Are Saddles Bad for Horses? Are They Important?


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It finally happened. It had been a dream for six long years, and now, she has her very own horse. But there is a lot for her to learn, so she decided to research saddles. Her first question was, are they bad for horses?

Saddles aren’t bad for horses but actually benefit horses by dispersing the riders’ weight. Saddles are necessary because without a saddle, the rider doesn’t have a firm seat, and even a sixteen-year-old could feel three times heavier than her weight without a saddle.

Horse owners often follow tradition when it comes to saddles. But there is truly a lot to learn about, such as should she get one? If so, which one? What type of saddle? Should it have a tree or not? What is best for the horse?

These questions should be on the mind of anyone who is setting out to own and ride a horse. One of the first things she was taught is that the care of the animal comes first. Thankfully, the internet had information… if she could trust it.

Saddles aren’t bad for horses.

Saddles, typically, aren’t bad for horses, but your saddle needs to fit your horse correctly and be appropriately constructed. Let’s start with the bones of a saddle, called the “tree.”

Picture of a woman adjusting the stirrups on her saddle,

Saddle trees are the skeleton over which the saddle is constructed, and its shape is essential to how it fits a horse and the form of the seat. The tree is typically made of wood and strengthened with fiberglass.

Once the tree is built, cloth and leather are placed over the tree. This material is attached to the frame with small nails. The seat is formed with stretched canvas covered with more leather.

Wool is added to the seat through a small opening to provide cushioning and protection. Saddle making is an art form and involves many more steps than I’ve covered here. If you want to read a good article on saddle making click here.

It’s critical to your horses’ health and comfort that you ride in a properly fitting saddle. Narrow saddles will sit high on your horses back and cause undue pressure in certain areas.

Saddles that are too large won’t properly distribute a riders’ weight and be uncomfortable for the animal. An adequately fit saddle will distribute weight evenly.

Saddles with trees vs. treeless saddles

Some saddles are built without trees. Which is better for a horse, one with a tree or a treeless saddle? The idea behind the treeless saddle is to avoid pressure points.

Picture of a saddle,

The problem with them is that they are more or less glorified saddle pads. In fact, at least one dressage horse in Europe developed severe neurological difficulties from using a treeless saddle.

Flex tree saddles are a good option.

What about a flex tree saddle? Flex tree saddles are a good option. A proper saddle fits both the horse and the rider, and a flex tree saddle can do that better than a standard model.

Picture of a flex tree saddle,

It’s also lighter, so easier to put on the horse. However, the rider’s weight and the amount of time planned for riding will be a deciding factor.

A heavy rider can force the cantle of the saddle down onto the horse’s spine. This will cause problems with the muscles, causing pressure sores and, eventually, neurological damage to the horse. Riding long hours can also cause problems with the latter two.

So, now there are three choices. English, Western, and Australian stock saddles are each different. They fit different riding styles and different people.

Picture of an English riding saddle,

They also fit different horses. Because she was new to riding, the English saddle was out. However, she didn’t like the heaviness of the Western saddle.

The Australian stock saddle is good for beginners and horses.

She tried both, just to be sure. Neither she nor the horse liked it much. At that point, she began to research the Australian stock saddle in earnest. She knew the saddle must fit both her and the horse.

Picture of an Australian stock saddle,

The Australian stock saddle seemed the likely choice for this horse, one seven generations out of Native Dancer. Her research gave her a lot of information about the saddle.

She found that the Australians took the best aspect of the English and Western saddles. Such as using irons rather than stirrups. It’s also sort of forward seating, like the English saddle, this helps the horse a great deal.

Like a Western saddle, it has a horn. Both have one for a good reason; they were both created for moving stock from one area to another. This frequently requires a rope, which is hung on the horn. (No, it is not where newbies hold on, so they don’t fall off…)

It also has something the Aussies call “poleys.” They are there in part to help hold the rider in the saddle. That’s not so much because of fear of falling; it helps when one is busy with both hands trying to rope a recalcitrant stock animal. Keep in mind; this is designed as a working saddle.

The next thing was to look at the padding. Here she realized she’d have to buy a higher-end saddle to protect the horse—the padding under the saddle needed to mold to the horse properly to protect its back correctly.

The saddle would warm up the area and do so, but only if the padding was made of the right material and thickness.

She realized that she would have to learn how to use the saddle properly. A Western saddle has the rider sitting upright or even back in the seat a little. The Australian saddle requires a forward seat, but the way the irons are used is different.

The feet in the irons should still be forward of the body, and they should carry twenty-five percent of the weight. In fact, riding this way is much more like what jockeys do when they ride. They sit forward, with their weight over the withers rather than back over the rear legs.

This is safer in the Australian outback. Farms there are huge, the terrain is rugged and varied, and their cowboys (and cowgirls) have what is likely the most dangerous job the country has to offer. When one is riding at breakneck speed up and down steep hills or mountains, safety is a big concern.

A sixteen-year-old is likely to have trouble raising seven or eight hundred dollars for a saddle (or anything else). So, she shared her research with her parents. Her mother did her research on the matter, as she’d been taught Western riding. It was a good fit for both daughter and horse.

It was almost Christmas, so the parents went to a well-known saddlery in a neighboring city. On Christmas morning, a very wide-eyed teenager looked over her saddle as it rested on a sawhorse in the living room.

She used this saddle regularly, and became quite good at riding. Horse and saddle now belong to someone else now, as she is twenty years older and has two small children. How do I know? She is my daughter.

Summary

Saddles aren’t bad for horses and are essential to use when riding horses. An adequately fit saddle distributes a riders’ weight, making carry a passenger more comfortable than without one.

Custom Saddle Making

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Miles Henry

I love animals! Especially horses, I've been around them most of my life but I am always learning more and enjoy sharing with others. I have bought, sold, and broke racehorse yearlings. I have raised some winning horses and had some that didn't make it as racehorses, so we trained them in other disciplines. Miles Henry

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