stirrup bars & the dreaded “chair seat”

A common problem for many riders is the dreaded “chair seat” position. It’s not caused by poor riding, but rather poor saddle fit to the rider.  The distance between the working center (sweet spot) and the stirrup bar is too great for the size of the rider’s feet.


Stirrup bars attach to the saddle tree with three rivets…2 in the fork and 1 in the rails.

For many years there was only a standard bar, shown above. It was approved according to British Safety Standard and has a small hinged section that can be flipped upwards. (We never recommend doing this as most riders will leave it in the “up” position for years where it eventually corrodes and will not release in case of emergency.)

A number of years ago, in response to requests from dressage riders, extended bars were developed to bring the rider’s leg backwards about an inch into a more balanced ear-shoulder-hip-heel alignment.  Extended bars are now standard equipment on many dressage saddles and this works for many riders. Especially those using a 17” or 17 ½” (or smaller) seat.

But many of us need a larger seat and our feet are the same size as those of a more slender rider using a 17” saddle.  As the seat size increases, the distance from the stirrup bars also increases, because after all, the bars are still attached in the same place on the saddle tree. The front of the saddle does not change with increased seat size.  As the seat size increases, it places the rider further away from the stirrup bars which are still in the same location as the smaller saddles.

Smith-Worthington has researched, designed and contracted with a foundry to produce a “super-extended” stirrup bar that is now standard in our newer dressage saddles sizes 18 ½” and larger.  We can also retro-fit many saddles with this and other styles of bars.  (Some saddles cannot be retrofitted.)

If you need to bring your leg back an inch and if your saddle has standard bars, then ordinary extended bars will do the trick. It’s possible to extend too far. As my grandfather used to say “A little is enough… and enough is too much.”

You might need super-extended bars on one saddle and not on another. This is because the working center was placed differently. When the webbing is stretched over the framework of the tree, seat shape and the location of the sweet spot is determined.  Some saddles are designed with a centered sweet spot, others with a more rearward placed sweet spot. Your butt will ALWAYS land in the lowest part. If that spot happens to be closer to the cantle, you might need super-extended stirrup bars.


Standard bar with extended bar

Standard bar with super extended bar










Adjustable stirrup bars are sometimes a good choice…especially if riders of different body types are using the same saddle, or if a rider is using an AP saddle for multiple disciplines. But there are trade-offs:

1. You better not lose that tiny little screw that holds the bar in your selected position. It’s  hard to find in the arena footing.

2. Bulk. Compare ¾” thickness to 5/16” of non-adjustable bars. Add the thickness of stirrup leathers and you have a substantial lump under your thigh.

Stirrup bar thickness: left=adjustable right=nonadjustable

Standard bar with adjustable bar at rearmost setting















Typically, new riders have no idea what good saddle fit feels like. They don’t know what balance feels like. They have spent a great deal of their lives sitting in office chairs, the car, or on a couch in front of the TV. They will often buy a saddle because they find it comfortable. Chair seat position seems normal and comfortable to them. But as they advance in their riding skills, they come to realize the importance of balance.  They learn when they have it, and when they don’t. After a few years, that old comfy saddle typically doesn’t work anymore.  Sometimes a change in stirrup bars can be good option. If that doesn’t work, it’s on to some really serious saddle shopping. The more you know, the harder it gets. But when you get the right saddle, it’s amazing how riding improves.


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