a professional.  

Why You Must Avoid Riding In A Too Small Saddle

Many people believe that it’s ok to use a saddle that’s too small for them, as long as it’s temporary. It’s usually because they plan on losing weight. They used to be a certain size and want to get back to that.

The best thing you can do for you and your horse is to select a saddle in your CURRENT correct size and have it custom fitted to your horse. In the future when you lose significant weight and your saddle becomes noticeably and uncomfortably too large, then that’s when it’s time to shop for a new saddle. If you plan on riding before you lose weight, you must get a saddle that fits you now!

Choosing to go with a saddle that’s too small in spite of your needs is the equivalent of buying non-stretch jeans two sizes too small and trying to wear them to the gym! The difference is, your choice to use a saddle that’s too small is not only affecting you, but also your horse. If you need motivation to achieve your weight goals, don’t pull your horse into the process. Instead pick something that doesn’t jeopardize the comfort and safety of your horse, like that pair of jeans or maybe your favorite jacket. 

Bottom Line

An appropriately sized saddle will make you feel balanced and secure. You will be able to sit comfortably and confidently, which will help you to ride better. You won’t have to constantly fight to maintain your position on the horse. If you find yourself doing this, you probably have a saddle that does not fit you correctly. Riding is supposed to be an enjoyable experience, and choosing the right fit saddle will make riding a pleasant experience for both you and your horse.

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