What are the various types of saddles?
Whether you want to roam around the countryside admiring the scenery or aspire to be in the next Olympics, there is a saddle out there for you.
Thank heavens someone invented them, or we would still be riding bareback like our ancient ancestors thousands of years ago. That's OK if you have a well-padded, calm horse. Those of us who with spooky thoroughbred types with high withers visibly wince and go pale at the mere thought of bareback riding.
So, hurrah for saddles! Now, let's look at the main saddles available these days to see which one will be best for you.
These are designed to be suitable for a variety of equine pursuits. One of the most popular saddle types, they are suitable for jumping, schooling, and hacking. In other words, ideal for the rider who wants to try a bit of everything. They are the saddle you are most likely to come across in riding schools.
When you first sit in a jumping saddle, you'll notice that it has a slightly flatter seat than say, a dressage saddle. It also features forward-cut flaps to allow for shorter stirrup lengths and usually, padded knee rolls. The balance of the seat is further back, with a low cantle and pommel. This is all designed to push you slightly forward into a jumping position over fences and to provide extra stability.
Envisage elegant dressage riders and you'll no doubt picture them sitting up tall with almost straight legs. Dressage saddles are designed to achieve this upright stance with a very straight-cut flap, longer than those on a jumping saddle. They are designed solely for flatwork with a higher pommel and the deepest point of the seat being more forward. This allows the rider to attain a much deeper, comfortable seat and longer leg position which enables them to give all those invisible aids to their horse. Dressage saddles are usually much more lightweight than jumping or general-purpose saddles.
Originally designed for ranch hands/cowboys for spending prolonged hours in the saddle, they are also popular for competitions and general riding. Western saddles are often a work of art, with elaborate decorations carved into the leather. Their design originates from the saddles of early Mexican horse trainers and cattle handlers who were working with cattle across vast and often rough terrains. The design allows the horse freedom of movement and security and control for the rider. They feature the saddle "horn" which was originally for tying cattle to. There are several different types of Western saddles available nowadays.
The Endurance saddle is based on the design of a military or police saddle. It is required to be comfortable for both horse and rider during an endurance ride which can go on for several days, and sometimes over rough terrain. The seat is often quilted or padded, and the stirrups usually have a wide foot tread for added comfort. The saddle allows a larger area of contact with the horse's back and reduces the pressure of pounds per square inch of saddle contact. There are usually multiple D-rings attached to the saddle to allow the rider to carry assorted items during the endurance ride.
If you have ever tried one of these, you'll understand why it's a very niche market, and not exactly mainstream! They were originally made for women to avoid the awkward problem of sitting astride a horse whilst wearing a skirt. Thankfully, that is no longer an issue, but side saddles are still made and consist of two pommels protruding at the front of the saddle. Your left leg will hang down the side with your foot in the stirrup as normal, but your right leg goes around the top pommel and hangs down to the left side. Without your leg on the right-hand side, a stick is carried on that side to replace your right leg aids
Unless you are a professional jockey, you are unlikely to sit on one of these. The racing saddle is often made from synthetic materials as they are lightweight. They have a flat seat and cantle with small, short, and forward cut saddle flaps. Their other distinctive feature is very short stirrup leathers. These allow the jockey to take up the crouching position, up off the horse's back so it can gallop unhindered at high speed.