New Saddle and Texas-Sized Thigh Blocks

My extra part time seasonal job has finally come to an end and I have my evenings back for riding. The bad news is that the days are getting shorter and I’m going to have to start going straight from work to the barn if I want to ride before dark. Also, I am looking into a few auditing opportunities to spend some time watching and hanging out with some upper level riders and an FEI instructors. I’m hoping to attend at least one of them in the next couple months, as it would be a great learning opportunity and a great way to meet more dressage people in the area.

And now, I will unveil my newest addition to the tack room!

It’s a beautiful older model of the Bates Isabell. This saddle is supposed to be very similar in build to my old Isabell Wintec, but with a deeper seat and in full leather instead of synthetic suede material. There is some minor cosmetic wear on the saddle flaps, but it is in great condition overall. It used to be my trainer’s saddle that she used almost exclusively for shows.

So far, I’ve ridden in it three times and I’m still getting used to it. The chasm-like seat and behemoth thigh blocks are a bit intense. It reminds me of those lego horse saddles they used to make, where the lego person literally sits inside the horse.


The Bates website claims that the extra deep seat “gives the feeling of sitting ‘into’ the saddle, rather than ‘on’ the saddle and positions you directly over your horse’s centre of balance.” And boy does it ever! The combo of this saddle and full-seat breeches leaves no room for mucking around in the saddle. You take the position that the saddle allows. I feel safe and secure in the saddle and I don’t think my riding has been detrimentally affected by the restrictive structure. In fact, I count it as a plus, since it helps me stay grounded in the canter and the sitting trot.

It has fairly formidable thigh blocks on its own, but comes with a variety of extra velcro blocks to add on.


Purists would say that a true dressage rider should stick with a minimalist saddle, featuring a shallow seat and slightly angled flaps–the smaller the knee roll the better. For example, the Albion Original Comfort and the Passier GG Extra Dressage Saddle.

This seems to be a hotly debated issue in the dressage world today. Lately, thigh rolls have been growing and growing, and sometimes even developing on the lower part of the flap to form a “channel” for the thigh to lie in.



In my experience, thigh blocks have been helpful for holding my position. Are thigh blocks really the devil? The main opposing argument against them is threefold:

  1. They force the thigh and leg position back and place the leg in a less clear and effective position behind the girth.
  2. They are often coupled with a saddle structure that sits behind a horse’s shoulder and puts the rider’s center of gravity behind the horse’s center of gravity.
  3. They hold the leg straight down, which can cause the rider’s pelvis to tip forward, destroying a rider’s position and

In my opinion, seat depth and flap structure are a matter of personal preference. There is no “right” saddle choice. If it feels good and improves your riding (and fits your horse, of course!), then it is the appropriate choice for you.

What’s important is that the saddle feels comfortable at this moment in time. If it starts to feel too restrictive, then by all means, I will start saddle shopping again.

Any thoughts?



  1. Horse Sage · October 24, 2016

    I think your musings on saddle structure are helpful. As you say, the best way to find out is to ride in it. Saddles are a bit like shoes: sometimes they feel fine for the first little bit, and then after a few days (weeks) you realize “Oh dear, what was I thinking? This doesn’t work at all.” In the case of saddles, maybe it works for you, but not the horse. Or maybe the horse thinks it’s o.k, but you find yourself continually shifting your position, trying to get comfortable. In the case of your Bates saddle, the restrictive position eventually may bother you, but might be fine for the next couple of years. There are plusses to being “plugged” into the horse’s back – it keeps you quieter, for example, and you feel secure. On the other hand, when you are more advanced, you may feel overly restricted in your ability to use the aids and communicate with your horse. Who knows? It is a very individual thing. I’ve ridden in many, many saddles on many horses – many of them uncomfortable for me! – and am really happy with the one I have right now. It seems to hit all the right notes. Hoping it keeps working for the horse long term (fingers crossed!).

    Liked by 1 person

  2. needforsteed · October 25, 2016

    Yes, for now the saddle seems great! Hopefully years from now, my riding will be improved to the point that I feel comfortable with something much simpler, but for now it’s the deluxe leather lazyboy recliner of saddles and I’m very happy with it. 🙂


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