Saddles are a supportive structure that is fastened to an animal’s back by a girth so that they can carry a rider or other forms of the load. The most common type of saddle is the one designed for horses, but some other specialized saddles are also made for camels, oxen and other animals. Riders first began to use some sort of protection or padding in the form of a blanket attached by girth or surcingle.
Modern saddles come in a variety of styles and designs. Each has a different discipline, but they are most commonly fit for riders and horses. Since there are so many different types, it can be helpful to learn more about the different types of saddles to enhance horse riding.
Table of Contents
- Western Equestrian Saddles
- Australian Stock Saddles
- Military Saddles
- Asian Saddles
- Police Saddle
- Pack Saddle
- Trick/Stunt Saddles
- Double Seat Saddles
- Treeless Saddles
Western Equestrian Saddles
Western saddles stem from the cowboy days when they used intricately decorated brown leather saddles. A horn on the front of the saddle helps the rider hold the reigns and aids in balance. These saddles are designed to be sturdy and comfortable so that they can assist ranch hands. It is suitable for people who spend long hours on horseback and may need to perform sharp turns. There are many types of Western saddles that emerged over time due to different Western riding purposes.
Flexible Tree Saddles
Flexible Tree saddles began to emerge in the market because there was a growing concern for the comfort of the horses. These saddles are designed with bars made of a flexible material but a rigid cantle and fork. This allows the tree to move as the horse moves and also fits a wide range of horses. These saddles are designed to be lightweight and allow you to be in closer contact with the horse. This makes them a nice choice for pleasure or trail rides.
Ranch saddles are sturdy, heavyweight saddles that have been designed to boost functionality and comfort, especially if you plan on working with cattle or using it for long hours. They are designed for people who need true working materials for long hours on the ranch. The deep seat and high cantle provide the rider with comfort for easier ranch work. The thick, tall horns come with a horn wrap, and fenders hang directly under the rider.
A lot of people use Flexible Tree saddles for trail or pleasure purposes, but there are separate ones that are available in the market. They are designed as more lightweight products with padded seats so that you are cushioned during the trail ride. Pleasure saddles come with saddle strings so that you can tie your trail gear with comfort and can also be used with breast collars to prevent the saddle from sliding down. They come in all sorts of colors and styles, so you can find the one you want according to your personal preferences.
Roping saddles are designed to assist riders in roping events. It allows the rider maximum freedom of movement so that they can chase after, rope, and dally a cow to the horn of the saddle. This is why this type of saddle needs to have a well-anchored horn and strong tree. This can make them heavier than trail saddles. Roping saddles can have suede or a roughout seat to eliminate sliding.
Cutting saddles assist people in cutting events. They are designed to keep you out of your horse’s way and keep the rider balanced on horseback. They are mainly used for penning, training, and reining. They are a versatile choice to make if you want a functional saddle. They have thin horns, wide swells, flat seats, slim stirrups, and roughed out fenders and jockeys. The low cantles and double riggings are some distinctive features of these saddles.
Competitive reining events demand a well-designed reining saddle. They have forward hung stirrups that allow you to sit back and deep so that you can make fast stops and starts. This design ensures that the rider stays properly balanced even with the close contact that lets you communicate with and control your horse. This is why this saddle is also used for training purposes. Other common elements of these saddles include low seats, cutout skirts, a medium height fork, and horn, and dropped rigging.
Barrel Racing saddles are designed to allow maximum maneuverability for the rider. They are small, lightweight designs that keep you secure in the seat during sprints and fast turns. They can also be used for other gaming events as well since they are light. They have deep seats with higher cantles, higher forks with wide swells, and narrow stirrups.
Endurance competitions can last for up to 100 miles a day and can even include steep and rough terrain. Therefore, endurance saddles need to be lightweight, sturdy, and comfortable so that long distances can be managed easily. They are also popular for trail riding. They have padded seats, deep stirrups, no horns, single rigging, and saddle strings. You will be able to easily secure your saddlebags and ride through highly demanding events with ease.
Show saddles are meant to look good in the show ring, which is why they are often highly embellished. They come in lots of distinct looks and designs, but fashion continues to change as the years go by. They usually come with ornate tooling patterns and silver trims on cantles, horns, skirts, and even stirrups and forks. They also have padded or suede seats and deep skirts.
Pony saddles have smaller, 12” inch seats and are usually made for Welsh and Shetland ponies. The saddle fit is not good for full-sized horses and is mostly intended to be used by children.
English saddles are mainly used for the English riding style, not just in English-speaking countries or England, but throughout the world. They are normally used in any Olympic equestrian discipline and include many different saddle types that will be discussed below.
They have flatter seats that can be spotted even by a casual observer. They don’t have horns, and the panels have a self-padding design; you can attach a pair of pads to the underside of the seat and fill them with foam, air, or wood. The angle and length of the flaps, the height of the cantle, and the depth of the seat are all changed depending on the purpose of the saddle.
The tree of the English saddles can be checked to determine the quality of the saddle. Usually, the tree of these saddles is built with different laminated layers of high-quality wood with spring steels. These make the trees semi-adjustable but with minimum flexibility.
Recently, saddle manufacturers have begun to replace wood with other materials. Synthetic materials are used to create a molded tree with some gullet plate and spring steel. Cheaper saddles are made with fiberglass but have limited durability. Many people prefer Polyurethane trees since they are well-made and more durable.
Dressage saddles are meant for more advanced riders who regularly take part in flat-work competitions. The saddle provides an upright torso dressage position for the rider rather than the traditional straight-leg position. The saddles have a deeper seat that resembles a U-shaped curve when looked at it from the side. This provides a better balance for the rider while on horseback. Dressage saddles also have straight flaps that are made from lightweight, thin material. This allows the rider to have good leg contact so they can guide the horse through precision movements.
Jumping saddles are made in a way that they push the rider slightly forward. This allows them to access the two-point jumping position when the horse is flying over the fences. They have a slightly flatter seat than dressage saddle seats, giving them a more C-shaped curve if seen from the side. The saddle flaps give the leg more support since they are generally bigger. There is also some padding on the front for stability and protection for the lower leg while doing jumps.
For riders who regularly go fox hunting in the countryside, hunting saddles are a necessity. During jumps, the horse may be required to jump over large hedges with significant drops on the other side. This is why the saddle is shaped to push the rider’s weight into the saddle seat while the rider’s legs move forward in the stirrups. This ensures that the rider is in a safe position when the horse is jumping. These saddles are designed with a low cantle and pommels, allowing the jumps to be more comfortable. To match hunting attire, they are often made with durable leather.
Racing saddles are ideally lightweight and small so that they don’t weigh down the horse during a race. They are used by jockeys who intend to ride thoroughbred horses at galloping speeds and over fences. The saddles have short stirrups and one girth strap. The flat seat is not intended for the rider to actually sit on but rather hover over the seat while they crouch into the stirrups. The saddles that are meant for flat racing usually have smaller flaps than the other steeplechase kinds of saddles. The latter have bigger ones to allow them to secure the lower leg well while jumping over fences.
Australian Stock Saddles
Australian Stock saddles are popular worldwide. They are designed for people who spend long hours on horsebacks, such as trail rides, cattle ranchers, endurance competitors, and polocrosse players. It was inspired by the widely used English saddle but has a higher pommel, deeper seat, and extra seat pads, especially around the knees. The high pommel may even come with a horn.
The padding and webbing may also be installed under the saddle for extra support. A strap that runs over the saddle for security, called the over girth, is also installed. This ensures that the rider has a balanced and secure seat which keeps them comfortable despite the long periods of riding.
Military saddles were originally worn by mounted forces in Britain, Australia, Canada, South Africa, and New Zealand. The saddles were designed with the British Universal Pattern. In 1891, the Steel Arch Universal Pattern Mark I was also launched but was found to irritate the riders and was upgraded to the Mark II. The Mark III came with V-shaped arrangements on the sideboards, which provided an attachment for the girth. This girthing system was flexible, which allowed for an optimum fit on a wide variety of horses.
In 1902, the Universal Military Saddle was made popular. It had broad panels, front arches, and fixed trees. The saddle is known for its lightness and can be repaired easily. It is comfortable for the rider and the horse since they may have to use them for longer periods of time. Overtime, adjustable trees were designed into the saddle to match with the growing number in military ranks. All saddles were fitted with dees and stapes to carry swords, horseshoes, and other equipment.
These saddles were introduced in the US in the 1850s and were mainly used by the United States Cavalry. These designs entered the US service just before the Civil War. The core of the design is still used for ceremonial mounts united within the US Army. They can also be seen in different exhibitions, parades, and other events.
Asian saddles date back to the era of the Scythians and Cimmerians. The modern versions of these saddles are divided into two categories. The ones in Central Asia have leather coverings and prominent horns, while the saddles in East Asia have high pommels and cantles.
The former type is also known for its high horns and wide seats. The saddle is designed with a wood base that has a thin layer of leather covering it. They have no saddle pads and must be ridden with blankets. They are often used in the rough horseback sport known as buzkashi where two teams wrestle over a goat’s carcass.
The saddles in East Asia don’t have any horns. Different nationalities and ethnic groups have different designs. The ones designed by Han Chinese were known for the notable inlay work for ornamentation purposes. Tibetan saddles had iron covers that were combined with precious metals and came with padding. Mongolian saddles were smaller than Tibetan designs and had high ridges on the seats. Ethnic minorities in southwest China had colorful lacquer work on the leather coverings.
Japanese saddles have two main classifications: karakura (Chinese-style) and yamatogura (Japanese-style). The Chinese style of saddle making was adopted in the Nara period. Over time, the Japanese changed the design of the saddle as per their needs. In the Heian period, the saddle became common in the samurai class. These saddles were lacquered as a form of protection from the weather and were called ‘Kura.’
Most of the earlier forms of samurai warfare were conducted on horseback, and these saddles provided the right platform to shoot arrows from. They were stable and rugged but were not well-suited for distance or speed. In the Edo period, horses were rarely used for warfare, and thus, the saddles became decorative. They were decorated with gold leaves, pearl inlays, and colorful lacquer.
Sidesaddles were originally designed for women. They allowed the rider in a skirt to control the horse and stay comfortable on its back. Sidesaddle riding is still common today in exhibitions, parades, fox hunting, and horse shows. When women initially started riding horses in Europe, it wasn’t proper for them to straddle the horse, especially while wearing a skirt. Riding on the side was considered lady-like and allowed women to keep their clothes clean. The saddles have two pommels that help by holding the rider’s leg in place. It was even secure enough for women to gallop or jump fences.
Police saddles are very similar to the English saddle’s designs. However, they come with a tree that ensures greater security for the rider since it helps by distributing the rider’s weight over a larger area. This allows the horse to be comfortable despite the rider being on its back for extended periods of time.
Pack saddles have simple construction like cavalry saddles, but the biggest function of the pack saddle is to provide support for heavy bags or any other objects carried by the horse. It was really popular back in the times when most people traveled on horseback.
Saddles for tricks and stunts are designed in a similar fashion to western saddles. They have tall metal horns, reinforced handholds, low front and backs, and extended double rigging. This allows a wide back girth which keeps the rider secure through all the jumps and sharp turns.
Double Seat Saddles
Double seats are designed for people who want to ride together, such as an adult rider with a child. They have two stirrups and two deep padded seats for comfortable travels. They are mainly used to teach children to ride horses. The western double seat saddles have one horn at the front of the saddle, unlike other varieties.
English and Western designs have treeless saddles and are intended to be comfortable to use on a variety of different horses. They may be flexible but aren’t designed to provide the necessary support of a solid tree. It is important to use an appropriate saddle pad when you use these types of saddles.
Saddles are important for the comfort of the rider and the horse. They have been essential pieces of equipment for centuries for all types of purposes. Horses are intelligent, beautiful creatures and care should be taken to select the right saddle for them.