While at the Arabian Horse Show, you will see many different types of saddles. They can easily be defined by two separate categories: English or Western.
In the English categories, there are: all-purpose show saddle, close contact, cutback, dressage, jumping and side-saddle.
The English show saddle is designed to show off the horse's conformation to it's best advantage, particularly in the shoulder area.
• Everything about the saddle is streamlined and close-fitting, to allow the horse’s conformation to grab all the attention. The seat is very flat, and there are no knee rolls or thigh rolls.
• Stirrup bars are located farther forward than on most English saddles, as both the seat and the rider’s posture are forward-racing.
• The saddle flaps are straight-cut to achieve a trimmer look that does not detract from the horse’s qualities.
• The cutback on the pommel is not over the withers as on other saddles but behind that area, so that the shoulder conformation is visible.
• The location of the billets matches a somewhat rounder conformation, as show horses generally maintain a less athletic condition than horses performing in more energetic disciplines.
The jumping saddle is the most direct descendant of the first true English saddles used for fox-hunting, and some models even include holders for hunting horns. Also known as a forward seat or hunt seat, this saddle is ideal for riders who habitually hurdle the highest fences or obstacles. Some of the activities best suited for the jumping saddle are show jumping, fox hunting, hunt-seat equitation, and the cross-country and stadium phases of eventing.
• Stirrup length is minimal, with stirrups hanging shorter than they would on an all-purpose saddle but not quite as short as racing stirrups.
• Stirrup bars are more forward-facing than on an all-purpose saddle, as the stirrups are hung shorter and the balance is more forward.
• Saddle flaps are generous and forward-facing to support the rider’s legs in the shorter stirrup length, especially while in a half-seat (bottom brushing the saddle) galloping stance or two-point (bottom completely out of seat) jumping position. Flaps may have supportive knee rolls, with the amount of padding addressing the varying needs of different activities.
• The flap-to-leg fit is crucial, especially when negotiating the highest fences in the advanced jumping events. If the flap or its padding forces the knees too far forward or backward, the rider’s balance will suffer.
• The seat is comparatively flat, to allow for the quick and often mid-air positional changes necessary when jumping.
• A relatively low pommel and cantle allow for an unobstructed jumping position.
Stubben Jumping Saddle Passier Jumping Saddle
The close contact saddle offers the closest contact to the horse as possible without riding bareback. It is not for beginners. Riders who participate in hunt seat equitation or show jumping often prefer this saddle. Although difficult to distinguish from the ordinary jumping saddle, it provides the following:
• Padding is minimal throughout the saddle. If there are any knee rolls, they are the very thin “pencil” rolls.
• A low pommel and cantle reduce uncomfortable jarring during the quick positional adjustments used when jumping.
• A flat seat makes it faster and easier for the rider to perform frequent shifts to get in and out of the seat.
• Stirrup bars are usually farther forward than on an all-purpose saddle, as the rider uses shorter stirrups and a more forward posture while getting in and out of the seat.
• The saddle flaps angle forward to accommodate the jumping position.
• Girth billets are generally of standard length.
If you’ve ever seen a dressage competition, you’ll understand why the discipline has earned an alternate designation as “horse ballet.” Through a series of barely perceptible body signals, a rider guides a horse through a succession of complex and athletic movements. Much like a pair of figure skaters, the horse and rider must work together to create the impression of effortless grace, precision, and agility.
To achieve this effect, a rider must maintain perfect balance in the saddle as well as close communication with the animal. Dressage riders use longer stirrups for a more extended leg position, as they work solely on the flat and do not need to negotiate jumps.
• A thin and lightweight saddle enhances contact between the horse and rider and gives the rider more control.
• A deep and well-padded seat keeps the rider in a secure, comfortable, and balanced posture.
• Saddle flaps are straight-cut and extremely long to accommodate the longer leg position. These long flaps are the most easily recognizable characteristics of a dressage saddle.
• Dressage saddles sometimes include small knee rolls, thigh rolls, and calf blocks positioned to keep the rider in a horizontally and vertically balanced riding posture. There is little padding behind the calf, allowing the free movement of the lower leg necessary to give cues to the horse.
• The deepest part of the seat is farther forward than it is on a jumping saddle, and this also works better with the straighter leg position.
• The weight-bearing surface is wider than the one on a jumping saddle.
• A higher, rounder cantle offers more security in the seat.
• Longer billets and shorter girths buckle near the horse’s elbow rather than underneath the rider’s leg. This girthing not only keeps bulk farther down and away from the riders’ extended leg but also offers more comfort and closer contact with the horse.
• Dressage saddles often feature universal billets with both upper and lower sets of holes, which give the rider the option of using either a long or a short girth.
• Some dressage saddles have two sets of billets and two cinches, which distribute the rider’s weight more evenly.
The cutback saddle is a variation of the English show saddle, and it’s all about the razzle-dazzle. You’ll see it at saddleseat events, arena rides, and other exhibitions that showcase gaited horses and emphasize uphill paces. The cutback saddle has an impressive string of alternate names, and equestrians may refer to it as the Park or Saddleseat saddle.
A horse with a high head carriage, upright neck, animated style, and responsive manner will show off its fancy footwork better in this saddle. Breeds most often seen wearing the cutback saddle include National Show Horses and Arabians.
• An opening or “cut” in the pommel creates more room for the high withers of the saddleseats and other gaited breeds. This allows the unrestricted movement of the forelegs and shoulders necessary for high-stepping paces. This cutback can measure up to 4”, and it compensates for the minimal overall padding and absent saddle pad, which make the saddle sit uncomfortably low on the horse’s back.
• The seat is flat and long, placing the rider’s center of balance farther back to permit proper elevation of the horse’s front areas.
• Saddle flaps are longer and wider than those on a dressage saddle, and they extend farther back than any other English saddle. This coverage protects the rider’s legs, which are rather far back due to the shape of the seat.
• There are no knee rolls, sweat flaps, or saddle pads, as the saddle’s intended use is strictly for exhibition in the show arena.
• Thin leather allows the rider to sit very close to the horse.
• Stirrups hang very long, usually at least as long as dressage stirrups.
The cutback saddle is a show-off saddle, designed to spotlight a horse’s lively bearing and elevated stepping. As it is not meant to be used outside the show arena, the saddle has a flat seat, thin covering, and little padding.
Many folks regard the sidesaddle as a quaint relic from the Victorian era, but its appeal has held its grip longer than those restrictive female garments. Although women’s suffrage provided a transition from sitting aside to sitting astride, the sidesaddle is still a part of our equestrian culture. Thanks to several modern safety improvements, the sidesaddle is a practical piece of riding gear that works well in virtually every discipline, including show jumping. It also provides a welcome compromise for riders with injuries or conditions that prevent them from sitting astride.
• The seat is flat and wide enough to accommodate the buttocks and thighs of the rider, who sits with both legs on the horse’s near or left side. Despite the sideward legs, a rider faces forward and distributes weight evenly between the two buttocks.
• There are two pommels: the standard pommel and a safety pommel called the “leaping horn,” which curves down over the left leg. This piece provides a brace for the leg to latch onto in case of a sudden movement or leap. The leaping horn is a relatively new modification that made the sidesaddle safe enough to withstand jumps.
• There is only one very short stirrup, which buckles halfway down the leather and positions the left knee close to the leaping horn.
• A long, protruding cantle on the off or right side keeps the rider’s spine correctly positioned on the horse’s back and supports the right thigh.
• A forward-extending flap on the near side prevents the rider’s right leg and foot from making contact with the horse’s left shoulder.
• A three-buckle girthing system includes two standard girths and one balancing girth. A European innovation designed for hunting situations, the balancing girth is an important modern addition that protects the rider’s vulnerable kidney area from friction caused by the back of the saddle.
Some riders respect the historical and stylistic value of sidesaddles and seek to preserve the riding practice as a form of art. This renewed interest has created a niche market for antique and modern versions. Although manufacturers continue to produce these saddles, they are much less plentiful than other types.
An Arabian saddle is designed specifically for the unique conformation of the Arabian Breed. Wish short, broad backs and low, flat withers, Arabians can sometimes be difficult to fit with traditional western saddles made to fit longer backed horses.
Typical features include: a saddle tree with Arabian bars; shorter, wider and with more curve to follow the curvature of the horses back. Skirts no longer than 27", usually round, to fit a shorter back. Gullet widths from 6-1/4" - 6-3/4" but, can be found up to 7-1/2". The pitch of angle of the gullet will be flatter to fit the flatter withers.
The show saddle is designed for looking good rather than working hard. These decorative saddles are for the show arena and impacted by current fashion trends more than any other western saddle types. Particular styles and features come in and out of fashion, so, if you want to be in the ribbons, you need to know what's in and what's not. Typical features of the show saddle include: ornate and deep tooling patterns. Silver trim on the skirt, cantle, horn, fork & stirrups. Short horn and fork to avoid interference with the reins. Deeper skirts to show off silver and tooling. Seat with the balance point in the center for proper rider position. Padded or suede seats for grip. Low cantle. Tulrned stirrups to present a proper line to the rider's leg.
In the category of western Arabian horse show saddles, we will find both custom and production types.
A custom saddle is built by hand with high quality materials according to an individual customer’s specifications. In most instances, one saddlemaker builds the entire saddle, although apprentices may work on less critical items such as covering stirrups or making straps. The typical hand-crafted saddle requires 35-50 hours to build, however, a more detailed saddle can take quite a while longer. There is a wide range of skill among custom saddlemakers. Saddle making is an art and a craft that takes time to master. Many of the top saddlemakers working today have long waiting lists and well-deserved prices that place them out of reach for most of us. The quality of a saddle is dependent upon the quality of the materials and the level of skill of the saddlemaker. You’ll find that prices for custom saddles fall within a relatively narrow range among saddlemakers. Quality materials cost each saddlery shop about the same and most factor in a similar amount for their time. Currently, a typical custom saddle will cost between $2500 and $4000. More elaborate saddles can cost quite a bit more. It typically will take 3 to 12 months to have your saddle built, depending on the saddlemaker’s backlog. Most will require a non-refundable down payment. The balance is usually due on delivery of the finished saddle.
It takes the equivalent of a complete cowhide to make a leather saddle. The heavy hides used in saddle making are known as saddle skirting and are shipped from tanneries as "sides." Skirting comes in different weights and grades. Thick leather is used for critical, heavy wear parts such as fenders, stirrup leathers, and seats. Lighter weight leather is used for areas that need to stretch around different shapes such as the fork, cantle back, and stirrup covers. There are two sides to the skirting - the grain side and the flesh side. The grain side is what faces out in most saddles and is the side that can be stamped and carved. In addition to being decorative, tooling creates some texture on the smooth side to reduce the slickness of the leather. When the flesh side faces out it's called "rough-out." A saddle can be completely "rough-out" or can have "rough-out" parts such as the seat and fenders. Partial or complete rough-out saddles are common among working cowboys as they improve the rider's grip. The quality of leather can vary dramatically from tannery to tannery. By examining different saddles in different price ranges, you'll quickly be able to see the differences. Low quality leather is thin, can crack easily when flexed, curls up with use, and often has a lacquer finish on it to make it look shiny - a sure sign of low quality.
A production saddle (also called a factory or manufactured saddle) is machine-made in an assembly-line process with each worker in the line responsible for a single, or several, steps in the assembly. The use of machines and semi-skilled labor can substantially reduce the cost of building a saddle. Since a single person doesn't build the entire saddle, however, the quality can vary from part to part. You’ll find that production saddles vary dramatically in quality and price. Many are of very good quality, and some can even approach the quality of a custom saddle. Others aren’t even worth the small price they cost. The two factors that determine the quality of the final product are the quality of materials and the quality of the construction methods. High quality factory saddles use quality materials and construction.
You are sure to see both custom and high quality production saddles in the show. Although most activities will not require a specific type of western saddle, there will be a few specialty events like reining, cutting and side saddle. A reining saddle is designed for use in the sport of reining, a competitive event that involves meticulous patterns of circles, spins, and sliding stops. A reining saddle provides the rider with the close contact needed to communicate those moves to his horse in a manner so subtle that they will ideally go unseen by the spectator. Reining is an event created to show off a horse’s athleticism and the advanced communication between horse and rider. In reining, it’s the horse, not the rider that’s the star. The reiner saddle will place the rider in the proper, balanced position and keep the rider out of the horse’s way. Typical features include:
* Medium height horn and fork (lower than on a cutting saddle) so as not to interfere with the rider’s hands or reins
* Seat sits low on the horse’s back and is shaped to allow the rider to roll their pelvis back for the big stops
* Cutout skirts to put the rider’s leg close to the horse for communication
* Free-swinging fenders hung from the center of the saddle tree to provide maximum freedom for the rider to communicate the cues
* Thinner stirrup leathers to remove bulk and allow the leg to be closer to the horse
* Front cinch only. No flank cinch.
* Dropped rigging to lessen the bulk under the rider’s legs
* Silver trim is common to add some flash at competitions
The cutting saddle is designed for “cutting,” the process of separating a single cow, steer, or calf from a larger herd. Cutting is a finesse activity and requires a finesse saddle. A cutter is designed for to keep the rider balanced and out of the way of the horse during sharp starts, stops, and turns. Contrary to what you might it expect, a cutter is not an overly secure saddle, so it's up to the rider to use their balance to stay in place during what can be quite a wild ride. Typical features of a cutting saddle include:
* Tall, thin horn for an easy handgrip
* High, wide and straight swells - the one feature on the saddle designed to hold in the rider during sharp turns
* Flat, long, smooth seat to allow maximum maneuverability. (Cutting seats tend to be longer than other styles.)
* Rough-out jockeys and fenders for better grip
* Forward-hung and free-swinging fenders to allow the rider to stay balanced and deep during sharp stops and turns
* Slim stirrups to keep the boot in place
* Low cantle that won’t hit the rider in the back
* Double rigging - front cinch and flank cinch
A cutter saddle is a relatively versatile saddle, which can make it an economical saddle to own. In addition to cutting, a cutter can be a good choice for training, for penning events and even for reining, in a pinch. These activities all require close contact and movement by the rider to stay out of the horse's way.
The handwork and craftsmanship on a Western side saddle is outstanding. These saddles are handmade, one at a time. You will rarely find one for resale since once someone owns one, they won't easily part with it. Hand carved tooling, quilted seats and safe bars lined with real shearling. Rounded skirts for shorter-backed horses like Arabians. You may see both English and Western side saddles used in a side saddle competition.
Top of Page