It has long been the habit of athletes to follow in the footsteps of the elite in their particular sport, and to use equipment that the winners use – regardless of whether a particular brand name or article is actually appropriate for them or their specific needs. So it is in our sport as well - for instance, when Klimke became world champion (and aren't we dating ourselves here!?), the Hoepfner saddle gained in popularity. Thus also were developed the Passier Theodorescu, the Stuebben Schultheiss, the Kieffer Udo Lange, etc. etc. - all models utilized and endorsed by talented, top-notch MALE dressage riders.
This has always been a bit of a paradox, since the majority of (dressage) riders have been women - and, until the last couple of years, they have not really been in the limelight. With the event of Nicole Uphoff being first in the world a few years ago, Passier brought out the "Nicole" saddle (or "Grand Gilbert" as it is known in Europe) - capitalizing on the success of the female rider(s) and their growing numbers in the sport as a whole. And there most definitely IS a difference between male and female - aside from the obvious superficial physical one, that is!
The recognition of this fact was actually documented in one of the first articles on this topic, appearing in Equus magazine in 1989, written by Dr. Deb Bennett, Ph.D., entitled "Who's built best to ride?" In it she states "The greatest horse cultures that the world has ever known, including the Comanches, Sioux and Crow... traditionally built different types of saddles for men and women. The different saddle designs reflected...the consistent differences in bony anatomy which exist between men and women."
One need only examine a diagram of the pelvis to substantiate this statement. The lower back, pelvis and thighs in a woman are not constructed like those in a man. Women will tend to have different physical difficulties in learning to ride, and it follows that riding techniques which work for men don't always work for women, indeed, many may even physically harm them. The hip sockets, lower back and seat bones of each sex function differently in the saddle, but to go into the actual technicalities of these anatomical differences with an explanation of form vs. function would entail a detailed course in anatomy, so we won't bore you with these descriptions - just refer you to our similarly-entitled article which contains the illustrations referred to here. We also elaborate on these differences as a part of our personal evaluations that go along with determining correct saddle fit, in an effort to explain and assist each equestrian in finding the correct saddle for him- or herself.
In any case, a man's anatomical construction makes sitting trot and sitting canter easier for him than for his female counterpart. Add to this the utilization and availability of a traditionally "male" saddle and it seems women are hindered doubly - by their own physical attributes and by the "aids" available.
Specifically, "male" saddles are built wider in the crotch area and narrower in the seat, whereas women themselves are built exactly oppositely to these specifications. The top female riders have been able to compensate for these hindrances with their talents, but the ideal would be to have a saddle built as they are - narrow in the crotch area and wider in the seat. The actual "seat" of the rider, (i.e., position) is also influenced by the upper part of the thigh. It is easier for a man to rest the inner surface of his thigh flat against the saddle since the hip sockets face more to the front than in women. Women's thighbones tend to slant in from hips to knees - the further back a woman can learn to carry her knees under her when riding without hollowing her lower back, the better she will ride. This again is facilitated with the correct build of saddle and the proper length of stirrup bars to assist in finding the center of gravity of the hanging leg.
The typical "chair" seat seen in many women (even top riders) is a direct result of NOT being able to compensate for what anatomy dictates is the position of comfort. There is now a line of female saddles available on the market. An alternative is available in custom-made saddles, or in semi-custom orders, which accommodate specific anatomic requirements. It is commonplace in Europe that the rider has long insisted on a saddle to perfectly fit his or her conformation - if nothing is available "off the rack" the option is a full or semi-custom made. Little attention if paid to what is fashionable - important is simply and singly that it FIT! Slowly this concept seems to be gaining ground here in North America as well.