People around the world use the English saddle, not just in England. Both the Olympic competitions and the International Federation of Equestrian Sports use English saddles for their many events including vaulting and reining.
The English saddle has many components that all contribute to the safety and comfort of the riding experience for both the horse and the rider.
The advantage of the English saddle is that it is designed to allow the animal to easily move. This is very important particularly when the horse is jumping or running in outdoor situations where they may need to clear a fence.
The first thing that people notice about an English saddle is that there is no horn on the saddle.
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English saddles are constructed from laminated wood that is layered together into a frame. Over this webbing, padding and leather are layered.
This frame is strengthened under the front arch with steel. This is repeated on the rear side of the frame.
The bars’ area on the side of the saddle frame run down the horse’s back. Steel springs placed between the bars give the saddles more flexibility.
Manufacturers have experimented with using polyurethane and fiberglass in their saddles. Polyurethane has worked well while fiberglass has not.
The saddle is completed with leather to construct the seat, panels, and flats. Wool is typically used to stuff the panels on the underside of the saddle.
That being said, some manufacturers have used synthetic materials such as foam or fiberfill to create more moderately priced products.
- Tree: This is the base of the saddle. As mentioned, it’s generally laminated wood, but more recently, synthetic materials have been used. This is what is covered with leather.
- Panels: These are used to cushion the horse’s back. It’s important that it is adjusted so that the rider can maintain balance. There are two panels fitted to either side of the horse’s spine. These are filled with wool or other materials. Both the front and rear panels are in one piece.
- Seat: The dip in the seat can vary from each saddle. The seat is deep, the rider will have more security and stability.
- Cantle: This is the back ridge of the saddle. It is designed to provide stability for the rider.
- Pommel: While the English saddle doesn’t have a horn like a Western saddle, it does have a pommel on the front. This raised area provides the rider with stability.
- Waist: This is a raised portion of the saddle where is pelvic bones of the rider sit. This makes is more comfortable for riders.
- Gullet: On the underside of the saddle is the gullet, a space between the bars of the saddle frame. This alleviates any pressure on the horse’s spine. Some models allow for the amount of space to be adjusted for the safety and comfort of the horse.
- Billets: These are straps that connect with the saddle tree or frame. They hang down and are buckled at the girth. They are adjustable for the size of the animal and to ensure that they are sufficiently tight. Some models will have long straps that allow greater contact with the animals and lessen the value of material under the rider.
- Sweat flap: To protect the horse from having straps rub its skin and to protect the saddle from the animal’s sweat, the sweat flap is positioned under the billets and the horse.
- Skirt: This is a leather piece that is located over the stirrup bar. It helps protect the rider from rubbing the stirrup leather buckle. This easily accessible part prevents the stirrup leather buckle from coming undone.
- Girth buckle guard: The girth buckle guard prevents the saddle flap from getting worn from the billets and the girth buckles. For saddles with very long billets, these may not be present. In that case, the billets should be buckled to the saddle flap.
- Saddle flap: The saddle flag is a leather piece that is situated between the rider’s leg and the girth buckles and billets. These come in different shapes to suit the rider’s leg and how the saddle will be used.
- Thigh roll: This padded flag is under the rider’s thigh and helps with stability. It is located under the rear sweat panel. This is a common feature for saddles designed for dressage. It’s not often seen in jumping saddles because it can limit the rider’s leg movement.
- Calf block: This is not a feature commonly seen in most saddles. It’s located behind the lower leg of the rider. Its purpose is to keep the leg in a specific position and can increase overall stability.
- Knee roll: This is another feature that can increase the rider’s stability. It’s located near the sweat flap and saddle panel. They are available in a variety of sizes and are sometimes padded for additional support.
- D-ring: This small metal ring is positioned at the front of English saddles. They can be used to comfortably attach breastplates or other equipment. Some saddle models secure the D-ring to the saddle frame. Others connect them to the saddle leather.
- Breastplate and martingale: The breastplate keeps the saddle from moving backward so that the saddle stays in the correct position. It can be attached to the saddle in three or five points to provide the most security. A martingale is used to prevent the horse from throwing the head too high. This movement can create safety issues for the rider and the animal. This piece of equipment goes around the horse’s head and connects to the girth.
- Stirrups: Beyond serving as a place where the rider puts their feet, they can also give the rider additional leverage.
- Iron: This is the actual metal bar where riders place their feet. They are no longer made of iron but rather are created from stainless steel.
- Stirrup bar: This metal bar is secured to the frame of the saddle and is where the stirrups are attached. For the safety of the rider, the bar is usually. If there is a fall, the stirrup comes away from the saddle preventing further injury.
- Leathers: This is the piece of leather used to connect the stirrup to the saddle’s stirrup bar. These are adjustable to meet the rider’s needs.
- Stirrup leather keeper: This keeper allows for extra stirrup leather to be kept out of the way. Often sewn directly into the saddle flag, it keeps straps from interfering with the rider’s leg.
Originally the English saddle was used as a hunting saddle. While it still had the low pommel and cantle, the stirrups were very long.
This pushed the rider’s feet far forward. This is a much different position than is used today.
Most European riders in the 18th century used these saddles with a high pommel for dressage. However, this saddle type was developed from one that had been used in a variety of activities.
This included mounted combat, cattle work, travel over long distances, and even bullfighting. The saddle design provided the rider with support and stability.
A form of this saddle is being used today. They can be seen in Iberia and areas of Eastern Europe.
Following the English Civil War, the style of hunting changed and required a different saddle type.
Until that time, deer hunting as a food source was the norm. Following the war, deer populations had been depleted.
This brought a shift to foxhunting. This style of hunting required riders to have cross hedges, ditches, and fences in order to keep up with the hounds.
The existing saddle made these activities difficult. The pommel could be painful during jumps and the cantle could get in the way when crossing fences or other barriers.
This led to the development of a saddle with a low pommel and a forward seat. Still, the seat was flat and had no padding.
Also, there was no padding under the legs. So the rider had little support.
The next issue was the stirrup bars projecting. This made it difficult to pull the rider’s legs under their body.
This was corrected by using longer stirrups allowing the feet to be pushed forward.
The saddles that were developed in the past form the basis for all current English saddles. As jumping and eventing became more prevalent, new designs of English saddles were developed to meet those riders’ needs.
Shorter stirrups allowed the rider to position the legs while maintaining contact with the horse and assume a position to hover in the saddle.
These new developments brought the need for the forward flap. It also required the stirrup bars to be moved so they couldn’t affect the rider or the horse.
Padding and a narrowing of the saddle also helped with these new riding situations.
English saddles are important pieces of equipment that are designed to protect the rider and the horse.
There are several varieties that are used for different situations. Each has important features to provide safety and comfort.
Today’s English saddles have many features. While it may simply appear to be a seat with a lot of leather straps, each saddle has more to it than what can be easily seen.
That’s why it’s important to understand all the components of the saddle.
To be better riders and care for the horse, everyone needs to know how their English saddle functions.
This comes from understanding how the saddle is designed and the importance of each component.
While it may seem complex, understand that the saddle can be fitted for every rider’s and horse’s needs.
This is a brief overview to help people understand the components of an English saddle and why they are important.
As a rider, growing in the sport and working with the equipment will deeper one’s overall understanding.
Ride on and explore the wonderful sports using an English Saddle.