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.

Parts of the Saddle dressage jumping eventing
Parts of the Saddle
Image of a GP Saddle from tds-saddlers.com

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

Dressage saddle jumping eventing
The Equipe Emporio Special Dressage Saddle. RRP £2,650. The lightweight mono-flap saddle provides a close contact with the horse and large knee rolls to support the rider’s leg position. GBR dressage rider Charlotte Dujardin uses this saddle.
Photo from Equipe catalog

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 
Brown horse trotting with a saddle
Dressage rider Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro at the London 2012 Olympic Dressage
Image is a derivative work: Nordlicht8

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

EK - Evo Jumping Saddle dressage eventing
EK-Evo Jumping saddle by Equipe as favoured by GBR Show Jumper Ben Maher. RRP from £3,500
Photo from the Equipe catalog

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
Jumping Saddle dressage eventing
CHI Genève 2013 – Ben Maher et Diva II
Photo by Clément Bucco-Lechat

The Eventing Saddle

The Lexington Jumping Saddle
Voltaire Design’s Lexington Mono Flap Jumping Saddle for Eventers as favoured by GBR Eventing Rider, Oliver Townend. RRP from 4,600 euros
Photo from Voltaire Design’s catalog

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 levelsyou can compete with a dressage saddle plus a dual-purpose jumping saddle or even a General Purpose Saddle.

White horse using an eventing saddle as he jumps over an obstacle
 Oliver Townend and Flint Curtis, the winning combination at Badminton Horse Trials 2009, at the Hillside during the cross-country phase
Photo by Henry Bucklow/Lazy Photography

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.