Different Types of English Saddles
Once you have been riding for a while, you might find that you want to buy a saddle of your own. Taking a trip to the local tack shop is a great beginning, but it can be overwhelming to discover the wide range of English saddles available on the market. How do you know which style is best for your needs?
The following list describes the most common styles of English saddles available on the market. While you might find that one type is better for your needs than another, remember that comfort is highly important, and should not be compromised. Also consider that a saddle must also fit the horse you ride, and should be tried before making your final decision. Most tack stores will allow a buyer to try a saddle and return it if the saddle is not suitable. Just be prepared to pay for the saddle in advance in case of damage.
Just like its name, an all-purpose saddle is designed to suit most English disciplines. Built with a mid-height pommel and cantle, all purpose saddles are fairly secure to ride in. Good-sized knee rolls with suede leather sections offer good grip and help the rider maintain a correct position. All-purpose saddles are great for beginning riders and riders who are not ready to specialize. More advanced riders may become frustrated with the padding, which can interfere with more advanced movements and rider positions.
A favorite of many hunter/jumper riders, close contact saddles do not have the padding that all-purpose saddles have. There is no knee roll, and the pommel and cantle are generally not as high. Beginners may feel lost and off balance in a close contact saddle as there is little to support their position. More advanced riders like the feel of the saddles, as they can feel the horse beneath them more easily.
Designed for jumpers, this saddle has a flap that is cut forward, so that there is better support for the leg while using a shorter stirrup length. This can be quite important as riders challenge the large fences found in the advanced jumper ring. There is a fair bit of padding on the saddle, but it is positioned differently than on an all-purpose saddle. It is difficult to use a jumping saddle for extensive flat work, and most jumper riders have a second saddle for use during training on the flat.
This is the style of saddle designed primarily for dressage riders. With long, straight flaps, the saddle support the longer stirrup length that dressage riders prefer. The cantle is generally fairly high, offering a lot of security to the rider. One interesting design difference in dressage saddles is the way the girth attaches. The long billets allow dressage girths to be very short in length, fastening below the flap, rather than beneath the rider’s leg. Likewise, the stirrup leathers are often designed to avoid large buckles. Dressage saddles are useless for jumping, but are necessary for more advanced levels of dressage. If a rider has no intention of jumping, the dressage saddle can be very comfortable, and helps a rider maintain position for dressage.
While there are many other styles of saddle available that can be used for English riding, these are the most common. Take your time and choose a saddle that not only fits your discipline, but also is comfortable and fits your horse. A saddle is an expensive investment, but if well chosen, can last you a lifetime.