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 eventing jumping racing polo
Parts of the Saddle
Image of a GP Saddle from tds-saddlers

Welcome back to The English Saddle Series! In part one I introduced you to the 3 main types of English saddle:

  • The Dressage Saddle
  • The Jump or Jumping Saddle
  • The Event or Eventing Saddle

Then in part two we covered:

  • The Show or Showing Saddle
  • The Side Saddle
  • The Endurance Saddle

In this final article we will take a look at:

  • The Polo Saddle
  • Racing Saddles
  • A Lesser-Known Saddle Option

If you take anything away from this series, remember this fact! Saddles must be a suitable fit for BOTH horse and rider. This is imperative for comfort and safety.

The Polo Saddle

polo saddle racing
So far, which saddle do you think you’d use?
Photo of Polo Saddles by THOR

The design of the polo saddle is to achieve total stability while maintaining unrestricted freedom of movement of both the horse and rider while ensuring the rider has a low center of gravity. This is accomplished by:

  • raising the tree (the framework that the saddle is built around) at the front to free the horse’s shoulder and raising the tree at the back to free the horse’s loins
  • widening the saddle’s gullet to ensure free movement of the horse’s spine
  • wider panels than normal to distribute the rider’s weight around the saddle. This saddle aims to disperse 30% of weight in front, 30% back and 40% in the middle
  • a shallow seat to allow the rider a full range of movements
  • recessing the stirrup bars to increase the area of grip
  • using the usual 3 billets for girth attachment but also a slot behind the stirrup bars to allow passage of an overgirth to increase saddle stability
Did you know Hermes make saddles too?

Racing Saddles

1. The True Racing Saddle

Race saddle polo
Zilco 500gm Patent Race Saddle
Photo from Gibsons Saddler’s catalog

The design of the racing saddle is to achieve maximum speed with little regard given to safety or comfort for either the horse or the jockey. Prolonged use of a racing saddle for “everyday riding” can cause spinal problems and tissue damage to the horse, which is why a racehorse in training is ridden in the exercise saddle mentioned below. Here are the main design points of the true racing saddle:

  • not entirely treeless but very minimalist
  • small. So small there is only room for one billet to fasten the girth. Therefore, it is advisable to use a surcingle (much like the overgirth on the polo saddle)
  • normally synthetic instead of leather
  • no stirrup bars – stirrup leathers feed through saddle’s minimalist tree and are VERY short to shift jockey’s weight off the back to free up horse’s legs
saddle polo racing
This may free up the horse’s legs but puts the jockey in a very vulnerable position
Image by Jan-martijn Verlaan from Pixabay

Note – everything about the racing saddle is designed to be as light as possible. They normally weigh between 11oz and 4lb. Even the heavier ones weigh less than my cat!

2. The Exercise Saddle

racing saddle polo
Zilco Suede Full Tree Exercise Saddle
Photo from Gibsons Saddler’s catalog

The design of the racing exercise saddle is to embrace all the “pros” of the true racing saddle but with none (or less) of the “cons.” The exercise saddle has a tree for stability and to increase the comfort of the horse by freeing up the horse’s spine.

Although still lightweight, it is:

  • of a more sturdy construction
  • has 2 billets for the girth
  • is made from stronger material

A Lesser Known Saddle Option

A Saddle Fit for a Lady

Up until Sunday, 12 July 2020, I had no idea that all the saddles I have ridden in for the last almost half-decade were designed with a male rider in mind! Wow! Watch this video:

It turns out that several saddle makers now also make saddles ergonomically designed with the female rider in mind. I WANT! These saddles take into account that a woman’s pelvis, seat bones, and tail bones are very different from a man’s, as is the curvature of the spine and the closeness of the Gluteus Medius, or bum cheeks to us Brits, to the horse. All of which makes a huge difference in how each gender sits in the saddle, and more importantly, how the saddle helps or hinders the rider.

If you have questions or suggestions, please scroll down to the comments section below. I would also like to start taking Reader Requests. Do you have a topic you would like me to tackle? Then pop that into the comments section too.