Horse Riding Saddles – The 4 Saddles You Must Know.
There are many different styles of horse riding saddles out there. And, within each type, there are variations. What you will find is that there is a REASON saddles differ from each other in the way they are structured. It is not simply a matter of style or fashion. It is a matter of utility. What are the horse and rider trying to accomplish? Are they trying to jump a fence or rope a calf? Saddles have evolved over time to reflect the various things we do with horses.
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There are four BASIC kinds of horse riding saddles that you will most likely see in a riding stable. Be familiar with their differences and the reason they are different. Lets start with a Dressage saddle: These saddles have a very straight cut, long flap in front which is designed to accommodate the longer leg position that a dressage rider utilizes in their discipline. The pommel and the cantle are a bit higher than in some other saddles which leaves a deep seat for the rider to sit and communicate with their horse using their natural aids. Some dressage saddles have more or less padding in this front flap depending on the riders preference in maintaining proper leg position.
By contrast consider the Hunt Seat saddle. This saddle is designed for jumping. Riders use a shorter stirrup length when they are jumping and for this reason, these saddles have a forward-cut flap that has padded knee rolls. The rider, therefore, sits slightly further back than in a Dressage saddle. These things help position the rider in an advantageous way to jump a fence. The pommel and cantle are lower than a Dressage saddle which serves to reduce any interference as the rider takes a two-point position, or half-seat.
The Cutback saddle is another English type saddle, like the other two. And, just so you know, you may hear this saddle referred to as a Lane Fox or a Park Saddle or a Flat Saddle. But they all refer to the same saddle. The Cutback saddle is known for and actually named for the cut back area in the pommel located at the withers. Horses with higher leg action, such as the Saddlebreds, the Tennessee Walkers, the National Show Horse, Morgans and Arabians, will utilize this saddle to accommodate the greater motion of the front legs and shoulders as well as to provide for the often higher withers associated with these breeds. The seat is longer and flatter than either the Dressage or Hunt Seat saddle. Because saddle seat riders also ride with a longer stirrup than hunters, the flap on the cutback is also straight and long.
Finally, we come to the Western saddle. This is a different animal from the three previously discussed horse riding saddles. The evolution of Western saddles has an interesting history that goes back to the Moors and Spaniards. But, without going into too much detail, suffice it to say that it was a war saddle, designed to accommodate a warrior on horseback and his various needs. The saddle was brought to this country and transitioned from a military saddle into one used to accommodate the needs of a working cowboy. Thus, the most distinctive difference is the presence of a horn which was used by cowboys to tie or dally a cow as they are maintaining the herd. And, because these saddles had to be strong enough to handle another animal being tied to the horn, western saddles are bigger, stronger and more substantial than English saddles. Also, unlike the English saddles the stirrups are not detachable, so the stirrups, where you put your feet, are bulkier making it is unlikely that your foot would get hung or stuck.
Although I will not go into it in this article, Western saddles differ among themselves based on what they are used for. For example, Roping saddles have thicker horns for securing a rope. Cutting saddles have a deeper seat and wider swells allowing the rider to endure sharp stops and turns. Barrel racing saddles are more lightweight, with wide swells letting the horse perform fast sprints easier. And there are many more!
This article is simply an overview of the 4 basic kinds of horse riding saddles that you will see in most riding stables. There are plenty more, based on other specialties, like Side Saddle. This should, however, give you enough information to get started learning the 4 basic saddles. If you have the opportunity, try out the various types and you will start getting a feel for what you may prefer.
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Lisa B. Blackstone has been involved in the Arabian horse business all of her life. She operated a family owned Arabian horse breeding and training stable called Onyx Arabians for many years. She went back to law school in the early-90s and is now a practicing attorney in the Atlanta, Georgia area. She is an original founder of the Equine Section of the Georgia Bar. Recently, Lisa launched two websites designed to teach the novice rider about horses and horsemanship. You can visit them at http://www.HorseAndRiderClub.com and http://www.AmericanHorseAssociation.com She continues to ride and to judge Arabian horse shows in the United States and abroad.