These are under the flap of the saddle Tree : the base on which the rest of the saddle is built, usually based on wood or a wood-like synthetic material, with metal elements added, such as the stirrup bar and, in some cases, the gullet. Often stuffed with wool or foam flocking, or maintained by sealed air pockets.
In some models, the angle (and thus the width) of the front arch can be adjusted on an individual saddle by use of interchangeable elements. Though imprecise terminology, the gap between the stuffed panels is colloquially referred to as the gullet.
Pommel : the front of the saddle, which is raised higher than the seat both to provide security for the rider and to give the horse's withers clearance. Waist or Twist : the part of the saddle between the seat and the pommel, on which the rider's pelvic bone rests.
Sweat flap : The large piece of leather on the underside of the saddle that goes between the billets and the horse. Billets or points : Straps which are secured over the saddle tree on stout webbing and hang down, to which the girth is buckled.
Knee roll : the padded part at the front of the English saddle's panel and sweat flap, helping to give the rider more leg support. D-ring or Staple : a metal ring with rounded or squared corners on the front of an English saddle, to which certain pieces of equipment, such as breastplates, can be attached.
This saddle was based on a model used for bull fighting, cattle work, long-distance travel, and mounted combat, as its high pommel and castle helped to provide the rider with support. This saddle is still used today, most notably by the Spanish Riding School, and also in Iberia and Eastern Europe.
In England, foxhunting grew in popularity (as the usual quarry of deer had dwindled following the English Civil War, when they were hunted for food). This required a new type of riding, as horse and rider now had to tackle fences, hedges, ditches, and banks straight on if they wished to keep up with the hounds and witness the kill.
The resulting saddle developed for foxhunting had a very low pommel and castle with a flat seat, and no padding under the leg, therefore providing the rider with little, if any, support. The stirrup bars were protruding, and placed more forward than modern saddles, which made it nearly impossible for the rider to keep his legs underneath his body.
However, the usual practice was to ride with longer stirrups, and the feet pushed out in front, so this was not a problem. As the sports of show jumping and evening became more popular, saddle shape changed.
The shorter stirrup required a more forward flap, to match the greater knee angle of the rider. Additionally, padding was placed under the knee rolls, for extra security.
Note the lack of panels and addition of prominent pommels and castle, the difference in stirrups, and the traditional horn. The term English saddle encompasses several types, including those used for show jumping and hunt seat, dressage, Saddle seat, horse racing and polo. The other major characteristic which defines an English saddle is that it has panels : these are a pair of pads attached to the underside of the seat and filled with wool, foam, or air.
The tree and its various parts are upholstered with a covering made of leather, nylon or microfiber and shaped to form the seat above and the panels below. The most important distinctions are the location and therefore the balance of the seat, and the flap length and shape.
The seat will also be closer to the withers, to keep the rider's center of gravity in the correct spot. If the seat was not moved rearward, the rider would be forced ahead of the saddle over a fence.
A racing saddle, where jockeys ride with incredibly short stirrups, will have an extremely forward and short saddle flap (almost more horizontal than vertical), and the seat will be extended well back from the pommel to keep the rider’s center of gravity correctly situated. Supportive padding in the seat, size and shape of knee rolls and the use of additional blocks behind the leg is also considered when developing a saddle.
While a polo saddle is constructed with a minimum of padding to allow the polo player great freedom to twist and reach for his shot, a saddle used for jumping or evening may have more padding to help give the rider support over fences. Another development is the monoflap saddle, in which both the sweat flap and saddle flap are made of lighter weight leather, stitched together around the edges leaving only a passage point for the girth straps, thus reducing the thickness of leather between the rider and the horse, and giving a closer feel, while still protecting the horse's skin from straps.
However, while evening saddles usually do have better balance and higher quality materials and workmanship, a fundamental design difference is otherwise difficult to discern. Many manufacturers create two models, one with a slightly straighter dressage-oriented flap that still allows a rider to jump low fences, and another with a more forward flap that allows a rider to jump somewhat more challenging fences, but still permit a deep seat for flat work.
One company manufactures a design with a flap that can be adjusted to be straighter or more forward, as the rider prefers. Many top-level endurance riders find this design superior to an “endurance” style saddle for distance competition because it allows them to get off the horse's back and move quickly over rough or mountainous terrain, yet provides greater security to the rider.
On the other hand, this compromise design also means that an advanced rider may find the saddle limits his or her ability to obtain a correct position at higher levels of competition, either in show jumping or dressage. Many cheap models are designed with a too-forward cut flap that is not properly aligned with the seat, which prevents the rider from getting into a correct position on the flat and sometimes gives the rider the uncomfortable sensation of feeling like they are constantly sliding backwards.
Also, when the stirrups are adjusted correctly for jumping, the rider's knees are not always placed properly in relation to the flap. Some models also are too high in the castle, which can hit a rider in the buttocks and push the seat too far forward when jumping all but the smallest fences.
It is important that the rider's leg fit appropriately into the flap of the jumping saddle when the stirrups are shortened. If the knee is too far forward or back, the rider's balance will be incorrect and the saddle becomes a hindrance rather than an advantage while jumping obstacles.
The pommel is a bit higher and the deepest point of the saddle's seat more forward, all to allow for this longer leg position. The stuffing of the panels is often kept to a minimum in a dressage saddle, to allow a closer feel with the horse.
However, there is usually little padding behind the calf, as the rider needs to be able to freely move the lower leg to give aids to the horse. Gained breeds using this saddle include the American Saddle bred, Tennessee Walking Horse, and Missouri Foxtrotted.
The seat places the rider's center of balance farther back on the horse than in other English riding disciplines, though correct saddle seat equitation still demands that the rider's legs and feet be balanced under the horse. The first was a flatter European saddle developed to sit the rider further back to show off the high front leg action of flashy horses, often seen quite literally during Sunday rides in city parks.
The second source was the plantation saddle developed in the southern United States that allowed riders to sit back comfortably on a gained horse as they covered large areas of land on a daily basis. Its major task is to provide the horse and rider with the comfort and balance needed to cover long distances over rough terrain, sometimes for multiple days.
For the rider, the seat is often quilted or padded, and the stirrups are designed with a wide foot tread to reduce fatigue. The saddle has many Dee rings along the pommel and castle that allow the rider to attach various items.
The panels are stuffed with different types of material, all designed to spread pressure evenly and disperse sweat. Most endurance saddles may have extended panels (called “fans” or “blazers”), which increase bearing area.
Others may have “floating” panels, which are particularly useful since endurance riders often ride with their seat out of the saddle (releasing pressure from the back, but increasing the amount felt on the stirrup bars where they attach near the point of the tree). The seat is very flat, and there are no knee or thigh rolls, so the saddle offers little support to the rider.
Many show horses are also presented in fatter condition than in more athletic disciplines, so the billets are placed to help keep the saddle properly placed on a rounder animal, with the foremost billet on show pony saddles frequently being attached directly to the point of the front arch of the tree; this is known as a “forward point”. The traditional position of the old style show rider was to ride with the feet placed forward, and the seat pushed back, which was once thought to encourage more action and to make the horse look as if it has a longer front end.
Modern competitors are starting a trend to a more classical position, with the leg placed underneath their body and their hips over their heel, a position more forgiving on the horse's back that encourages better movement. There is sometimes slight padding in these saddles, providing extra support, and the horses themselves are often shown in leaner, more athletic condition.
In the USA, the four main divisions in modern horse shows are Western, Hunt seat, Saddle seat (the two English divisions use the same basic style of saddle but different bridles and rider appointments), and “historical,” which may depict any culture or period, but must be fully researched and correctly utilized. Thus, most riders who wish to ride sidesaddle are often found hunting for older saddles at antique shops, estate sales, and in dusty barn lofts.
Although there are some sidesaddles that lack a leaping horn, they are not considered safe by modern standards. The vast majority of sidesaddles are designed so riders sit with both legs on the near (left) side of the horse, though occasionally a sidesaddle is found that is reversed and allows the rider to sit with their legs to the off (right) side.
Many have a small curved pommel and a long, raised castle on the off side to support the offside thigh and to help riders keep their spine squared on the horse's back. On some designs, the seat of the sidesaddle is angled away from the side on which the legs lie to help the weight of the rider remain centered over the horse's back.
The near-side flap is commonly cut forward to keep the rider's right leg and foot from touching the horse's left shoulder. The flat racing saddle is designed to not interfere with a running horse and to be as lightweight as possible (including the stirrup irons).
They generally have only one billet to attach the girth, and so an over girth is usually added to keep it secure. Saddles used in steeplechases are generally slightly heavier and more substantial, usually being built on a full tree.
One of the defining features of the polo saddle is that there is very little or no padding under the leg, allowing the rider to have maximum freedom of movement. If the saddle had thigh or calf blocks, the leg would not be allowed to swing forward or back as needed.
This can be done by having someone on the ground pull each of the horse's forelegs as far forward as possible, holding the leg at the knee, while another person checks the shoulder blade. A properly fitting saddle will “find its own place” when put on over the withers, and then slid back until it will not easily slide further.
Interference with the horse's shoulder blades as it extends the forelegs, folds the legs over fences, or when the leading leg in canter or gallop is in the most rearward position (the top of the shoulder blade can move a full one and a half inches backwards from the standing position during canter and gallop). When the saddle is too far forward the pommel rises up, tilting the castle down and moving the seat back, so it is impossible for the rider to maintain a correct balanced position.
This not only makes it extremely difficult for the rider to stay balanced, as they are constantly trying to scramble “uphill,” but also places the majority of weight close to the castle, and hence on the horse's loins. The stirrup bars are placed forward of the natural drop of the stirrups, causing pressure from the rider's feet to push them to go too far forward, resulting in a chair seat position, so that correct balance is very difficult.
Pressure on the horse's loins, which is not only uncomfortable for the animal, but may cause damage to the spinal column, particularly the lumbar vertebrae, which are not supported by the ribs. A saddle must be measured for width, length, and front arch height (clearance over the withers).
However, a saddle that is much too wide will not have adequate wither clearance, especially on a high-withered horse, causing pressure in this area. Too much pressure in the short term can lead to rubs and saddle sores, long-term problems may include damage to the thoracic vertebrae that make up the withers.
Poor flocking (stuffing) or pressure points from the saddle tree will decrease the bearing area. Uneven fit increases the pounds per square inch in a given area of the back, which can lead to soreness or even injury.
Distribution of flocking can be tested by running the hands down the panels while applying slight pressure. A saddle fitter can check to make sure see if the panels are correctly stuffed for the horse.
Height of the gullet The saddle should provide adequate clearance for the spine and withers. Just as an athlete cannot perform their best if they have shoes that do not fit, even excellent riders have a difficult time riding well in a poorly balanced or ill-fitting saddle.
Therefore, it is best to find a model that is comfortable and allows the rider to easily maintain the correct position. However, seat measurement is not a hard and fast way to determine if a saddle will fit a given rider.
Length of thigh often plays a greater role in selecting a proper seat size than does rider weight or hip width. As a rough rule of thumb, sizes 16½ and below (19" for Saddle Seat) are generally for youth riders and smaller women.
18 inch saddles are the most common size for adult men and larger women. Pommel/Castle height : the castle should be slightly higher than the pommel, so the seat is not too far back (which would tip the rider backward and force the lower legs forward).
Some saddle twists are designed more for the pelvic structure of men than for women and thus may be uncomfortable for the other gender. Long term, poor saddle fit may cause multiple back problems for the horse.
Horses may also lose muscle tone from traveling with a hollowed back, leading to increased risk of Lords (“swayback”), kissing spines, or pinched nerves. For riders, spending long hours in a poorly fitting saddle may result in lower back pain as a consequence of incorrect pelvic angle.
Saddles that are too small may also cause discomfort if the rider's seat is pushed into contact with the pommel. Sore back or “cold” back Hollowing of the back, raising the head, and tensing the jaw against the bit while under saddle General stiffness or one-sidedness, shown by a reluctance to take one lead over the other at the canter or reluctance to turn in one or both directions Shortness of stride Unwillingness to work, including “napping” or “balking” (refusal to go forward), Bucking, rearing, bolting, or overall sour attitude Uneven wear on the hooves Reluctance to be saddled, exhibited by fidgeting, tooth grinding, biting or kicking).
Intermittent or unexplained lameness Uneven sweat or dirt pattern under the saddle after a workout, particularly dry spots in an area that should normally be sweaty. For example, two dry spots just behind the withers on either side of the back are indicative of either excess pressure causing reduced circulation.
Riding with a white cloth under the saddle is used as a diagnostic tool to make uneven patterns more visible. The hair may become sweaty, but shouldn't be roughed up to the point it lays sideways or backwards to its direction of growth.
Other countries that produce fine English saddles are Ireland, France, Germany, Australia, Italy, Switzerland, Canada and the United States. Argentina produces many English saddles, particularly for the polo market, as well as many brands that are in the mid-range of prices for other disciplines.
The least expensive saddles are usually manufactured in India and can vary tremendously in quality of both workmanship and leather.