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The saddle is an essential piece of equipment required for riding. It provides comfort and security to the rider, allowing them to maintain a balanced position on their horse.
Horse saddles come in different types with a variety of shapes, sizes and designs for different equestrian disciplines.
The earliest saddles were no more than a simple saddle pad held in place with a surcingle. The basic saddle tree came about in Asia around 200BC. This invention helped distribute the weight more evenly over the horse’s back, making it more comfortable for both horse and rider.
During the 3rd century AD, the Samaritans developed the leather saddle and thought to have introduced stirrups as well. Saddles have improved over the years, and today, there are many types available for different styles of riding.
When buying a saddle, it should fit both horse and rider correctly. An ill-fitting saddle can cause the horse pain leading to poor performance and behavioral issues. If it doesn’t fit the rider correctly, they cannot sit in balance.
Here we look at some of the different types of saddles and their uses.
7 Types of English Saddles
English saddles provide closer contact to the horse’s back than Western saddles and are considerably lighter. There are many different designs for different activities made from either leather or synthetic materials.
The general-purpose saddle, or eventing saddle, is suitable for most purposes and is extremely popular, especially in riding barns for lessons.
It is for both flatwork and jumping. This versatile saddle has a deep seat with a slightly rounded saddle flap with no knee pad.
The rider can change from a dressage position to a jumping position by merely changing the length of their stirrup leathers. However, they are only suitable for novice and intermediate level riders and those competing at the lower levels in equestrian sport.
The dressage saddle is exclusively for flatwork and most suitable for advanced riders competing in dressage competitions. They feature a deep seat and long straight saddle flaps helping the rider to sit deeply in the saddle and apply the correct aids when performing test movements.
The straight flaps also allow the horse more freedom of the shoulder to produce extravagant gaits. Ideally, the stirrup bars are far back enough, so the rider’s leg is correctly placed under their seat.
The cantle on dressage saddles is higher than the pommel to allow for the vast amount of sitting trot required by the rider. Combined with a white dressage saddle pad, these saddles are meant to be practical and elegant.
The design of the jumping saddle gives the rider more balance and security when jumping. It has a flatter seat than the dressage saddle, with big, forward cut saddle flaps to allow the rider a bent knee and shorter stirrup.
Many jumping saddles feature padded knee rolls making it easier for the rider to maintain a half seat position and a secure lower leg.
Both the cantle and pommel are low so as not to impede the jumping position in any way.
The side saddle was invented as a two-pommel design so a woman could ride with both legs on one side of the horse.
The right leg is placed around the top pommel with the left leg on the lower one in a normal position using one stirrup. The rider sits straight and square in the saddle, not sideways as many would believe.
The side-saddle offers excellent security which allows for galloping and jumping. Today there are many show classes for side saddle riders.
The racing saddle is small and light, designed specifically for jockeys riding Thoroughbred horses in races.
The seat is much flatter as the rider hovers over the horse, rather than sitting, riding with extremely short stirrups. Each race determines how much weight a horse can carry, so jockeys have several saddles varying in size and weight.
Those used for flat racing have smaller flaps than those used in jump racing. The larger flaps help keep the jockey’s leg secure over fences.
The endurance saddle distributes the weight over a large surface area of the horse. Some resemble the western saddle with the horn removed, whereas others look much like a general-purpose saddle but with more padding.
There are many different types available, but they are all made to keep the horse comfortable while travelling over long distances over varied terrain. They are used for endurance racing as well as trail riding and are usually fitted with D rings to attach various items.
The polo saddle is designed especially for the game of polo. It has a flat seat with long, reasonably straight saddle flaps. This design enables the rider a longer leg position but is more forward than that of a dressage saddle. Under the rider’s leg, there is minimal padding, giving them maximum freedom of motion throughout a game.
4 Types of Western Saddles
Western saddles are a cowboy’s most essential piece of equipment, designed for spending long days riding the range, working and driving cattle. They are far heavier than English saddles but more comfortable to ride in with a flatter seat.
The weight covers a broader area of the horse’s back which is less tiring for the horse. There are various designs of the western saddle, adapted for the different disciplines of western riding.
The roping saddle is heavy and stable, featuring a strong saddle tree and a thick, sturdy horn. A well-designed saddle offers the rider maximum freedom of movement to chase, rope and dally a cow.
The seat is often suede or rough out, for excellent grip. It has a low cantle for a comfortable dismount, and the stirrups and fenders hang more forward so the rider can brace on the stirrups if necessary.
Barrel Racing Saddle
The barrel racing saddle is the smallest and lightest of the western saddles. They feature a high cantle and deep seat to keep the rider secure along with a tall, thin horn to grab when turning.
The fenders swing more freely than on other saddles so the rider can position their legs and stay balanced and centered.
Barrel racing saddles have a front cinch and short skirt to keep the saddle out of the horse’s way as he bends around the barrels. These saddles should also be worn with high-quality barrel racing saddle pads.
The ranch saddle is heavy and sturdy with a thick wrapped horn and features a high cantle and deep seat.
It is designed for all-day use working cattle, providing comfort and security to both horse and rider. They are the heaviest and most durable of the western saddles as it must handle several duties like cutting and roping.
The position of the stirrups and fenders allow the rider’s legs to hang straight down.
Also, read our guide on the most comfortable cowboy boots to compliment your western saddle.
Trail and Pleasure Saddle
The trail and pleasure saddle is like the ranch saddle in design, only lighter, making it easier on the horse.
It is designed for spending many hours in the saddle and is incredibly comfortable with the seat heavily padded. It features a cantle of medium height, dished to give a better cushion and eliminate saddle sores!
The horn is thin and long and not intended for roping but for holding on. The stirrups are wide and lined to provide the rider with better grip.
The trail/pleasure saddle has more add-ons than other western saddles so the rider can carry additional gear.
As well as being practical, saddle pads make a great gift for horse owners. Also, if you’re unsure about what to buy your horse obsessed friend, see our guide to best gifts for horse owners here.
Also, read our guide to best English and western saddle brands.