The most common question we get among customers in our shop is about what seat size they should ride. In our experience most people are confused about this issue and many times they are riding too big a seat.
The most common size ridden is a 15 1/2″. This, in my opinion, is do to the used saddle market being flooded with trophy saddles and making them readily available with minimal investment. When clubs and organizations purchase saddles to give away as awards at their events, 15 1/2″ seats are a normal size to go with because they will work for most people. This does not mean that most people should ride this size, it simply means it will work.
Different disciplines of riding dictate the seat size needed. Cutters, for example, will ride a bigger seat by as much as an 1″. This is to insure that the rider is not pushing against the cantle nor crammed against the swells at anytime during competition. They want to hover in the middle of the seat to keep their body weight from hindering the horses movement.
Ropers on the other hand will generally ride a lot tighter seat. This can sometimes be as much as an inch tighter than normal. Something we always say is “the higher numbered the roper the smaller the seat size.”. This is because as the skill level increases, so does the need for a tighter seat to better keep the rider in position. If the seat is too big, the rider can spend as many as three or four strides out of the box trying to get to the front of their saddle to rope. Being in position early in the run allows for faster times and more confidence in the run. Something I always find interesting is looking at the saddles at the USTRC Finals. I walk down the alley during the open and notice the 14″-14 1/2″ saddles of good quality and great fit on the horses. By Sunday during the #9 and #8 the seat sizes get so much bigger and the quality drops dramatically.
This is just a sign of the level of knowledge during those ropings. We try and educate people so that they know the difference and can perform at the best level possible. Many people are surprised at how much better they rope and their horse performs when they ride the proper seat length. If you want to compete at your best, look at what the open guys are doing. I always say Lance Armstrong didn’t win the Tour de France that many times by just trying to pedal faster. At that level, he researches everything from tire pressure to the material that his bike clothes are made out of to reduce wind resistance.
The general idea is that when deciding on a seat size you are trying to fit your posterior. This is not true. When I first size someone for a saddle, I am interested in height, not width. What we are looking for is proper space for the femur bone to fit between the swell and cantle depending on the discipline. Measuring a person’s femur is a good indication of seat size. The neat thing about the body is that your femur is the same length as from your elbow to the end of your fist. An old trick is to put your elbow in the back of the seat and if your fist slides down behind the swell beneath the horn, then that would fit you. Again we can increase or decrease seat length based on discipline.
When it comes to kid saddles, I suggest that the parents purchase a saddle that the child is safe in and can perform out of, but may be a little big so they don’t grow out of it so fast. This is sometimes difficult, but helps to minimize the use of seat pads or velcro which can be cumbersome and dangerous. The good thing is that even if they do out grow the saddle, kid saddles hold their value and are easy to sell.
My main suggestion is sit in as many saddles as you can and ride what is comfortable to you. In the end, you’re the one riding it and if your not comfortable then you won’t ride well or much at all. But when competing, always ask the question, “Is my gear hindering me from performing at my best?”. You can’t control the cattle, the clock, the judge, or sometimes even your horse… You bought your gear and you’re the only one to blame.