Friday, March 27, 2009

Twist and Shout

When discussing saddle fit for the rider, one issue that almost invariably comes up is twist width – I’d even go so far as to say it’s one of the top three concerns, along with seat size and balance. Some people like a wide twist, some a narrow, and some like something in between; for some people it depends on the make and model of saddle, or whether it’s a jump saddle or a dressage saddle. But everyone has a preference, and it’s an important aspect of correctly fitting the rider.

I’ve heard lots of different theories regarding who needs which twist. Some people say men need wide twists and women need narrow twists. I am female, and can’t ride in a dressage saddle with a wide twist – I either feel as though my hip joints are being torqued out, or I fall back into a chair seat.

Another theory states that if you’ve had children (obviously, this one only applies to us females), you’ll want a wide twist. Well, I’ve had two kids, and still like a narrow twist; conversely, my co-worker Sara has never had kids, and she likes a narrow twist – while Edie, who’s never had kids, prefers a wider twist. Finally, there's Nancy, who's had one kid and prefers a wider twist. So I'm not thinking that particular theory holds water very well.

I’ve heard that it depends on the spacing of your seat bones, and found myself wading through an unholy number of exhaustively detailed e-mails from one of my Yahoo groups, explaining methods of measuring the distance between your seat bones and how that measurement should correspond to your twist preference.

I’ve heard of measuring pelvic tilt, crotch clearance, pubic arch, thigh size, butt size … and I’m still as clueless about who's going to prefer which twist as I ever was.

In my experience, there are so many things that come into play when you’re talking about twist width that it’s only a small part of the picture. The set of the flap, the style of the saddle, the rise of the pommel, the placement of the stirrup bars and the overall balance of the saddle make a difference in how the twist feels. Example: I can ride quite comfortably in a close contact or jump-focus all-purpose saddle with a wide twist, because I’m shortening my stirrup. Think of sitting on a whiskey barrel: sure, you can do it if you bring your thighs forward, but if you try to make your leg hang straight down to get the correct ear-shoulder-hip-heel line, you’ll probably pop off like a clothes pin on a piece of pipe (or dislocate your hips).

Twist width is a determined by the distance between and the angle of the saddle tree rails. Since the rails should be parallel to the horse’s back, a saddle made for a wider horse will have a flatter rail than a saddle made for a “roof-backed” horse.

Here's the tree of a Black Country Eden, with the angle of the rails marked in red. This saddle works well for the scoopy, more "roof" shaped back:

Here's the same tree in a completed saddle:

By contrast, here's the tree of a Black Country Eloquence, which works for a wider, flatter (front-to-rear) back:

And here's the tree in a completed saddle:

As you can see, the twist on the Eloquence is wider than the twist on the Eden.

And just for comparison, here's the Duett Largo, which is designed for a very wide, very flat back (wish I had one of their trees to show you). The twist on this saddle is quite wide:

So - are there any saddles with narrow twists that work on the real barrel-bodies? Not really, at least in my experience. The problem with trying to get a narrow twist saddle on a real table-back is that you either have to have a much thicker panel to protect the horse from a too-steep rail angle, or you need to build a twist with foam on the seat, and both options will leave you perched up above your horse's back rather than in good close contact.


Nikki - Black Country Saddles said...

Dont forget to always try the mono-flap option. For example without doubt if you sit a rider in an Eloquence on a Freedom tree in a wide and then in a Vinici Dressage built on exactly the same tree there is a considerable difference in the feel of the twist. The absence of the extra flap on the mono-flap results in the rider sitting closer to the horse and therefore less pressure on the pivotal hip position thus allowing the rider to take a more natural straighter leg position.

SciOly said...

I'm trying a LR Berkeley right now on a Friesian who is telling me he has plenty of shoulder room (it's a wide) but he lifts his head with every trot stride - not true with my Hennig (a wide also). The LR has a narrow twist, but feels tight on him under the stirrup bars. Reading this blog was certainly an "aha" moment for me. He tells me he can't lift his back and I'll bet this is exactly why!