Hello! I find Horse-Sense so useful and I enjoy recieving your responses to questions every week - I look forward to it. My question is about correct knee position. I have mostly ridden Western, but in the past year I sold my saddle and bought an English saddle - a Wintec Endurance . It is great, fits my horse well, is comfortable and easy to clean. I am interested in competitive trail riding, endurance and possibly jumping in the future, so I figured it was as all-round a saddle as I could get for the moment. And much lighter than my Western saddle! When I sit in the saddle I have noticed that my knees are not completely touching the saddle. I would have to squeeze the saddle with my upper thigh in order for them to touch, which I don`t think is the right thing to do either. Are my knees supposed to be like this? There are removable/adjustable knee blocks under the saddle flap so should I maybe move these higher?
I am pretty busy with school and can`t really afford lessons at the moment, so I to do a lot of self-teaching in terms of correct riding position and teaching my horse new things (reading books, reading Horse-Sense, watching instructional videos occasionally and some trial & error). I am hoping to take one or two lessons this summer so that I have someone to watch me ride and make improvements. Thank you,
P.S. Sorry, I had a last question...do you think the Wintec Endurance would be an adequate saddle for getting into the hunter/jumper field or would I have to have specifically a "jumping" saddle. And If not for competition, at least for the beginning stages of learning...?
Ideally, your legs would be in soft contact with the saddle all the way from the inner thigh, through the inner knee and inner calf. Riders with very round thighs (and/or riders who wear very tight breeches, which create very round thighs) may find it next to impossible to put their knees against the saddle. If putting your knees against the saddle makes your hips stiff, or forces your lower leg away from the saddle and the horse, don't do it!
The knee blocks aren't meant to get in the way of your knees when you are riding on the flat; they are there so that when you shorten your stirrups to jump, your knees will have a little support (or a lot of support, depending on the size and angle of the blocks).
If your saddle is too small, shortening your stirrups even a hole or two, to put you into position to jump larger fences, can bring your knees onto the very front of the saddle flaps; in extreme cases, it can bring your knees off the saddle, in front of the flaps!
Since you're working alone, try this as a useful position check: Are your knees pointing more or less forward? Are they over your toes? Are your toes pointing more or less forward, and are they pointing forward to the same degree as your knees? If so, you're probably fine. If you're in doubt, or if the answer is "no", try this: Every few minutes, get into your half-seat (two-point position), relax your legs, and allow your lower legs to stretch down toward the ground. You'll feel your heels drop, and you should feel more balanced and more secure in the saddle. NOW, glance down at your knees, which should be just over your toes. As long as they are still pointed more or less forward, with your toes under them, all is well.
Don't try to force your knees OR your toes into a facing-straight-forward position; this will only twist your ankles and put uneven, dangerous stress on your knees. If you find that your knees are so far away from the saddle that your inner thighs and inner calves are also off the saddle, you'll need to make an adjustment, but it will have to come from the hip, not the knees or ankles.
It's lovely if you can sit correctly and easily in the saddle with your inner thighs, inner knees, and inner calves all in contact with the saddle and the horse, but this isn't always possible. Human conformation, the type of saddle used, the sort of riding pants you are wearing (and how tight they are!) will all have an effect on the way your leg lies against the saddle and the horse. If your inner thigh and inner calf are in contact with the horse, but you can't put your inner knee against the saddle without straining, don't worry. You're actually in a much better position than you would be if you tried to grip the saddle with your knees. "Hold with the knees" is something that many riders were told, long ago, but this was bad advice and has long since been discarded. Gripping with the knees puts strain on the knees and hips, locks the hips, and can damage the rider's lower back. And whilst all this is going on, the stiff, strained and painful rider is invariably mirrored by the stiff, strained, and painful horse on the other side of the saddle!
If you find that your knees are pointing out and away from the saddle, AND that your inner calves and inner thighs are also open and facing away from the saddle, you have a problem - but it's not because of your knees, it's because your hips are tight.
There are many exercises you can do off the horse to help loosen your hips. A good beginner's yoga class - or video - can help immensely by teaching you how to do safe, gentle stretching.
In the saddle, while someone holds your horse, you can do a simple exercise for your hips and legs, one leg at a time. With your feet out of the stirrups, lift each leg away from the horse, take it back toward the horse's tail (not very far - keep it comfortable!), rotate it inward, and then let it hang naturally, and pick up your stirrups. Even when you first do this exercise and are convinced that you are doing nothing at all, or almost nothing, you'll see that when you pick up your stirrups again, your knees are a little closer to the saddle.
Individual conformation also something to take into account. If you have very round thighs, you probably won't be able to keep your inner thighs and inner calves in contact with the horse AND put your inner knees against the saddle. Don't worry about it, and don't try to force it. If you force your knees inward, your calves will lose contact with the horse - and your hips will lock.
Even riders with thinner, flatter thighs can have this problem. Again, part of the problem may be due to rider conformation; part may be due to saddle design. Part of it may also be due - really - to the fit of your riding pants. The design and fit of breeches and jeans can make a big difference in the position of the rider's legs against the saddle. Ideally, the inner thigh will lie flat and close to the saddle. But no matter how thin your thighs may be, if your too-tight breeches or jeans or riding tights are compressing your flesh and creating a sort of sausage-casing effect, you'll have tight, rounded "tubes" of leg that will always present a curved surface in all directions, and never be able to lie flat against the saddle. Rider clothing can make a big difference to comfort, security, and effectiveness. Check the fit of your riding pants! There is no way you can possibly keep your knees anywhere near the saddle, and no way you can possibly have a deep or secure seat, if you are wearing pants that are too tight around the thighs.
The Wintec Endurance is a nice saddle. It's good for what you're doing right now, and will also let you get started on some of the other things you want to do. 99% of jumping is flatwork, and you can do that in\ your Endurance saddle as long as you are able to balance well over your legs even with a slightly shorter stirrup. No more than slightly shorter, remember - there's no need for the stirrup tread to be higher than just barely above your ankle bone until you're jumping bigger fences. If the jumps you encounter are small, 3' and under, you may not even need to raise your stirrups from their "default" middle-of-the-ankle-bone height.
Learning to jump won't hurt your endurance riding at all. Most endurance riders find that they do need to a certain amount of jumping in the course of training and competing. There's always a boggy place, a fallen tree, a ditch, or something that is more easily jumped than navigated in some other way.
If you start to take jumping more seriously, find that you are gravitating toward the hunter or jumper classes at competitions, and want to participate in bigger shows, you will probably want to start looking for a jumping saddle - but that's something you won't need to worry about for some time to come.
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