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Staying comfortable on trail rides

What do you guys do to stay comfortable on long trail rides? What makes a big difference to you?

I went on a two hour trail ride for the first time in forever yesterday and am still really feeling it today! I used my jump saddle and forgot to lengthen my stirrups from jumping length, which I’m sure did not help matters any. I’ve always felt sore in my knees, ankles, and seatbones after 1-1.5 hours on the trail in both my jump and barrel saddles (I haven’t ridden in anything else), though I do tend to do better in the English saddles. I’ve ordered a couple of different seat savers to try, but would like to see what everyone does to maximize their comfort as well. Do things like different stirrups, saddles specifically designed for trail riding (I’ve never had nor ridden in one), etc. make a notable difference? I am usually very comfortable in my saddles for ring work, but have trouble on long rides, especially in which there’s a lot of sitting and not posting/half seat or moving as much.


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The one thing that helped me most was getting a custom trail saddle. Before that, every saddle I ever sat in made my knees hurt after about 1 1/2 hours. My custom saddle is a Steele, and I can ride that all day. If you want to try one they will send a demo that you can ride for a couple of weeks. They have both English and Western models. Here’s a link: https://steelesaddle.com/

ETA–I’ve also found that I’m more comfortable with long stirrups, not just for my knees but also it’s easier to get back on my horse if I have to dismount.


Stirrups as long as possible. Jump length stirrups will make your knees hurt if you just walk for hours.

Try to incorporate some posting trot. Or even get off and habdwalk for 15 minutes on a nice level piece of ground. This will break up the stiffness.

I do my longer trail rides in my fairly open seated 2001 Passier Optimum. Not an old pancake but open. 18 inch seat. I can go up or down any steep hill I’m willing to face my horse at. Just upgraded to a mohair girth for horsey comfort.

I still get tired after a 4 hour ride. On the other hand, I trail ride daily and can put 1 and a half hours in the saddle at home easily.

Tension also makes you more sore.

I thought I’d upgrade to a western saddle for trail riding then realized I didn’t need one. But some of the endurance saddles look lovely.


I ride almost daily from 1 to 6 hours depending on what I need to accomplish horseback. What works for me is consistency. I wear same boots, breeches, gloves, helmet every time I ride. Each horse has his own saddle, but all stirrups are set to my preferred length. Even riding rough terrain or a competition, I don’t seem to ever get “stiff and sore.”


If you get really fit and figure out your tack and have no underlying pathology yes, you can ride all day. As a teen in a western saddle I used to head out for 5 hour days of mixed trails, schooling, mountains, bombing around. I was fit enough this was a base level of exercise and I had no basic physical issues. My knees and back have potential issues these days but I find that even when I get stiff on a longer ride, it doesn’t damage me for the next day

Jump saddles are great for riding trails if you will be going at speed. They are best for posting a good working trot and for doing a hand gallop in a light seat. But an hour and a half at a walk is not what they are meant for.


Dressage saddle with Sprenger flex stirrups. The stirrups made a huge difference to me. No more knee pain or numb, tingling toes.


I think the answer also depends on your body.
My body gets achy if I sit or lay or stand in the same position for too long. It is no less grumpy if I am riding. So though some people can ride all day and never feel uncomfortable, others, even with the most perfect equipment, still are going to get sore.

I agree with the posts that say you need to add more than walking. A bit of posting trot always helps me. Just standing up in my stirrup and maybe doing some 2-point for a bit helps too.


I ride in a western saddle but I’ve also ridden in Endurance/trail ones. Endurance saddles in my opinion are a bit too technical and not really comfy if you ride at walk for many hours. Trail one was really a sofa, it was based on military saddles (Prestige Trekker M but I don’t know if they also sell them overseas). I had to sell it because didn’t fit the horse but it’s dearily missed!
Anyway I find really helpful to dismount every couple of hours and walk for 15-20 minutes. Then try to be fit, sometimes people think Trail riding is phisically lighter than arena work, it isn’t. I mean, an half an hour promenade around the barn is no big deal but from three hours on it begins to be quite demanding (my personal record is 8 hours in one day on the mountains during a trail ride of three days). So train your core, your back and legs, other way you’ll begin to feel auchy after a couple of hours


I’ve used A/P or dressage saddles (1-saddle owner, so no other choice)for 4+h rides & been fine.
While a horn or raised pommel would be nice for steeper verticals - up or down - I’ve managed.
I’ve also ridden in friends’ Aussie & treeless & prefer my saddles.

Western fenders & stirrup placement torque my knees. Even before arthritis stepped in, I’d find myself dropping the stirrups for relief.

Now as a bone-on-bone arthritic, I’m fine riding, it’s the dismount that cripples me.
That goes away in direct relation to how long the ride was.
1h lesson: back to my normal lame in a couple minutes
Long trailride: give me 1/2h :expressionless:


I am a big fan of the jointed stirrups; I have the original Herm Sprengers and the MDC Ultimates. They make a big difference in how my knees feel after a long ride. I have friends who swear by the extra wide stability stirrup leathers, but I don’t feel any difference with them.

Just walking is tough for me too, though I feel it more in my hips and seat than in my knees. I do try to break it up with some trot sets and two-point.

Also agree that you need to drop your irons a hole or two lower than your jumping length if you’re going on a slow hack.

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I have found a fleece “Tush-Cush” really helps with overall comfort on a long ride. Also a kidney belt sometimes.
People have mentioned longer stirrups; I like mine set to where my butt just comes out of the saddle when I post, but experiment with this.
Try a set of “Endurance” stirrups for better foot support. Maybe try a stirrup turner, or whatever to eliminate twisting stress on your knees.
Stop every hour or so, get off, and walk around a bit, maybe pick a nice grassy spot and let your buddy graze for a few minutes while you shake the kinks out.
None of these (except maybe the fleece seat) are game changers, but little things add up.
Hope this helps.

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For me it’s a nicely cushioned seat. A now-retired gelding I used to catch the occasional ride on had a lovely padded endurance saddle that felt like a couch. One of the barn horses was bought from a private owner and he came with his own tack- a custom western trail saddle with extra padding. Dobbin can be a squirrelly turd but people like his saddle lol.


Of the things that seriously impact my comfort on long rides, three are the most important: a saddle whose stirrup bars are set far enough back for my leg to stay under me, ergo/cushy stirrups (I love the endurance stirrups with the super deep padded foot beds), and posting trot. Sitting on a walking horse for a long stretch kills my back, my tailbone, AND my knees, somehow. I can trot happily for hours (especially in my preferred stirrup setup) but will nope out of the beer-drinking walk pace set by some trail riders.


We’ve spent a lot of time researching trail saddles and trail comfort and can share some tips.

Some factors are individual to the rider, and ensuring that your saddle fits you well is critical to making sure you’re comfortable all day. This fit tends to vary depending on the rider, some riders prefer a deep seat with a high cantle while others prefer a more open fit and a low cantle. While most trail riders will prefer a padded seat, there are riders who ride all day, every day, who prefer to ride in hardseat saddles. Your saddle’s twist can also impact this, as well as how much time you’ve spent acclimating to that saddle and how often you ride in that saddle.

Universally, we’ve found that having your fenders pre-turned helps with ankle and knee pain, so we pre-turn all of our fenders while making our saddles. You can do this at home with a broomstick, by lightly wetting your fenders (don’t soak the leather) and using the broomstick to set the turn you’d like.

Additionally, we use ErgoBalance Stirrups (EBS) on a lot of our trail saddles, which have a cone at the top to help keep your foot level in the stirrup, which can also help with any ankle or knee pain you may experience while riding.

While riding, it can be helpful to stretch before and after your ride, and alter your position while riding (walking, trotting, cantering, sitting, standing, etc).

Overall, the more often you do long trail rides the more comfortable it should become for you and your horse, especially with a properly fitted saddle, pre-turned fenders, and a tool like EBS to keep your feet level.


On an English saddle I find stirrups with a wider footbed helps. I also appreciate cushioning on the seat. Other that that it probably depends on the specifics of the saddle and you need to sit in a bunch,

I don’t find my dressage saddle very comfortable on longer rides. Years ago I never had any issues with my jump saddle. I have been thinking of getting an all purpose or something to try on trails.


For trail rides or hunter paces that are 2 or 3 hours, I am fine in my jumping saddle. If we do a lot of walking, I drop my stirrups at times, or I get in 2-point at times. My AP saddle is softer and more comfortable, but it’s also heavier and doesn’t put me in a great position for jumping.

When riding all day on treks, I like a seat saver! Preferably thick fleece. Hiking boots and suede 1/2 chaps. Padded stirrups. I’ve been on 14-days treks in a cheap but comfy AP/jumping saddle with seat saver, in a McClellan saddle, in a fancy schmancy expensive trail saddle - all fine. But on treks, there is a LOT of walking next to the horse, as well, so there’s that.
My sister’s chestnut gelding was my horse on this trek


Too much walking makes my seat bones hurt too. Check your underwear as well - I had some that had the binding around the leg holes run right across my seat bones when Ii was sitting in the saddle. I’ve heard of people using padded bike shorts (bicycling) under their breeches or jeans, but haven’t tried it myself.

I don’t usually get sore knees or ankles - I haven’t had trouble riding English since I got my Sprenger 4 way flex irons. It took a while for my western saddle to break in and hold the turn in the fenders, and I did feel it in knees and ankles.

I has ridden other people’s horses with seat savers, and I had one on my Australian stock saddle. The key iss figuring out how to set it up so that it doesn’t move. A shifted seat saver can make things even more uncomfortable.

After a 25 mile Endurance ride I had tender spots on the inside of my knees where they made contact with the stirrup leathers. The stability leathers (mine are TSF) smooth out the bump on the edge of the leathers.

I just use my dressage saddle for Endurance. I have done long (2–4 hours) with my jump saddle and I’m definitely stiffer afterwards. There is a sweet spot for my legs on that saddle and putting my stirrups much longer is uncomfortable.


A random list.
Seat saver, preferably a sheepskin one as I find that cooler than synthetic ones.
Undies that don’t rub on my seat bones. I’ve seen really bad saddle sores from underwear - fortunately not mine!
Altering stirrup length during the ride. I find going up or down a hole or two makes a difference when riding for extended periods. Easy to do on an English saddle.
Varying the gait during the ride, w/t/c because staying in one is very repetitive and causes muscle fatigue.
Getting off and walking for 10 or so minutes fairly regularly is a break for both horse and rider. The British cavalry did this hourly on route marches to save their horses backs.
Comfortable boots with a good grip. I’ve found that tight boots seem to get ever tighter on a trail ride. A smooth sole can be dangerous if it is necessary to dismount to clamber over rocky ground. I like the Ariat Terrain H2O lace-up and half chaps. They have the additional advantage of being easy to fit into luggage if travelling for a riding vacation.
Sunburn, too hot, too cold, wet are all unpleasant when on an expedition. I tend not to try out new clothing on long trails rides but prefer ‘old friends’. I find I’m most comfortable wearing a cotton shirt as the air can circulate, unlike a t-shirt, and sleeves can be rolled up or down as needed. The sleeves can be protective in scrub and woodland. A cotton kerchief rolled around the neck can offer protection from sunburn right at the top of the neck where I forget to put on suncream. Wearing gloves can prevent sunburnt hands, which are surprisingly painful. A raincoat that can be tied to the saddle to be accessible. Is this beginning to sound a bit “traditional cowboy”? I’m sure there are all sorts of Hi-Tech clothing but I personally find natural fabrics more comfortable.
The French cavalry don’t remove a saddle until the horse’s back has cooled down to prevent soreness. I’m happy to do this.


Oh my. As an endurance rider and blogger, I’ve addressed this in many posts.
My all-time mst popular post is Let’s talk underwear: https://jessicaeblack.org/ideal-underwear-for-horseback-riding/
It’s got links to other relevant posts, such as Avoiding Chafing and Bras…
As for saddles, I am still looking for the perfect saddle!

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I just test drove a Steele saddle. I have a bony butt and I get sore on long rides. I was disappointed. The seat was hard (although they said they can make with extra padding), but also where my butt meets my leg, the saddle was too wide or something which caused pressure and pain.

I’m thinking of trying one of the Flex 2 Circle Y trail saddles. No demos, but you can return in new condition within 30 days.

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