Riders have long been using saddles to help them sit more comfortably and securely on their horses. Early horse saddles were fairly basic pieces of equipment made from wood and a few strips of leather. Over the years, saddles have become far more comfortable – and also more customized to the style of riding being performed.
If you ride English, you need a saddle designed for this style of riding. However, there is more than one type of English saddle. Which one will best suit your needs? That depends on the English discipline you’re competing in, the breed of horse you ride, and your own anatomy and equitation. Below, we’ll take a look at four common types of English horse saddles and what each one has to offer.
Close-contact saddles, also known as jumping saddles, are designed to be used in English disciplines that involve jumping. Most hunters and jumpers train and compete in close-contact saddles as they are designed to help the rider maintain a secure position over fences. Some key characteristics of close-contact saddles include:
- Forward flaps that allow for a shorter stirrup length and are ideal for jumping
- A shallow seat and low cantle
- A low pommel that won’t hit the rider in the crotch while posting, jumping, or galloping
Most modern close-contact saddles have knee rolls, which help the rider maintain a more secure leg position. Some also include calf blocks.
While most close-contact saddles have similar structures, they do come in many different styles, visually. The style a rider seeks out often depends on the discipline they compete in. Hunters tend to prefer more traditional close-contact saddles with brown leather and few embellishments. Jumpers, on the other hand, sometimes choose close-contact saddles with colored stitching or two-toned leather.
All-purpose horse saddles are designed to be used for flatwork and over the occasional low fence. The flaps on an all-purpose saddle are less forward than those on a close-contact saddle. These saddles also tend to have higher pommels and deeper seats, which helps the rider sit deep in the saddle when riding on the flat. While the saddle design may make it tough to jump large fences, the flaps are forward enough to comfortably jump a 2′ or 2’6″ fence.
Many beginner riders and more casual English riders prefer all-purpose saddles because they are so comfortable and secure. If your horse is wide and stocky, it may be easier to fit them with an all-purpose saddle than a close-contact saddle since many saddle makers make close-contact saddles to fit the more typical, slender jumping horse.
Dressage is an English discipline that does not involve jumping, but instead emphasizes the harmony of movement between the horse and rider. Dressage riders ride with a more upright posture and longer stirrups, and their saddles must be built to accommodate this position.
Dressage saddles are often black, as this is an element of tradition in the sport. They have long, straight flaps, deep seats, and high pommels. Most of today’s most popular models also have ample knee rolls and thigh blocks to keep the rider’s leg in the proper position. Dressage saddles also have long billets and are used with short girths. This is as opposed to close-contact and all-purpose saddles, which typically have short billets for use with long girths.
Cross-Country or Eventing Saddles
The sport of eventing requires riders to compete in three phases: dressage, show jumping, and cross-country. Most eventing riders use a dressage saddle for the dressage phase and a close-contact saddle for the show jumping phase. Some ride cross-country in their close-contact saddles, but many prefer to have a more secure saddle for this phase since it requires jumping large fences at a gallop over rough terrain. This is where a cross-country saddle comes in handy.
Cross-country or eventing saddles are similar to close-contact saddles but with even more forward flaps to accommodate an even shorter, more secure stirrup length. These saddles often have a mono-flap design. Instead of having a top flap that comes down over the billets, they have one flap and long billets that accommodate a shorter girth. This reduces the bulk of leather under the rider’s leg, helping them stay more secure when in a forward galloping position.
Cross-country saddles are also used by many fox hunters, who also jump coups, hedgerows, and ditches over rough terrain.
With the right type of English saddle, you’ll have an easier time riding comfortably and in harmony with your horse. Good training techniques also make for a better understanding between horse and rider. Check out Easy Horse Fix for practical solutions for the most common training challenges.