English saddles are used to ride horses in "English riding" disciplines throughout the world. The discipline is not limited to England or English-speaking countries. This style of saddle used in all of the Olympic and FEI equestrian disciplines, except for the newly-approved FEI events of equestrian vaulting and reining. Most designs were specifically developed to allow the horse freedom of movement, whether jumping, running, or moving quickly across rugged, broken country with fences. Unlike the western saddle or Australian Stock Saddle, there is no horn or other design elements that stick out above the main tree of the saddle.
Leather is added on all sides of the tree to create the seat, flaps and panels. Cowhide is usually used, though pigskin and other leathers are also seen. The panels on the underside of the saddle traditionally are stuffed with wool fleece, which is still preferred and used on the highest quality saddles. Synthetic materials are used on more moderately priced saddles, and one company is experimenting with a new design that uses airtight sealed panels that are inflated with air.
During the 18th century, most riders in Europe used high-pommel and cantle saddles, with a wooden frame for classical dressage. This saddle was based on a model used for bull fighting, cattle work, long-distance travel, and mounted combat, as its high pommel and cantle helped to provide the rider with support. This saddle is still used today, most notably by the Spanish Riding School, and also in Iberia and eastern Europe.
In England, foxhunting grew in popularity (as the usual quarry of deer had dwindled following the English Civil War, when they were hunted for food). This required a new type of riding, as horse and rider now had to tackle fences, hedges, ditches, and banks straight on if they wished to keep up with the hounds and witness the kill. The old saddle was cumbersome while hunting. Its cantle would get in the way of the riders as they tried to lean back over the fence (a practice that was common until Caprilli developed the "forward seat"), and the high pommel created pain as the rider went over jumps. The resulting saddle developed for foxhunting had a very low pommel and cantle with a flat seat, and no padding under the leg, therefore providing the rider with little, if any, support. The stirrup bars were protruding, and placed more forward than modern saddles, which made it nearly impossible for the rider to keep his legs underneath his body. However, the usual practice was to ride with longer stirrups, and the feet pushed out in front, so this was not a problem.
The English hunting saddle is the predecessor of all English-type riding saddles. As the sports of show jumping and eventing became more popular, saddle shape changed. Caprilli, Santini, and Toptani developed the "forward seat," in which the rider uses shorter stirrups and keeps his legs under him as he rode in two-point, with his seat bones hovering above the saddle. The shorter stirrup required a more forward flap, to match the greater knee angle of the rider. The protruding stirrup bars were uncomfortable in this new position, so they were recessed. The waist of the saddle was also made narrower. Additionally, padding was placed under the knee rolls, for extra security.
The term English saddle encompasses several types, including those used for show jumping and hunt seat, dressage, Saddle seat, horse racing and polo. To non-horsemen, the major distinguishing feature of an English saddle is its lack of a horn. However, some Western saddles, such as those used to ride rough stock in rodeos and certain types of western-influenced saddles used in endurance riding, lack a horn as well. These saddles can still be classified as western-influenced, however, due to the deep seat, high cantle, prominent pommels, wide fenders (stirrup leathers) and large, leather-covered stirrups. In addition, saddles used for working cattle in nations other than the United States, such as the Australian Stock Saddle and the Charro Saddles of South America, often share stock saddle features such as a deep seat and extra leather to protect horse and rider, but lack a horn.
The other major characteristic which defines an English saddle is that it has panels: these are a pair of pads attached to the underside of the seat and filled with wool, foam, or air. Although some modern saddlers have developed alternative models, the English saddle is usually constructed on a framework known as a tree. The tree is made of wood, spring steel, or composite, and it supports the rider on a sling of webbing between the firm pommel (front of the saddle) and cantle (back of the saddle). On either side of the tree, a steel hook known as the "stirrup bar" is affixed. It is upon this hook that the rider hangs the stirrup leather, which is a very strong leather or nylon loop supporting the stirrup. At the bottom of the tree are several more very strong leather or nylon straps known as billets, to which will eventually buckle the girth--the beltlike strap which holds the saddle onto the horse.
The tree and its various parts are upholstered with a covering made of leather, nylon or microfiber and shaped to form the seat above and the panels below.
In addition to the seat and panels, English saddles feature a leather flap on either side called, appropriately, the flap. The flap sits between the rider's leg and the horse's side and protects the horse from being pinched by the stirrup leather. On some saddles it is also specially padded to protect or support the rider's knee.
Supportive padding in the seat, size and shape of knee rolls and the use of additional blocks behind the leg is also considered when developing a saddle. While a polo saddle is constructed with a minimum of padding so as to allow the polo player great freedom to twist and reach for his shot, a saddle used for jumping or eventing may have more padding to help give the rider support over fences. A newer development is the monoflap saddle, which removes the sweat flap, keeping only the saddle flap, thus eliminating one layer of leather between the rider and the horse, and giving a closer feel.
The "all-purpose" or "eventing" saddle (also sometimes called a "general purpose" saddle) was developed to allow riders to use one saddle both over fences and on the flat. This type of saddle has a deep seat with a long, but somewhat forward flap. The flaps usually have padding under the leg, for support while jumping. The design is intended to be a compromise between the flatter "close contact" jumping saddle with a forward flap, and deep-seated dressage saddle with a long, straight flap.
This style of saddle is most commonly seen in amateur-owner or lower-level junior competition. The less-expensive "all-purpose" models are often marketed as beginner's saddles. More expensive models are usually labeled "eventing" saddles. Manufacturers insist that there is a significant design difference between an eventing saddle and an all-purpose saddle. However, while eventing saddles usually do have better balance and higher quality materials and workmanship, a fundamental design difference is otherwise difficult to discern. Many manufacturers create two models, one with a slightly straighter dressage-oriented flap that still allows a rider to jump low fences, and another with a more forward flap that allows a rider to jump somewhat more challenging fences, but still permit a deep seat for flat work. One company manufactures a design with a flap that can be adjusted to be straighter or more forward, as the rider prefers.
Due to the deep, secure-feeling seat, the design is also used by some people when starting young, unpredictable horses, and is quite popular for trail riding, endurance riding, and casual hacking. Many top-level endurance riders find this design superior to an "endurance" style saddle for distance competition because it allows them to get off the horse's back and move quickly over rough or mountainous terrain, yet provides greater security to the rider. On the other hand, this compromise design also means that an advanced rider may find the saddle limits his or her ability to obtain a correct position at higher levels of competition, either in show jumping or dressage. For this reason, some English riding instructors and coaches do not particularly encourage their riders to use these saddles.
Quality and balance are very critical factors to consider when purchasing an all-purpose saddle. Many cheap models are designed with a too-forward cut flap that is not properly aligned with the seat, which prevents the rider from getting into a correct position on the flat and sometimes gives the rider the uncomfortable sensation of feeling like they are constantly sliding backwards. Also, when the stirrups are adjusted correctly for jumping, the rider's knees are not always placed properly in relation to the flap. Some models also are too high in the cantle, which can hit a rider in the buttocks and push the seat too far forward when jumping all but the smallest fences.
The jumping saddle, sometimes called a "forward seat" or "close contact" saddle, is designed for show jumping, hunt seat equitation, foxhunting, and the stadium and cross-country phases of eventing. Its most distinctive feature is a forward-cut flap that allows for a shorter stirrup length (although not as short as racing stirrups). The flap often has supportive padded knee rolls, especially for show jumping and cross-country, less so for equitation. The balance of the seat is further back and comparatively flat, with the cantle and pommel low so that they do not interfere with the rider's jumping position (and variations known as "two-point position" or "half-seat").
Like the All-Purpose saddle, the jumping saddle usually has three short billets. However, newer styles (such as monoflap jumping saddles) have longer billets that mirror the dressage saddle, so that the rider no longer has to ride with extra bulk under the leg.
It is important that the rider's leg fit appropriately into the flap of the jumping saddle when the stirrups are shortened. If the knee is too far forward or back, the rider's balance will be incorrect and the saddle becomes a hindrance than an advantage while jumping obstacles.
See also: Dressage
Dressage saddles have a very straight-cut flap, much longer in length than a jumping saddle, which accommodates the longer leg position of a dressage rider, who works only on the flat and does not need to jump fences. The pommel is a bit higher and the deepest point of the saddle's seat more forward, all to allow for this longer leg position.
The seat is usually much deeper in a dressage saddle than a jumping saddle, and allows the rider to comfortably sit and relax to best influence the horse. The stuffing of the panels is often kept to a minimum in a dressage saddle, to allow a closer feel with the horse. It often has a wider bearing surface than a jumping saddle.
Some designs feature an exaggerated amount of padding in front of the knee, much more than in a jumping saddle, said to assist the rider in keeping the knee down and thigh back. However, there is usually little padding behind the calf, as the rider needs to be able to freely move the lower leg around to give aids to the horse.
The billets of most dressage saddles are very long, to allow the girth to be buckled near the horse's elbow rather than underneath the rider's leg (which would get in the way of giving effecting leg aids). However, some dessage saddles come with shorter billets.
The seat of this saddle is longer and flatter than that of a forward seat or dressage saddle, placing the balance of the rider farther back. The pommel is always cut back to allow greater freedom of the front legs and shoulder, as well as to accommodate the higher withers typical of the saddle seat breeds. The flap is wide front-to-back, ending closer to the cantle than any other English saddle so that the rider's leg (whose thigh is further back than usual due to the seat being further back) is protected. Riders use very long stirrups, usually at least as long as those of Dressage riders. The seat places the rider's center of balance farther back on the horse than in other English riding disciplines, though correct Saddle seat equitation still demands that the rider's legs and feet be balanced under the horse.
The Saddle seat was developed from two sources. The first was a flatter European saddle developed to sit the rider further back to show off the high front leg action of flashy horses, often seen quite literally during Sunday rides in city parks. (See English Show Saddle, below.) The second source was the plantation saddle developed in the southern United States that allowed riders to sit back comfortably on a gaited horse as they covered large areas of land on a daily basis.
Originally based on a military or police saddle, modern endurance saddle manufacturers have been innovative in methods to lighten weight and provide additional comfort for the horse, and several of these techniques have gone on to influence other saddle types. The panels are stuffed with different types of material, all designed to spread pressure evenly and disperse sweat. Most endurance saddles may have extended panels (called "fans"), which increase bearing area. Others may have "floating" panels, which are particularly useful since endurance riders often ride with their seat out of the saddle (releasing pressure from the back, but increasing the amount felt on the stirrup bars where they attach near the point of the tree).
There is also an endurance saddle design based on the western saddle that is a bit larger and heavier, but is designed with similar goals.
This saddle is used in the United Kingdom, Australia, and elsewhere, for showing on the flat or over low fences, and is a direct descendant of the English hunting saddle. The show saddle is designed to show off the horse's conformation, most notably the shoulder, and is therefore a very minimal saddle with a close fit and straight-cut flap. The seat is very flat, and there are no knee or thigh rolls, so the saddle offers little support to the rider. Like the American Saddle Seat saddle, the English showing saddle has a stirrup bar set farther forward and a cutback pommel that falls behind rather than over the withers, though the seat is less flat and the rider's center of balance is closer to that of a dressage saddle. Many show horses are also presented in fatter condition than in more athletic disciplines, so the billets are placed to help keep the saddle properly placed on a rounder animal.
The traditional position of the old style show rider was to ride with the feet placed forward, and the seat pushed back, which was once thought to encourage more action and to make the horse look as if it has a longer front end. Modern competitors are starting a trend to a more classical position, with the leg placed underneath their body and their hips over their heel, a position more forgiving on the horse's back that encourages better movement. The traditional English showing saddle is not used by these riders, and instead a more dressage-like saddle is used, with a more vertically cut flap. There sometimes is slight padding in these saddles, providing extra support, and the horses themselves are often shown in leaner, more athletic condition.
The American-style Saddle Seat position, set behind the horse's center of balance, somewhat resembles the old-style show position, though the modern rider remains balanced over the stirrups.
The sidesaddle was used by women from approximately the 14th through 19th centuries, when a combination of long skirts and social mores discouraged women from riding astride. Today the saddle is still used for specialty purposes in shows, parades, and other exhibitions, though also for practical purposes by some riders who have injuries that make it difficult to ride astride. A smaller number of riders feel that sidesaddle riding is a skill and riding art worth preserving and thus continue to practice the style, working to achieve greater skill and refinement. Sidesaddles may be used in almost every discipline, including show jumping. The four main divisions in modern horse shows are Western, Hunt seat, Saddle seat (the two English divisions use the same basic style of saddle but different bridles and rider appointments), and "historical," which may depict any culture or period, but must be fully researched and correctly utilized.
Although sidesaddles are still manufactured today, it is a small niche market, and a new sidesaddle is quite expensive. Thus most riders who wish to ride sidesaddle are often found hunting for older saddles at antique shops, estate sales, and in dusty barn lofts. It is difficult to find a sidesaddle that not only fits the rider and horse but also is in good condition.
The sidesaddle has only one stirrup leather, and two pommels: the fixed and the "leaping horn." Although there are some sidesaddles that lack a leaping horn, they are not considered safe by modern standards. Both pommels greatly help the rider to stay in place, even when jumping. In fact, it may be difficult for the rider to be thrown free should the horse fall. The vast majority of sidesaddles are designed so riders sit with both legs on the near (left) side of the horse, though occasionally a sidesaddle is found that is reversed and allows the rider to sit with their legs to the off (right) side. In spite of having both legs to the side of the horse, properly positioned riders sit on the horse facing forward, with their spine centered in the saddle perpendicular to that of the horse, with weight balanced equally on both buttocks.
The seat must be wide enough to accommodate the rider's offside thigh as well as buttocks. A sidesaddle is comparatively flat with a small curved pommel and a long, raised cantle on the off side to support the offside thigh and to help the riders keep their spine squared on the horse's back. The near-side flap is commonly cut forward to keep the rider's right leg and foot from touching the horse's left shoulder. The girthing is usually a three-buckle system, with a usual full-length girth as well as a balancing girth. The stirrup of a sidesaddle is much shorter than in a conventional saddle, so that the rider's knee is placed close to the leaping horn, and it buckles midway down the leather rather than close to the tree.
The sidesaddle also comes in both English and Western designs, usually determined by the underlying tree, girthing system, flap or fender design, styling features and type of leather used. However, the structure of the fixed pommel and leaping horn is a consistent design feature across all riding styles.
The flat racing saddle is designed to not interfere with a running horse and to be as lightweight as possible (including the stirrup irons). This saddle provides very little security, placing the rider in a position that allows a horse the freedom of movement needed to achieve maximum speed, but at the cost of giving the rider less leverage to control the horse. Therefore, racing saddles are not suited for general equestrian riding.
Most racing saddles weigh less than four pounds; the lightest saddles weigh as little as 11 ounces. This saddle generally has only one billet to attach the girth, and so an overgirth is usually added to keep it secure. Saddles used in steeplechases are generally slightly heavier and more substantial. The racing saddle has a very long seat without a dip to it, combined with extremely forward flaps that accommodate the very short stirrups and extreme forward seat used by jockeys. It also has a flat pommel and cantle so nothing interferes with the jockey.
Exercise saddles are usually larger and heavier, with a more prominent pommel and cantle to provide more security to the rider. Though these features add pounds, weight does not matter as it would in a race.
See also: Polo
The polo saddle is designed specifically for the mounted game. It has a relatively flat seat and the saddle flaps are long and fairly straight to accommodate the longer leg position, although more forward than the dressage saddle.
One of the defining features of the polo saddle is that there is very little or no padding under the leg, allowing the rider to have maximum freedom of movement. If the saddle had thigh or calf blocks, the leg would not be allowed to swing forward or back as needed.
The front edge of the saddle should be behind the shoulder blade when the front legs are extended as far as possible. This can be done by having someone on the ground pull each of the horse's forelegs as far forward as possible, holding the leg at the knee, while another person checks the shoulder blade.
The rider's weight should be carried on the muscles that are over the horse's ribs (from behind the shoulder blades to the last rib). The last rib of the horse should be found, and the saddle should not come behind it.
Many riders put their saddles too far forward, especially those that use jumping saddles. Even a well-fitting saddle will cause discomfort to the horse and position problems for the rider if it is placed too far forward, creating problems that include:
Saddles that are placed too far back (a common error made by inexperienced riders first learning to saddle a horse), or saddles that have too long of a tree (for example, a horse-sized saddle placed on a pony) also cause problems for horse and rider, including:
A saddle that is slightly too wide will not be as much of a problem. However, a saddle that is much too wide will not have adequate wither clearance, especially on a high-withered horse, causing pressure in this area. Too much pressure in the short term can lead to rubs and saddle sores, long-term problems may include damage to the thoracic vertebrae that make up the withers.
Distribution of flocking can be tested by running the hands down the panels while applying slight pressure. If the panels are stuffed unevenly (one panel higher than the other, or stuffing that is hard and lumpy rather than smooth), the saddle will have pressure points and could cause soreness. A saddle fitter can check to make sure see if the pannels are correctly stuffed for the horse. The front panels should have pressure evenly distributed down their front, which can be tested by saddling the horse, tightening the girth, e running the hands down the front panels to feel for even pressure. The back panels should not rise off the horse's back when it is ridden.
English saddles are measured from the nailhead below the pommel to the center of the cantle. In the USA, English saddles are manufactured in standard sizes for adult riders ranging from 16 1/2 to 18 inches. However, seat measurement is not a hard and fast way to determine if a saddle will fit a given rider. No two saddles are identical; there can be 1/4" variation between saddles of different brands with the same size designation. Length of thigh often plays a greater role in selecting a proper seat size than does rider weight or hip width. As a rough rule of thumb, sizes 16 1/2 and below are generally for youth riders, though some teens and small adults can fit a 16-1/2 inch saddle. 17 and 17-1/2 inch saddles are usually suitable for many adult women, with the 17 inch seat more suitable for shorter riders and the 17-1/2 for those with a longer thigh. 18 inch saddles are the most common size for adult men. Saddles are also manufactured with different flap lengths to accommodate riders of different sizes.
Factors in saddle fit for a rider include the following:
Evidence of a saddle with a poor fit include: