English Saddle Types
Which Flavor is Best for You?

The English saddle types may look somewhat alike to the uninitiated or the Western saddle devotee but in reality are very different, each type designed for specific uses. In fact, choosing the correct type of English saddle may even be more critical than is the case with the Western saddle.

We'll summarize the three basic styles, focusing on why they are designed as they are to serve an intended purpose.

You may eventually settle on a variation of one of these styles or a "general purpose" saddle (yes, there are such things), but hopefully the material here will get you started in getting a saddle fitting the intended purpose.

In general we look for a saddle to accomodate either pleasure riding or a specific event i.e, a performance saddle.

The Forward Seat will not be comfortable for longer rides and in hunter - jumper competition and the performance of horse and rider would suffer with the Dressage saddle and even more so with a Saddle Seat type.

So, let's see why each type is especially suited to the intended function.

  • Forward Seat/ Jumping

    The great Italian trainer and innovator Federico Caprilli understood that a horse should be allowed to jump freely and unfettered - that among other things, the riders knees and thighs should be so positioned that the riders seat would remain clear of the back of the saddle.

    Evolving from Caprilli's design, the Forward Seat saddle makes it easier for the rider to lean forward into the jump coordinating his or her movements with that of the horse. As is the case with many new innovations and changes, the Caprilli design initially met with a degree of resistance if not downright ridicule. However, English foxhunters soon recognized the tremedous advantages of the forward seat and the rest, as they say, is history.

    This saddle has a deep seat, the stirrups are relatively short with the flaps extending forward to accomodate the rider's leg position. Ideal for eventing, the forward seat is not so well suited to endurance or pleasure riding. These saddles usually are light allowing the rider to sit close to the horse, to feel the horse and communicate more readily with seat and legs.

    The Forward Seat saddle requires more training on the part of the rider in developing a sure seat than does the Western saddle or other English styles. Better riding form is often the result.

    That said, the Forward Seat has its specific purpose and would not be a good choice as a saddle for the horse lover who has primarily pleasure riding in mind.

  • Saddle Seat

    The Saddle Seat is used with the gaited horse to best show off the horse's animation. Because of the manner in which the gaited horse carries its head and neck its center of gravity is farther back ( typically 2-3 inches) and the seat is accordingly set back more than usually encountered in most English (or Western) riding activities.

    Consequently, unless the horse is well collected in its movement it can be difficult for the rider to maintain balance with the horse.

    This saddle style is generally not the best choice for an inexperienced rider nor for use with other than the gaited horse.

  • Dressage Saddle

    The Dressage Saddle is in effect a compromise between the Forward Seat and the Saddle Seat. It is a rather recent (post WW II) addition to the stable of English saddle types.

    The center of gravity is slightly behind that of the Forward Seat and the seat is quite deep to aid the rider in maintaining close contact with the horse.

    The flaps are narrow and long as are the stirrups. Dressage saddles keep the rider "close to the horse" helping keep him or her maintain proper balance and form.

    This would be the best style for the beginning rider or pleasure rider.

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