When learning to ride it is wise to know a little about the saddle you will sit upon. But there are SO MANY SADDLES! Don’t Panic. We have it covered.
When first starting to ride, you will probably use a GP Saddle, or General Purpose Saddle. As you progress, you may become attracted to one of the many equine disciplines. Dressage, maybe? What about jumping or eventing? Each discipline requires a saddle that is modified from the basic shape to facilitate the correct riding position.
This article aims to introduce you to the three main types of English saddle:
- The Dressage Saddle
- The Jump or Jumping Saddle
- The Event or Eventing Saddle
Saddlers produce saddles to fit most budgets. If you have little to spend, I recommend buying a quality, second-hand saddle over a cheap new one, with synthetic saddles being cheaper than leather saddles.
The saddles in the images below are used by the leading British riders in dressage, show jumping, and eventing. They are high-end saddles, and the price reflects this.
Saddles must be a suitable fit for BOTH horse and rider. This is imperative for comfort and safety.
The Dressage Saddle
The design of the dressage saddle is to achieve maximum performance and freedom of movement of the horse while ensuring the rider adopts a centrally balanced seat aided by:
- uniquely positioned stirrup bars to aid better ear, hip and heel alignment
- straighter flaps to free up the horse’s shoulder
- longer billets/girth straps so the girth buckles below saddle flap allowing closer contact between rider’s leg and the horse
- slightly raised pommel and cantle allowing a deeper seat
- knee rolls to support rider’s leg position
In the last two decades, dressage saddles have developed more exaggerated forms that could block the rider’s ability to follow the horse’s movement. If I understand correctly, the more molded dressage saddles are aimed at the leisure dressage rider. The flatter seat is preferred by the professional dressage rider who has the core strength and leg muscles needed for a secure seat.
The Jumping Saddle
The jumping saddle’s design is to achieve maximum performance with the highest comfort, ensuring freedom of movement for the horse’s shoulders and rider stability aided by:
- forward placed stirrup bars to help the rider achieve a forward jumping seat
- forward cut flaps that allow the rider to shorten their stirrups and bring their knees higher in the saddle
- shorter flaps for better contact of the rider’s leg with the horse
- a narrower waist with the balance of the seat further back
- low pommel and cantle not to interfere with the rider’s jumping position
- knee rolls and rear blocks to maintain a balanced and safe seat
The Eventing Saddle
The design of the eventing saddle is to achieve maximum performance with the highest comfort, ensuring freedom of movement for the horse’s shoulders while helping the rider to assume a very balanced position. This saddle position has the rider closer to the horse’s back and facilitates better leg contact in flat-work, jumping, and cross-country.
Top-level eventers need a specifically designed saddle for each phase as the differences in stirrup length for each phase are substantial. But at lower levels, you can compete with a dressage saddle plus a dual-purpose jumping saddle or even a General Purpose Saddle.
The GP saddle and the eventing saddles appear to be very similar in that they are both saddles designed for multiple disciplines. As far as I can tell, it is more a matter of quality and target audience than basic design. Low-end saddles are targeted at leisure riders and the high-end saddles are targeted at amateur and professional eventers.
But these are only three of many types of English-style saddles. Parts 2 and 3 will introduce you to more English-style saddles. While my colleague, Beth Rauch, from across the pond will show you the distinct Western styles of saddles.
If you have questions about different saddles, please scroll down to the comments section below.