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If you are getting into the riding game, then chances are you have been to an equestrian shop and looked around in awe of how many things can be used for one horse. Apart from the multitude of items you can purchase for your horse, two items are most important, the bridle and the saddle.
The word English saddle is a general term used for the types of saddles used for all the English riding disciplines and are designed to give the horse freedom of movement while still allowing the rider the best balance seating position for the style of discipline they are riding in.
There are several types of English saddles, each fitting a different discipline, so finding the right style for you and the level you want to take part in will determine the type of saddle you will need.
When you’re standing in front of rows and rows of saddles, it can be overwhelming, to say the least, but let me break it down so you have a better understanding of what saddle you may be looking for.
The Most Popular English Saddle Types
The term English saddle is a general expression used for the English type of riding. But under this broad term, each discipline is broken down into categories, and each discipline has a specialized saddle that gives you the optimum features to maximize your seat for comfort and balance.
1. Dressage Saddle
Dressage saddles are deep-seated saddles with high cantles that allow you to sit much deeper in your seat. The points of the tree on these saddles are vertical to the tree to allow the horse movement of the shoulder. The straight points prevent any restriction to the horse’s shoulder movement.
Dressage saddles also have long billets for the girth to attach close to the horse’s elbow, allowing a closer contact to the horse’s sides through the saddle flaps. These saddles sometimes come with different knee and thigh block options to help secure the rider’s leg according to the rider’s preference.
You can click here to check out all the dressage saddles available on Amazon, surprisingly, they offer some high quality models, such as Henri de Rivel Parisian Monoflap Dressage Saddle and the Wintec HART Isabell Dressage Saddle.
2. Jumping Saddle/Close Contact Saddle
Jumping saddles have a flatter seat and squared-off cantle, allowing the rider to be closer to the horse’s movements. The flatter seat allows the rider to move out of the seat more freely and allows the horse the space to move over fences.
These saddles are generally made with foam panels for closer contact to the horse’s back but have occasionally come out with flocked panels to accommodate horses with a much more difficult back.
As jumping positions require shorted stirrups, the saddle flaps are shorted to allow the leg better access to the horse’s sides, and the flaps will be designed with a more forward appearance to accommodate the knee to grip; these are often equipped with a small knee block.
3. Event/Cross Country Saddle
Eventing or cross country saddles are similar to close contact saddles, with a shallow seat to allow the rider to get up out of the saddle to allow the horse freedom of movement over the obstacles. These saddles, however, have a slightly deeper seat to give the rider a better seat over more difficult fences.
The squared-off cantle is still present in this saddle to prevent the cantle from hitting you in the bum over big fences. They come with a slightly more substantial knee roll to better secure the rider’s leg.
4. General-Purpose Saddle/All Purposes Saddle
As its name intends, a general-purpose saddle is used for all purposes. Not as upright and deep-seated as the dressage saddle or as flat as the jumping saddle, the general-purpose saddle will be suitable for doing some flatwork, jumping, trail riding, and even eventing, all to a certain degree.
There is a limit to how far this saddle will take you. The more advance you become in the specific discipline, the more specialized your saddle will have to become.
A standard flap with a medium-sized knee roll will allow you to vary the stirrup length according to your preference and the current activity.
5. Endurance Saddle
Endurance saddles are specialized for long trails to keep the horse and rider comfortable and balanced for long periods of riding. Endurance riding can see the horse and rider take on trails 50 to 100 miles long before they can rest.
These saddles have extra padding for the horse’s back with longer flock panels to distribute the weight over a larger weight-bearing surface of the horse’s back. Depending on the weight category you fall in, some riders need to attach weight bags to the saddle to weigh in; for this purpose, the endurance saddles have extra D-rings attached to the saddles to secure the bags for long distances.
For the rider, the seat tends to be a bit deeper than the general-purpose saddle for a more comfortable ride, and on some, the addition of a pommel handle can be seen. The flaps are between that of a dressage saddle and general purpose saddles with medium-sized knee and thigh blocks to secure the leg in position.
6. Racing Saddle
Racing saddles are small and lightweight pads that resemble the shape of a saddle. These saddles come in the training saddle, and in the much smaller race saddle, the seats are flat as the rider does not sit in the saddle when riding.
When racing, the jockey will have very short stirrups. They almost look like their knees are going to touch their ears. But this is so they can stand up in the saddle and get off the horse’s back as the horse gallops; this frees up the horse’s back of any restrictions and allows the horse to gallop freely.
Due to short stirrups, the saddle will need short flaps to allow the rider to feel the horse’s sides. You can almost say these saddles are purely there as a structure to support the stirrups.
Specialized English Saddles
Specialized English saddles are used mainly for a specific discipline. For example, the hunting saddle is a very flat saddle that allows the rider to move freely out of the saddles over big obstacles when on fox hunts.
Another is the saddler seat saddle. These saddles have cut back pommels to allow the horse’s withers to be unimpaired. The seat is often very flat as the rider’s seat is behind the horse’s center of balance. This lightens the front of the horse to encourage a natural gate of the horse.
The polo saddle is specifically made with a long flap to allow a longer stirrup for the rider but with a flatter seat to position the rider more forward than in dressage.
Choosing The Right Styles Of English Saddle
When choosing an English saddle, you need to consider a few things, the level at which you will be riding, the best fit for you and the horse, and what you can afford. As much as we all dream of riding in the best saddle, price does tend to bring us back to reality.
Form Or Function Of The Saddle
When looking at a new saddle, make sure that the saddle will be able to accommodate what you intend to do with it. If you are a beginner and want to try out dressage and do some jumping, then finding a general purpose to suit you and the horse is ideal.
Riders that are more targeted in a specific discipline will need to find a more specialized saddle in that field; for instance, you definitely don’t want to buy a dressage saddle if you will be doing some jumping.
Fit Of The Saddle
The fit of the saddle is important for both you and your horse. Just like finding a good pair of shoes is difficult, so is saddle hunting. Not every saddle will fit our bodies, so ensuring you find the right seat size is as important as finding the right length of flaps. The same can be said for your horse; not every horse is made to fit any type of saddle.
Making sure the saddle fits correctly and is well balanced on the horse can make a massive difference in the horse’s performance; for example, you may struggle using a hunting saddle on a Saddler seat horse.
Luckily there is a wide variety of saddles in each discipline, which allows us to find a saddle that can also accommodate our budget. Saddles are now manufactured in synthetic and leather, each with its own pros and cons, but when faced with a budget, the cons don’t always look so bad.
There are so many different saddles that it’s enough to make someone run for the hills screaming in confusion. In the English saddle style, there are specific saddles designed to suit the optimal position of the rider in the specific discipline. So understanding that you can’t use a dressage saddle as a jumping saddle is very important, but it’s not like some of us haven’t tried it out before.
Below is an informative YouTube video to help you further understand the differences in English saddles.
What are the different types of Western saddles?
There are many types of western saddles, the more popular ones are roping, barrel, ranch, cutting and trail saddles.
What is a good English saddle brand?
English saddles are available in a variety of brands, each with its own unique features. Some of the most popular brands include Bliss, Stübben, and Wintec.