The traditional English saddle has four major types and styles:
All four of them are designed to serve the different disciplines to a maximum effect.
The general purpose saddle aims to combine all disciplines to a certain extent:
Riding with long stirrups for dressage and enabling sufficient support by the means of knee rolls to allow jumping with short stirrups.
The design of the General purpose saddle:
The saddle flaps are forward cut and provide knee rolls which support the rider in the forward seat and over jumps. Depending how smart the design of the general purpose saddle is you might find that the knee rolls are actually adjustable. This is often done by velcro fastening and some saddle like the Sankey general purpose saddle even come with different sets of knee rolls, smaller ones for dressage work and more substantial ones for jumping and cross country riding.
The seat of a general purpose saddle is never deep as this would restrict the rider's movement when jumping. The general purpose saddle is designed to be of perfect use in a dressage arena and will enable you to have a pleasant experience over medium (4ft roughly) jumps.
The design of the eventing and jumping saddle:
Both the eventing and the jumping saddle are designed to assist the rider in going with the horse's movement over big jumps and rough terrain. The saddle flaps are cut forward to allow even shorter stirrups in a totally balance manner for the rider. Properly fitting there should still be a line from the rider's bum to his heels and while sitting more forward the rider 's weight is perfectly balanced over the saddle. The seat is very shallow and bigger than in a general purpose saddle. The knee rolls are very thick to support the rider in this position and in some saddles like the Passier eventing they are adjustable and fastened with velcro, which allows amendment to different riders and different positions in the saddle. Quite often both jumping and eventing saddles provide a thigh support which is of advantage when landing after the jump as it prevents the rider from slipping back. Close contact is aa aim for these saddles as well and some are made with an overgirth which puts the buckles of the saddle away from the rider. This is especially common in professial eventing saddles
The design of the dressage saddle:
Typically there are two different designs:
Deep seat and thick knee rolls are created to support the rider in the correct position. Quite often it is claimed that is will enable sittting to horses with big movement. This is indeed the fact but comes at the cost of potentially restricting the rider to float with the movement. A deep seat and strong knee rolls might be advised for a beginner at dressage to keep the rider in a position where a line can be drawn from the rider's shoulders through his bum to the heels. These saddles are very comfortable and feel extremely secure for the rider. Dressage saddles with shallow seats and smaller knee rolls might present more work for the rider to maintain the correct position but also allow the rider to fully absorb the horse's movement.
In general the seat of a dressage saddle is short and deeper than of jumping and general purpose saddles. The dressage saddle also aims to provide a close contact with the horse and therefore most models nowadays come with long girth straps and short girthes. The advantage is that the buckles of the girth no longer lie underneath the rider's thigh. However, the disadvantage is that "doing the girth up" requires some gymnastics.
Dressage saddles nowadays often come with "V" or "W" girthings, both developed to relief the horse's shoulder from any unnecessary pressure and to ensure that the saddle stays well in place. In general purpose and jumping saddles this is often done with an extra "fourth" girth strap.
The saddle flaps of a dressage saddle are always straight cut to complimnet the rider's long leg position.
There are two main choices:
Synthetic trees are lighter and less likely to break. For the manufacturer's developing synthetic trees involves huge costs. Well known makes such as Passier and Kieffer produce them for years now. These trees also withstand horse's sweat and any weather conditions.
Wooden spring trees have the disadvantes that they might be subject to rotting and can break. Passier is producing his PS tree for over 50 years now and use bamboo straps to allow some movement within the tree while still presenting a sturdy tree. Sankey saddlery works with wooden trees and adds cotton webbing to archieve the same result.
Flocking/stuffing of the panels:
A good saddle can be recognized by the material of stuffing. Good makes such as Sankey use pure wool which because it is a natural material absorbs the horse's sweat well and does not clot. It also allows re-stuffing without creating lumps.
The modern approach is full synthetic no memory filling which is not affected by dampness and will not rot. It also rarely requires re-stuffing.
Air-filled panels, such as Flair have become popular and are supposed to be softer. This is probably true if combared to less quality stuffing. However, saddle pressure is not a thing of the past, even with airfilled panels.
Good saddle manufacturers use natural vegetable oil to tan the leather and avoid synthetic leather finish as it wears off over the years and will look scruffy. Waxed leather is popular as it prevents slipping on the saddle and provides a very comfortable ride. Different leather is used on different parts of the saddle and items such as the saddle flaps should be made from sturdy, thick leather to avoid "rolling around the rider's legs".
The gullet & freedom panels:
The wider the gullet the more air can flow over the horse's spine. 4-5cm gullet width is what is expected of a modern saddle. Thighter gullets bear the danger of saddle pressure and heat congestion.
Freedom panels are usually archieved by placing the panels further down to allow more room for the withers.
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