Have you ever worn a pair of shoes that’s a little too big or small for your feet? You either end up with blisters and calluses or walking awkwardly when you wear something that does not fit. The same thing goes with your saddles–using the wrong type and buying one in the wrong size can affect not just your horse’s performance, it can also cause spine damage which will result in an uncomfortable riding experience.
The saddle is more than just something you fasten to your horse’s back so you can sit properly during a ride. It’s an important piece of tack that ensures comfort and security while protecting your riding partner. In the early days, saddles used to be simple saddle pads held in place with a wide strap or cloths thrown over the back of the horse which then evolved into tree and leather saddles.
While it’s easy to buy or order a saddle you can use, keep in mind that you need to take into consideration your riding style, the activities you will do, and how it fits you and your equine. Choosing a saddle sounds like a tall order, but don’t worry, we’re here to help you make the right choice.
In this article, we will talk about:
- The difference between Western and English Saddles
- The different types of saddles and when to use it
- How to choose the best saddle
- How you can solve poor saddle fit
- How to clean and maintain your saddles
English or Western Saddle–is there a difference?
The saddles available in the market today can be divided into two main categories–English and Western. At first glance, you’ll think that these saddles look alike and while they do have similar parts, there are differences in terms of weight, size, and where best to use each.
Developed with the needs of cowboys in mind, Western saddles are heavier and made to distribute weight evenly on the horse’s back. It also has a deeper seat, making it ideal for long rides and easier for the rider to relax his legs. One of the western saddle’s defining features is called a horn, which is used to secure a rope when working with cattle or to give the riding something to hold on to when doing fast turns.
Meanwhile, English saddles are smaller, lighter, and designed to allow horse movement while giving a safe and secure seat to the rider. Both saddles help protect your horse’s back during riding and choosing one over the other will depend on your riding style plus the activities you intend to do with your horse.
What are the different types of saddles and when is the best time to use each?
With so many saddles to choose from, which do you pick? Do you simply go for an all-around saddle you can use for any activity? Taking into account your safety and the well-being of your riding partner, you need to choose a saddle that will provide utmost comfort while ensuring optimum performance. Let the comprehensive list below guide you:
English saddles are known to provide closer contact to the horse’s back. Available in varying designs, there are English saddles perfect for specific activities and are usually made from leather or synthetic materials.
- General Purpose Saddle - Also known as the eventing saddle, this versatile option can be used for many purposes – especially when taking riding lessons or doing flatwork and jumping. If you’re a beginner and still learning the ropes of horseback riding, this saddle is perfect for you.
- Dressage Saddle - With its deep seat and straight saddle flaps, this type is ideal for advanced riders who compete in dressage competitions.
- Jumping Saddle - As its name implies, this type features a design that offers balance and security when jumping. With its flat seat and forward cut saddle flaps, the rider can bend his knee and have a shorter stirrup.
- Endurance Saddle - Spotting the Endurance Saddle can be challenging – as it looks like a western saddle without the horn and a general purpose saddle with extra padding. This type is often used for long rides, riding over terrain, endurance racing, and trail riding.
- Racing Saddle - Designed specifically for jockeys and racing, this type has a flatter seat and short stirrups.
- Saddle Seat Saddle - Particularly used for an event called Saddle Seat, this saddle is longer and flatter than the dressage saddle. Using this type will place the rider’s center of gravity farther on the horse’s back.
- Side Saddle - Invented with a two-pommel design to allow women to ride with both legs on one side of the horse, the side saddle guarantees security when galloping and jumping. Nowadays, it’s also used by riders who have injuries.
- Polo Saddle - Your guess is correct–this saddle is used for mounting games like polo. It has straight and long flaps, a flatter seat, and has no padding under the leg to allow the rider to move freely.
If you’re doing Western riding, determining the type of riding you’ll do will make it easier for you to choose a Western saddle as it’s categorized by intended use. Before shopping, review the list below:
- Show Saddle - Available in different designs, this type is meant to call attention in a show ring. With ornaments and trims, a show saddle has turned stirrups, padded seats, deep skirts, and short horns and forks.
- Endurance Saddle - Similar to the English type, a Western endurance saddle is ideal for trail riding and long rides on rough terrain. It’s sturdy yet lightweight and guaranteed to offer comfort as it has padded seats.
- Barrel Racing Saddle - Ideal for gaming events, this type has a deep seat with higher cantle, a tall horn, and a high fork with wide swells, to name a few. The Barrel Racing Saddle is small and lightweight so you can maneuver easily while ensuring safety as you make turns and do sprints.
- Flexible Tree Saddle - With the comfort of your horse in mind, this type can be on top of your wishlist. It’s lightweight, fits a wide range of horses, and designed with a rigid fork and cantle making it a go-to-choice.
- Ranch Saddle - The name says it all–this saddle is heavy-duty and designed for working with cattle. It has a deep seat, a high cantle, and thick horns.
- Trail or Pleasure Saddle - Lightweight with a padded seat, this type promises riding comfort while helping you stay in proper riding position during long rides.
- Roping Saddle - Designed for roping events, this saddle usually has rough or suede seats, rounded forks, and thick horns.
- Cutting Saddle - If you’re looking into participating in cutting events, this type is ideal as it’s designed to provide balance while keeping you out of your riding partner’s way. It can also be used for reining and training.
- Reining Saddle - This saddle can help you maintain a balanced position and a close contact with your horse making it suitable for training and reining events.
How do you make the right saddle choice?
Once you’ve identified the type of saddle you need, the next step involves making sure it’s the right fit for you and your horse. To do this, you need to check how it suits your horse’s back, ensuring measurements, and making sure you’re comfortable using it. Here are some tips to try:
- Make sure it’s centered. Horse trainer Terry Peiper suggests placing the saddle on your horse’s back without a pad and without tightening the cinch. It’s important that it remains in the middle and does not slide off.
- The withers should be free. A perfect fit ensures the comfort, health, and overall performance of your horse. It’s important that his withers and shoulders have room to move. Enough clearance is needed so that when he bends, his withers can move. Jessica Jahiel, a clinician and lecturer, explains that “a saddle’s front arch should be high enough to leave his withers free…and wide enough so that his shoulders can slide back and forth freely.”
You can make this step easier if you’re familiar with the types of horse withers. After all, the correct tack can benefit your riding pal in the long run.
- Keep an eye on the gullet channel. Notice the hollow down the middle of the underside of your saddle? It’s the gullet channel. When checking this, you need to make sure there’s room for the spinal ligament which is said to be four fingers-wide. Peiper explains that having one that’s too wide may lead to a saddle sitting on top of your horse’s spinal ligament.
- Check the saddle bars. The angle of the bar in front needs to match with your equine’s shoulders to allow movement.
- Assess the impression after use. After going on a test ride to see if your riding pal will experience discomfort, check the impression once you lift the saddle. The hair must be equally flattened from front to back and on both sides – not in the middle as this is a sign that the saddle sits on top of the spinal ligament. Look out for ruffled hair as well as this is a sign of friction which equates to poor saddle fit.
In addition to these things, it’s also important that you take into consideration your own comfort as a rider. Depending on your riding discipline, you have the option to choose a bigger or smaller seat. Keep in mind that there needs to be a four-inch space between the front of your body and the swell of the saddle and that your backside is resting at the base of the cantle.
How can you solve poor saddle fit?
We cannot stress it enough – a well-fitting saddle is important because it affects your overall riding performance. Not only will the right saddle encourage your equine’s natural freedom of movement, it also helps you find an effective riding position. Let’s be honest, though, curveballs happen and you might end up with an ill-fitting saddle. How do you know when you have the wrong saddle?
- Are you having a difficult time tacking up?
Behavioral changes may mean that your riding partner is not comfortable with the saddle and is experiencing pain due to saddle fit. While there are different factors that cause changes in behavior, it’s important that you rule out the saddle as the cause.
- Are there hard nodules on your horse’s back?
Hard nodules are results of too much pressure and friction. Commonly seen under the spot where you sit or on the side of the withers, these nodules can be painful. To solve this, you can use a pad that distributes pressure evenly. A quality gel saddle pad that keeps your saddle in place while protecting your horse’s back may come in handy.
A middle riser anti-slip gel pad is the ideal choice for equines with spots and rubs at the middle region of their back as it provides cushioning and protects against soreness.
- Are the withers sore?
Do you notice a raised area on either side of your horse’s withers? This swelling can also appear along the edges of a horse’s spine because of poor saddle fit. Remedy the situation by checking the tree size and gullet width then choosing a saddle pad to go with it.
A gel saddle pad is the best choice for horses with a sore back. Just make sure you get the sizing right as thick pads can also add pressure even if your saddle is well-fitted. Aside from the previously mentioned middle riser anti-slip gel pad, there are types available such as the seat saver anti-slip gel pad which is ideal for saddle bridging and those who need additional shock-absorbing padding, and the front-riser anti-slip gel pad which is suitable for horses with prominent withers but lack muscles behind it.
How do you keep your saddle looking brand-new?
Any tack is an investment and your saddle needs proper care and maintenance so you can make the most of your purchase. Every time you go on rides with your equine, your saddle is exposed to the elements, sweat, and dirt so it’s a must that you clean it after every use. To do this, you would need:
- Saddle Soap or leather cleaner
- Bristle brush
- Accessory cleaner
- A bucket of water
Clean your saddle with the steps below as guide:
- Remove fittings and unfasten the buckles so you can clean the saddle thoroughly. Use a wet cloth or towel to remove dirt, dust, and grime. Remember that these things can affect your riding pal’s skin, too, so best get rid of them.
- Apply a thin layer of saddle soap using a damp sponge in small, circular motions. Cover the entire leather area including the undersides.
- Remove the excess soap residue using a lightly damp towel and make sure you wipe the crevices and folds as well as the residue can damage your saddle.
- You have the option to use a leather conditioner sparingly – just make sure you follow the instructions on the label of the product you’re using.
- Don’t forget to clean the metal fittings by wiping them with a dry cloth and polishing them afterwards.
When cleaning your saddle, be on the lookout for signs of wear and tear like loose seams, wear on the seat, lumpy foam, and a squeaking saddle tree. Depending on the damage, it might be more pocket-friendly to buy a new one than having it repaired.
Your saddle plays a big role in making sure you have pleasurable and optimum rides with your equine. It’s recommended that you have it checked every year to ensure proper fit. Since your horse’s body changes over time – because of age, weight gain or loss, and exercise–it’s important to have the fit evaluated regularly to avoid injuries and problems.
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