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The English Saddles: An Outlook

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English saddles are widespread in many sports.

Continuing the tack series, we move on to saddles! The English saddles are some of the most popular saddle types out there. You see them in Olympic sports and all-purpose riding, and in English riding sports all around the world. So let’s learn some more about these saddles.

The English Saddles: An Outlook

The English saddle has its origins on foxhunting. Back in the 18th century, most European saddles had high pommels and cantles, a style that came from bull-fighting and classical dressage. But with the deer population in England dwindling, and foxhunting rising, there was a need for something lighter. The old dressage saddles (still worn in the Spanish Riding School) were too cumbersome for hunting. Foxhunts demand running over obstacles such as fences and ditches, and uneven terrains. A saddle in the old style is uncomfortable for that, so the English saddle as we know it was born.

Unlike the old dressage saddles, the English saddle has neither a high cantle or a high pommel. This means they won’t hurt the rider when he leans back (as was a popular practice at the time, before the concept of the forward seat appeared) and the low pommel won’t hurt during a jump. Of course, the 18th-century saddles aren’t quite like the ones of today. Back then, the whole riding style was different: stirrups were longer, the legs placed forward. Still, the changes made back then rippled over to the English saddles as we know them.

The All-Purpose English Saddle

Saddle designs change over time, and of course, due to purpose. As mentioned above, some saddles are deeper, with higher pommels and cantles. Others are flatter and lighter, allowing for a closer contact with the horse. In time, the saddles became more specialized. Even twenty years ago, the English saddle didn’t look quite as much as the modern English saddle.

These changes in design make sense, as they reflect the changes in riding styles and norms. Even within a sport, these changes reflect the evolution there and even the technological evolutions. Today, many saddles are synthetic rather than leather.

As showjumping and eventing became popular, the design of the saddles changed to meet these new challenges. The eventing saddle is an all-purpose sort of saddle.

A leather all-purpose English saddle.

All-purpose English saddles are also “eventing saddles”.

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These saddles are good for both jumping and working on flat terrain. This makes it a great choice for people new to riding, who ride English but aren’t ready to commit to any particular sport just yet. Or, at least, not enough to buy more specialized saddles. This saddle has a style in between the jumping saddle (which encourages a closer contact) and the deeper dressage saddle. Because of this, it’s good for riding in general, whatever the occasion. This makes it a good saddle for beginners, and even some lower level, beginner shows in all sorts of English disciplines.

The different types of English saddle

Other than the eventing/all-purpose saddle, there are different types out there, more specialized.

A monté saddle, one of many different types of English saddles.

The trot monté saddle is a type of specialized English saddle.

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Showjumping

The showjumping saddle favours the forward seat. This includes short stirrups, which is why the flaps are more forward as well. The flaps have a more padded knee roll for extra support as well. The lower cantle and pommel help the jumping position.

Dressage saddle

The dressage saddle has a straight cut, longer flap, a higher pommel and a deeper saddle seat. This favours the position of the rider, with longer stirrups and therefore legs, as in dressage, one rides on flat ground only.

Endurance saddle

The endurance saddle is for long-distance riding. This means a more padded, more comfortable saddle, as endurance riders often spend hours on horseback, unlike the relative quickness of other sports. It has wider panels to favour more contact with the horse’s back, wider foot-tread in the stirrups, and rings around the pommel to attach items the endurance rider may want. This is closer to the designs used for police and military purposes.

English show saddle

These are much closer to the first 18th-century designs. This is to show the horse’s conformation. It has a straight-cut, long flap, a very flat seat, and no knee or thigh rolls. As such, these English saddles don’t offer much support for the rider.

Sidesaddle

The sidesaddle is very traditional: it calls back to the 14th century and used until the 19th. In the past, women rode sidesaddle. Due to the mores of the time, this meant riding with the legs together, in a dress. Today, there is still some parade and show purposes for this saddle. These saddles have only one stirrup and two pommels. Some may come with only one pommel, but it’s not safe. The pommels help to keep the rider in place, even while jumping.

Saddle seat

The saddle seat saddle sounds redundant, but it’s for good reason. This saddle is for gaited horses, although non-gaited high-action horses wear it as well. These also apply to hunt seat events. These English saddles have longer and flatter seats, as in saddle seat, the rider sits farther back than usual. They also have longer stirrups, at least as long as in dressage rider.

Racing saddles

These are probably the lightest saddles out there. They’re made to be as flat and lightweight as possible, and interfere as little as possible with the horse’s motion and speed. As the jockey doesn’t sit down in the saddle most of the time but relies on the stirrups, this saddle doesn’t protect as much and doesn’t offer a lot of security to the rider. As such, it’s not suitable for riding.

Trot monté saddles

The trot monté, or racing under saddle, is a modality of riding where one races a trotting horse. This is a derivation of harness racing, where the horse trots or paces at high speed while in harness. This sport is popular in France and Belgium, although it’s spread to other countries such as Canada, Wales and Scandinavia. The monté saddles are similar to the racing saddles, although a little heavier.

Polo saddles

These saddles are built specifically for the game of polo. It has a flatter seat and long and straight flaps, slightly more forward than for dressage. There’s very little to no padding for the legs.

Fitting an English saddle

Whatever the saddle, it’s important that it fits the horse properly. The saddle must be in the correct position on the horse’s back, and the rider’s weight should be upon the muscles around the horse’s ribs. There should be at least three-fingers distance from the horse’s shoulder when the horse stands straight. A saddle too far forward will interfere with the horse’s motion, and potentially cause pressure on the horse’s withers. Likewise, a saddle too far back will put pressure on the horse’s loins and might slip, as the girth (which cinches the saddle on the horse) will not close properly.

It’s very important to find a saddle the correct size for your horse, according to the length of its back and the size of the horse itself. It’s also important to fasten it properly, not too tight as to hurt, neither too slack so it won’t slip out of place. The saddle also needs to fit the rider, as otherwise, they will be uncomfortable on the saddle and interfere with their seat.

So what do you think? Do you ride English? What sort of saddle do you have? Let us know in the comments below.

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