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An ergonomic saddle is a saddle which has been designed to increase comfort for horse and rider. In addition to being more enjoyable to wear and use, an ergonomic saddle also promotes good health, and usually enhances the connection between horse and rider, ensuring better communication and promoting a strong working relationship. Several saddle firms manufacture ergonomic saddles, and it is also possible to order an ergonomic saddle which has been custom-fitted to horse and rider.
From the point of view of the horse, the key issue with a saddle is how it sits on the back. Historically, saddles were not really designed with the health of the horse's back in mind, and many horses developed back problems as a result. An ergonomic saddle distributes the weight of the rider more evenly, avoiding the creation of hot spots on the back. The girth is also designed to increase comfort, and the design of saddle and girth does not impede the natural movements of the horse.
For riders, long hours in a badly-designed saddle can be grueling. The saddle can create painful pressure on the pelvis and tailbone, and the saddle may also promote poor posture, creating back problems for the rider and reducing the rider's control over the horse. Ergonomic saddle designs reduce pressure by distributing the rider's weight, and promote good posture by making it easy for riders to sit properly and comfortably, even for long hours.
Ergonomic saddles are sometimes referred to as comfort saddles, referencing the fact that they make riding more pleasant. Comfort aside, an ergonomic saddle can be a very sound investment for a serious rider, benefiting rider and horse alike. Specialized saddles for dressage, jumping, and other riding events can be purchased, each with unique ergonomic features which have been tailored to the specific sport with input from riders, veterinarians, and saddle makers.
Ideally, an ergonomic saddle should be fitted before purchase, to determine whether or not it will work with the horse and rider. Fitting a saddle involves following a series of steps to make sure that the saddle sits properly on the horse without creating pressure points or hot spots, and it may require a sequence of adjustments to the saddle to make sure that it fits properly. The rider's comfort and posture must also be taken into account in fittings. Some saddleries offer fitting consultations, and many have exchange policies for riders who need to take a saddle home to fit it. In the case of custom-made saddles, the saddler will usually visit the horse in the barn for a series of measurements and fittings.
The term “saddle” can also refer to a bicycle seat. A wide range of ergonomic bicycle seats are available for cyclists who want to improve performance and ride more comfortably. In the case of cyclists, buying an ergonomic saddle is much less complicated, because it only needs to be fitted to the rider's comfort, not the mount's.