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Comfort for male riders

From: Richard

First let me congratulate you on your wonderful site. As a new horse owner it's wonderful to have such a resource to enjoy. Not only are your answers illuminating and fun, but lots of people ask questions that I didn't know I had. Sometimes not knowing what questions to ask can be as unnerving as not having the answers.

My question is about underwear. I have been taking English lessons twice a week for two years now and frequently find myself banging my male equipment on the saddle. Much of the time I'm sure my poor riding is responsible and my female instructor is good about being open and trying to alleviate the causes. However it does seem to me that male riders do have special problems due to their anatomy. I have asked a number of men at the barn and tack shops about this issue with little success. First there aren't nearly as many of us as there seem to be women riders. Second, obviously some people aren't eager to discuss this subject. And third, while I have seen products and articles about equestrienne underthings, I've not seen any mention of this for men.

Do you have any recommendations for the proper underthings?

I can't ride in two-point forever. Help!

Thanks again


Hi Richard! Thanks for the kind words, it's always good to know that people are enjoying HORSE-SENSE and the web site.

You're right, you can't spend your entire riding life in two-point. Fortunately, that won't be necessary. Once you know what to wear and why you should never sit in a too-small saddle, you should do very well indeed. I'll be happy to discuss both issues here - I can't understand why anyone would NOT discuss them. No wonder we have fewer male riders, if nobody is willing to explain to them what they should wear and how they should adjust themselves to avoid pain!

As saddle fit is an issue that comes up frequently on HORSE-SENSE, you'll find quite a lot of material on that subject in the archives. I'll say more about saddles later, but for your purposes, the short version of rider/saddle fit is that in an English saddle of any variety, you should have enough room to allow you to put one flat hand between your crotch and the pommel, and another hand between your backside and the cantle. If you have to squeeze up against one end of the saddle to get a flat hand (approximately 4") between your body and the other end, then the saddle is too small for you and you will NEVER be able to sit correctly and comfortably, no matter how talented you are or how hard you try.

A too-small saddle that crushes you against the pommel will send your body scooting (in self-defense) back towards - and onto - the cantle. This will make your horse very uncomfortable, and it will put you into a "chair seat" that will make it impossible for you to balance your body over your feet. This isn't an exclusively male issue, either - it's just as true for women. Maintaining the vertical alignment of your ears, shoulders, hips, and heels is only possible if you are using a saddle that allows you to sit in balance.

The male riders I know, and every male student I have ever taught, agree that good underwear is the key to riding in comfort. You need good support when you're riding, especially during the first year or two of lessons, when you are learning correct body alignment and how to maintain a balanced, flexible position on horseback. For some riders, snug briefs and dressing "up" rather than right or left will be enough, but you'll almost certainly benefit from some padding, and you may need to experiment with different types of undergarments. Take the time to do this, because if you're uncomfortable in the saddle, you won't be able to focus on your riding skills or your horse.

Many instructors will automatically tell a male student "wear snug briefs", and this will work for some, but snug briefs are not the answer for all male riders, and if the briefs are too snug, they can interefere with rider comfort and position. For both men and women, underwear that is too tight and too restrictive will cause more riding problems in the long run than it will solve in the short run. Riders need to be able to protect delicate areas whilst leaving the abdomen and your buttocks free to relax. A tense abdomen makes for a tense lower back, locked hips, and shallow breathing, all of which make good riding impossible. Riders need a relaxed lower back, hips that can move easily and freely, and they need to breathe like singers, from the abdomen. They also need to be able to relax their buttocks, which is something that no rider can do whilst wearing ANYTHING constricting and confining. Too-tight underwear and breeches get in the way of good riding.

A jockstrap may work better for you than tight briefs, just because it will allow you to relax your abdomen. Some riders find that a dance belt (the undergarment worn by male dancers to stay safe and comfortable without spoiling the line) is more comfortable than a jockstrap, but you'll need to experiment with different dance belts, too. Some have very wide waists that might interfere with abdominal relaxation - and some dance belts have full bottoms whilst others have thongs. Since dancewear sizes are not the same as streetwear sizes, you'll need to buy according to actual measurements - don't guess at your size, or you may find the results uncomfortable.

Other options you can explore include bike shorts (the snug kind with the padded crotch), equestrian tights (yes, they make them for men as well as women), and (really, I'm not joking) pantyhose. A lot of working cowboys will tell you that pantyhose are a real boon to riders - on a long trail ride, they can make the difference between comfort and misery.

I think that your best bet would probably be to buy some purpose-designed underwear or tights, such as the "original cowboy underwear" designed and produced by The Saddle Bums Company. The owner of that company, Stan Dill, originally designed these to protect his own assets, and soon discovered that the world was full of men who were desperate for some way to avoid the crushing, uncomfortable dampness, chafing, and eventual saddle sores that seemed to "go with" riding. Now the company makes all sorts of padded riding tights, including English styled ones, for both men and women. The padding is strategically positioned (you may not even need a jockstrap!) and made from materials that wick moisture away from the body. This company really does stand behind its products. You'll find the company's toll-free telephone number sewn into the waistband, and you're encouraged to call and talk to Dill himself. He's a very personable fellow. ;-)

Here's the company information:
Web site: http://www.saddlebums.com/
e-mail: info@saddlebums.com
Telephone 1-800-260-7072 (USA and Canada) and 530-547-3199 for international calls

If you buy your own saddle or if your riding school offers you a choice of saddles, you can select one with a cushy, padded seat. You can also - and this would be my preference as it's more versatile, that is to say removeable! - add padding to the saddle seat in the form of an ON-the-saddle pad made from gel, foam, gelfoam, sheepskin, or synthetic fleece (very useful for those of us who are allergic to wool).

In addition to underwear, saddle fit, and on-the-saddle pads, you need to keep your posture and position in mind. Part of the problem that some riders experience when they first sit in a saddle is that they try to SIT in the saddle. Saddles are not sofas, and you shouldn't try to sit on a saddle as if it were a sofa or a chair. When you're on a horse, you don't place all of your weight squarely on your seat, as you would in a chair. Your position in the saddle should be a straddling one, not a sitting one - you can approximate it on the ground by separating your feet to shoulder-width or a little wider, and bending your knees. This is your riding position - it's not "sitting" at all. In the saddle, this position allows you to put some of your weight in your heels and lower legs (and a tiny bit in the stirrups), some on your seatbones, a little on your buttocks... but most of your weight should be carried by your thighs.

People who don't ride find it difficult to understand how just "sitting on a horse" could possibly make you tired or sore. Until you've learned how to sit correctly, in balance, with your weight distributed properly, you can become very tired very quickly. Keep this in mind, because distributing your weight properly (that is, NOT putting all of it onto your seatbones) is tiring until your balance and your muscles have adjusted. Short rides are better than long ones when you're first learning, because you can sit correctly, then get off before you become so tired that you begin to sit incorrectly from sheer fatigue. Fatigue and bad position go together, and they're both counterproductive. Don't push yourself, reasoning that "practice makes perfect". It doesn't. Perfect practice makes perfect - PRACTICE only makes PERMANENT. That's why it's more useful for you to sit correctly for a twenty-minute ride, then go and do something else, than it is for you to sit correctly for twenty minutes of a sixty-minute ride... and then sit incorrectly for another forty minutes before you dismount.

Proper position and a balanced seat allow you to keep most of your weight in your thighs, and a combination of proper position and good muscle tone will allow you to achieve good body control. This is essential, because body control is what lets you - for example - post lightly and easily, performing a series of deep knee bends with your body touching the saddle very lightly and gently (which won't squash ANY part of you), instead of slamming up and down in a way that's an invitation to pure pain.

So, long story short, the bottom line here (yes, I know, bad pun, sorry!) is that as a male rider, you need three things to make riding possible and comfortable: 1. Some form of support to keep your "male equipment" safe, 2. A good understanding of position and balance in the saddle, so that you won't be concentrating all of your weight in areas that will then become very sore, and 3. A saddle that is large enough to let you practice a correct balanced seat.

I'm so sorry that you've had difficulty finding information about this. I hope this helps you. If it doesn't, or if you need more information or clarification, please feel free to write again. If it does help you, I hope you'll share it with other riders. You might even want to provide your instructor with a copy, in case it could help her when she's teaching you and other male riders. I don't know her, of course, but let me suggest to you that her reason for not providing information may well not be embarrassment, but simple ignorance. And embarrassment goes both ways, you know - there are people who don't answer questions because they're embarrassed, and there are also people who don't ASK questions because they're embarrassed. So it's quite possible that your instructor just hasn't taught many male students - but it's equally possible that she HAS taught male students who have never mentioned a problem or asked any questions. (Did you ask her...?)

By the way, "protecting the package" is, understandably, the single issue that most male riders find compelling, but just in case you're interested, it's only ONE aspect of the difference between male and female riders. There are many others. The length and position of seatbones, the length and position of the tailbone, the dimensions of the pelvis, and the way the femurs (thigh bones) fall from the hip bones - ALL of these create very significant differences between male and female riders, and affect everything from rider position in the saddle to the design of the saddles themselves.

In the first paragraph of your question to HORSE-SENSE, you said "lots of people ask questions that I didn't know I had. Sometimes not knowing what questions to ask can be as unnerving as not having the answers."

I have a feeling that by asking the question you asked, you've just done a favour for a lot of other readers. This is likely to be one of those questions that a good many other HORSE-SENSE readers didn't know they had... or were embarrassed to ask. ;-)

Jessica

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