The English Horse Saddle: Caring for the Different Types and Their Various Points

jumping saddle - the english horse saddle

The horse saddle is a riding aid that’s used throughout the world. Many people choose to ride a horse in a saddle for both comfort and ease of riding. It can also be used to help with correct positioning and is required for competition in most disciplines.

Having a saddle that’s correctly fitted to your horse is imperative. This helps keep things safe and comfortable for you and your horse. Having one that suits your discipline of riding will also ensure the best opportunity for correct positioning as you ride. Looking after your saddle well will enable it to be used for many years to come.

What Is Saddlery?

The term “saddlery” often refers to leather material that’s utilized on a horse’s back. It may come in the form of a saddle that someone sits on to ride, or it may consist of straps used to hold a harness in place for someone who drives horses. These days, saddlery can be made out of synthetic materials, rather than leather.

Cleaning and Storage of Saddlery

Whatever your saddlery is made out of, it’s important to keep it in good working condition. A regular check of your saddlery will help you spot any tears, holes or stitching that’s coming undone. Stitching should be fixed as soon as possible, while tears will often result in the need to replace a particular area of the torn saddle.

An example of this could be a tear in a girth point that helps connect the girth to the saddle, or a tear in the stirrup leather. If buckles aren’t able to be secured in holes because of a tear, that means the girth is unsafe to use.

Regular checking enables saddle owners to attend to issues as soon as possible. Often, a saddler or a local saddlery (a place that sells horse gear) can fix these problems for a fee.

Saddles should also be cleaned regularly, in order to eliminate dirt, sweat and other debris. If you have a leather saddle, then you’ll need to use a saddle soap for cleaning purposes. This is often applied with a wet sponge and massaged into the leather.

Leather conditioners are also used to help protect the surfaces of saddles, bridles, and other equestrian equipment. Saddles are subjected to lots of wear and tear, as well as exposure to sweat, dirt and the elements. Conditioners extend the life of equipment by helping prevent the leather from cracking and shrinking.

If your saddle is synthetic, then a damp cloth can be used to wipe over the saddle.

It’s important that once the saddle has been cleaned, it’s allowed to dry out before being stored correctly. Keeping a saddle on a saddle rack off the ground can help the saddle keep its shape and avoid being affected by cold temperatures or dampness. 

If a saddle is infrequently used, but is cleaned with saddle soap and then immediately wrapped in a saddle cover, mold can form from dampness, so ensure that your saddle is dry before you put it away for any length of time.

Types of English Saddles

Nowadays, horse riding is typically something that’s carried out recreationally. However, there are people who make a living from riding horses. Whether a person is a jockey, a dressage rider or someone who excels in show jumping, there are various ways to make a living from the activity.

The different types of riding each have long histories and consequently, different types of saddlery have evolved to help riders perform at their best. If you do an internet search for saddles, you'll find there are saddles designed specifically for show jumping, cross country, racing, dressage and the hunter ring. 

There are English saddles, Western saddles and saddles for stock work, trail riding and endurance riding. A general-purpose saddle that can be used by the beginner rider in dressage and jumping has also been created.

Let's look at a few of the different types of English saddle and what they're used for.

The General Purpose Saddle

A general purpose saddle is often a good starting point for someone looking to buy a horse saddle. These are English saddles that are designed to suit flat work or dressage, as well as jumping. A saddle like this can be great for riders who are learning to establish an independent seat. 

The general purpose saddle is designed to be something in between the dressage and show jumping saddles. Being “general purpose,” the idea is that general riding throughout various disciplines can be achieved capably on the horse that wears it. Although it’s possible to carry out jumping with a dressage saddle and vice versa, a general purpose saddle is a better fit for a rider participating in both disciplines, while a discipline-specific saddle encourages a specific seat for that given discipline of riding.

Often, once riders have been introduced to dressage and jumping, they develop a preference for one of the two. This can lead to riders deciding to focus on one. After making this decision, riders may want to look into a discipline-specific saddle for their horse.

Show Jumping and Dressage Saddles

The Horse Saddle: Caring for the 3 Types and Their Various Points

Although riders will learn a general seat or position when being introduced to riding, they’ll also learn a jump seat or jumping position. Since the classical dressage seat and jumping position are different, saddles specifically designed for these disciplines are quite different from one another, in order to accentuate or encourage specific positions.

The show jumping saddle can be distinguished from the dressage saddle quite easily. The show jumping saddle will:

  • Have forward-cut, short flaps
  • Have a square cantle
  • Have a seat that’s slightly forward and shallow in depth

By comparison, the dressage saddle has:

  • A deeper, more heavily padded seat
  • Long, straight saddle flaps to encourage a long leg
  • A rounded cantle

Each rider should consider their riding goals and the discipline that they’ll focus on, and then determine their saddle needs based on this. For instance, a dressage saddle wouldn’t be suitable for a rider who favours jumping. Likewise, a racing saddle isn’t the best choice for someone who wants to focus on dressage.

If a particular discipline is to be focused on, it makes sense to buy a saddle that fits this discipline. Sometimes, however, a specific dressage or show jumping saddle isn’t necessary, and a general purpose saddle ends up being the most cost-effective choice, as well as the one that’s best suited to the job.

In all cases, regardless of the type of saddle that’ll be used on your horse, it needs to fit both the horse and the rider. Many saddleries offer saddle-fitting services that you can use to ensure you’re buying something that won’t be detrimental to your horse’s health—or your riding position.

The Points of the Horse Saddle

When it comes to owning and caring for a saddle, knowing the points of the saddle is valuable. Being able to identify the different areas will allow you to effectively clean it, replace faulty parts or organize repairs. Furthermore, when you’re able to use the correct terminology to explain a particular issue with your saddle, this can help you arrive at a solution with a professional—like a saddler.

The Mounts of the Saddle

There are particular items that attach to a saddle, but aren’t specifically a part of the seat on which you sit. When a saddle is attached to a horse, it’s always attached by a girth that’s attached to the saddle at the girth points. There are also stirrup leathers and stirrups for the rider. When all these things are connected to any saddle, the saddle is known as fully mounted.

Other Significant Saddle Points

The pommel is the front part of the saddle that sits over the horse’s wither. At the back end is the cantle, which generally rests over the horse’s back, just before the loins. In between these two parts, where the rider sits, is the waist. Between the waist and the cantle is the seat.

On either side of the seat, there are flaps that rest under the rider’s legs. These are called the saddle flaps. Directly above these are smaller flaps known as skirts. If you lift either skirt, you’ll find a bar; the stirrup leather rests on this, and it’s known as the stirrup bar.

Underneath the saddle flaps, girth points are found. There are typically two to three of these. The buckles of the girth will attach to them, and can be tightened or loosened, depending on the horse’s condition. Girths tend to have two buckles, and there’s always an extra girth strap in case one snaps.

The Saddle Framework

Within the saddle is found the tree. In the past, this was always made of wood, but can now be made of synthetic material. Today, there are even saddles without trees available. On the underside of the tree, you’ll find two panels that rest on either side of the horse’s spine. They should each have the same amount of padding, in order to help ensure that when a rider sits in the saddle, the horse has an even amount of pressure on each side of its back. Some riders opt for square saddle pads to provide additional comfort for the horse.

The Gear’s as Important as the Horse

Knowing the general differences between saddles, their various points and how to care for your tack is important for all horse owners and riders, at all levels and throughout all disciplines. All things considered, looking after your horse gear is just as important as looking after the horse itself!

Here are some tips to do just that for your saddle:

  • Store it in a cool, dry place. Extreme temperatures or humidity can damage the leather.
  • Clean it after every ride. This will remove dirt, sweat, and other debris that can damage the leather. Use a soft cloth and saddle soap or a leather cleaner specifically designed for horse tack.
  • Condition your saddle regularly. This keeps the leather supple and prevents it from drying out.
  • Avoid leaving it in direct sunlight. UV rays can cause the leather to fade and crack.
  • Store the saddle on a saddle rack while tacking up and untacking. Putting the saddle on a stall front is an invitation for bite marks!
  • If it gets wet, dry it as soon as possible. Leaving a wet saddle can cause the leather to mildew.
  • Make sure you run your stirrup leathers up as soon as you've finished riding. Stirrup leathers can catch on barn doors and stall fasteners, with catastrophic results.

With these tips, you can enjoy this vital piece of horse-riding equipment for years to come.

Christine Meunier is an equine author and educator with a Bachelor of Equine Science. Her passion is the thoroughbred breeding industry, in which she’s worked as a stud hand and foaling attendant. She has also taught horse breeding courses. As she’s particularly passionate about careers in the equine industry, she writes Equus Education at—sign up to receive the free booklet Choosing a Horse Career.

Feature image: Jez Timms; Image 1: Pexels


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