Whilst in the UK the English saddle is still the most common there are some riders who prefer the heavier, and more substantial Western saddle, particularly for trekking or trail riding. Whether you are currently riding English or Western, moving to an Australian saddle, particularly for longer rides, may be the perfect alternative both for rider comfort, as well as for the performance of your horse.
Differences between Western, English, & Australian Saddles
With Western riding, the saddle is much more substantial, and features a pronounced horn to the front of the seat, and a higher cantle at the back, literally holding the rider in place. This saddle was originally designed to provide support for the rider, with sudden changes in direction on working horses, having to respond to sudden lateral movements and very sharp, immediate turns. The horn is also used as an anchor when roping cattle, and it is very much a necessary part of the saddle.
The English saddle, which is more common here, is not just one type of saddle but a general term. From the front of the saddle to the back instead of a horn there is a low pommel and then the slight rise of the twist into the seat and then a well-formed cantle.
Different forms of English riding will require a longer or shorter leg, but typically shorter overall than the Western style. The saddles are positioned on the horse to allow the full range of motion through the shoulders, particularly in dressage.
Saddles used for jumping have additional pads, and knee rolls for the rider, but overall the leathers are short and minimal, as compared to the Western saddle, which actually uses the term fenders for the leathers.
The Australian saddle is not a true hybrid of the two, but rather its own unique saddle designed for the specific needs of the rider. These saddles can have a horn or they may not, it is really all the preference of the rider, as well as a factor of how the saddle is to be used.
In general appearance, especially without the horn, it is more like the English saddle but more substantial. The cantle and the pommel are more pronounced, the girth is wider, the seat is deeper and the flaps (or leathers) are wider and longer, more like that of the Western saddle.
The stirrup leathers are more like that of an English saddle and there is a knee pad for additional rider support. The longer leg riding style is used with this saddle, which makes it more comfortable for many riders. Additionally, the legs sit to the front of the body, more like that of a Western riding style, making it a more natural position. This is just one of the reasons why these saddles are often favored for long hacking outings, or for endurance riding.
Fitting the Saddle
The fitment of the Australian saddle is more like the English saddle, and less like the Western style. The saddle is more to the front of the horse’s back, not slightly further back, as found in the Western riding style.
As a simple guide, the girth of these saddles should be no more than about 7 to 8 centimetres behind the front legs, and no less than 2.5 centimetres. This more forward position is more efficient for the horse, allowing the weight of the rider to be more over the shoulders, rather than through the centre of the back.
When on the horse, the pommel and cantle of the saddle should sit in a relatively straight line that keeps the rider’s weight and position from shifting. The seat also should sit level, which is a very natural position for the rider that can be very easily sustained for long periods of time.
The saddle chamber should rest about five to ten centimetres (2 to 4 inches) above the withers of the horse. A simple and easy measurement is to turn your hand sideways and insert your fingers between the saddle and the withers. This should be a comfortable fit with at least three fingers, four, if you have a smaller hand.
For the rider, choosing the right seat size is based on the rider’s weight and waist size. Different saddle manufacturers may have slightly different standards, so always refer to their guidelines when making a selection. Keep in mind the sizing is different than either Western or English saddles, so working with a saddlery to get a good fit for both you and your horse is important, especially for a first purchase.
In this post we’re going to describe six of the various synthetic saddles available to horse riders. The list of synthetic saddles includes; show saddles, side saddles, endurance saddles, western saddles, jumping saddles, and dressage saddles.
First, let’s review the advantages of synthetic saddles.
Any horse enthusiast can attest to the fact that equipment is becoming more and more expensive. As a result, many individuals are seeking alternative products that will provide the same benefits at a lower cost.
Synthetic saddles are such an item that, as a result, have increased in popularity. Synthetic saddles are indeed much cheaper than a leather saddle, but there are many other reasons to consider purchasing one. The materials that synthetic saddles are made of have many advantages over leather.
Synthetic Saddle Materials
Equileather, a material commonly used, can be cleaned simply by wiping with a damp rag. In addition, it never requires any type of oil or break-in processes.
Another commonly used material is Cordura, which is equally durable and also renders special care unnecessary.
The weight of a leather saddle can be very difficult to manage, but synthetic saddles weigh much less due to their materials. As a result, they can be much easier to use, and may simplify the dressing process. Finding an appropriate storage place for a synthetic saddle is not a difficult task, as they are usually light enough to be hung practically anywhere.
There truly is a synthetic saddle available for virtually any taste, and the styles available range from very traditional to very modern. A wide array of bright colours can be selected, or a more traditional leather-look may be more what a person is looking for.
In fact, there are some equileather saddles that are virtually impossible to distinguish from leather saddles. Many people originally choose a synthetic saddle due to the significant price difference, but owners will quickly realize that there are many other benefits as well. Before making any purchasing decisions, a prospective buyer should carefully consider the advantages of a synthetic saddle; the choice will be easy.
Now, let’s review six of these saddle types.
Synthetic Show Saddles
Show saddles are designed more for use in the show ring rather than for endurance riding or other equestrian events. There are two main styles of saddles in general, Western or English. Depending on the discipline or style of riding one wants to do, one can choose either a Western show saddle or an English saddle. Several significant differences exist between English and Western saddles. There’s no padding between the tree and the external leather and fleece skirting, in a Western saddle.
Where the Western saddle generally has a horn, the English saddle lacks one and is not as deep-seated. The English saddle is also distinguished by its panels; pads attached to the underside of the seat. The English show saddle is built on a solid tree, with leather and padding materials added. The tree is made of laminated layers of top-quality wood reinforced by spring steel and riveted gullet plates. These trees, called ‘spring trees’, are adjustable.
The traditional show saddle is minimal and has a close fit, with straight-cut flaps. The stirrup is further forward, with the cutback pommel behind, instead of over the withers. The rider has little support. In comparison, modern-style English show saddles have a dressage-like form, with vertically cut flaps to give the rider a deeper seat. Western show saddles are constructed on an all-purpose tree, but have extra tooling and adornments, such as silver or crystals.
The adornment ranges from light to highly elaborate. Because the silver is both weighty and expensive, these saddles aren’t the best for everyday riding. Show saddles come in both synthetic materials and leather. Leather is traditional, holding its value well over time, but synthetic saddles have several excellent advantages. The price of a quality synthetic show saddle is much less than that of a leather one. Synthetic saddles are lightweight, half the weight of leather saddles. They are also easier to maintain, needing only to be wiped with a damp cloth.
Synthetic Side Saddles
Leather and synthetic side saddles come in a range of different styles and materials. They are used for a wide range of purposes, as well. Side saddles are often called lady saddles because they are and have most often been used by women to ride in a side saddle position more easily and comfortably.
They can be made to customize to a client’s personal preferences and specifications. Side saddles can differ in grade, size, pattern, style, texture, and colour. It all depends on what material is used. Most often, leather is used because of its durability and comfort.
A synthetic side saddle can also be a comfortable and durable saddle, but is less commonly used. There are many high quality side saddles that are available. They are still more widely used than most people realize.
Side saddles have changed greatly over the years. They started out as a saddle used to carry women in a modest way, but they weren’t very good for doing much more than a slow trot. Side saddles of today have been specially formulated to help with special jumps and strategic moves.
Even the military has a special side saddle that is used for special operations. Sometimes a side saddle can be more effective with certain types of equestrian jumps. Just keep in mind that a horse has to be taught to become accustomed to using a side saddle. Once it has grown accustomed to a side saddle, a horse will excel in its use.
An ill fitting saddle can cause back problems, and this is especially true with an ill fitting side saddle. Make sure to get a high quality side saddle that keeps the horse and rider both as comfortable and functional as possible.
Synthetic Endurance Saddles
If you are going for endurance riding, then you need more than just an ordinary saddle! ‘Endurance saddles’ are especially designed for the equestrian sports involving regulated long distance races. Since endurance riding pertains with the coverage of long patches of rough and challenging terrain for multiple days, it is essential to confirm that the rider is well-balanced on the horse.
Synthetic endurance saddles provide exceptional comfort to both the rider and the horse. To make it easy for the rider, the saddle seat is padded or quilted, and the stirrups are fitted with a broad foot tread that allays fatigue. As for the horse, the exhaustion suffered by it depends on the intensity of the pressure inflicted by the saddle on its back. To counter it, the saddle’s area of contact with the back of the horse is enlarged by extending its panel skirts.
A saddle design like this facilitates the load on the horse’s back to spread evenly, while dispersing the sweat on its body. The concept of floating panels also works well with endurance saddles as it enables the riders to have their seat out of the saddle, in order to lower the stress on the horse’s back.
Although, traditionally saddles were only made of leather, a lot of innovation has been brought about in the modern way of manufacturing endurance saddles. Synthetic saddles, which are light and easy to maintain, are being widely used for the purpose of endurance riding.
These saddles are mostly made of the following materials;
Cordura; a durable fabric that’s resistant to scuffs or abrasions, and is easy to clean.
Equileather; a low maintenance material with a leather-like appearance. It repels sweat and remains elastic in cold temperatures.
Equisuede; a non-slippery foam that offers a good grip while riding.
BioThane and Beta BioThane: ‘Biothane’ is comprised of nylon draped in thermoplastic polyurethane whereas ‘Beta BioThane’ is vinyl coated ‘BioThane’. They are both durable and water-resistant.
Synthetic Western Saddles
Synthetic Western saddles offer riders of every level an economical alternative to traditional leather saddles. Cost isn’t the only benefit of synthetic Western saddles though. Not only is going the synthetic route less expensive, but because synthetic materials are more durable your new saddle will age better and last longer.
The materials used to make synthetic Western saddles, (biothane, equileather, cordura, and equisuede), are less porous and absorbent than leather, making them much easier to clean and more resistant to water damage. You don’t have to oil your synthetic Western saddle to keep it looking shiny and new; a quick swipe with a moist cloth and dish soap will do the job!
Synthetic Western saddles are also much lighter than their leather counterparts, making them an ideal choice for trail riding. You’ll immediately notice how easy it is to carry around a synthetic saddle and will no doubt appreciate the load it takes off of you. We’re sure your horse will appreciate the lighter saddle too! Going synthetic doesn’t mean fewer choices either.
Synthetic Western saddles come in many styles and even offer some colour options you can’t get in leather. Synthetic Western saddles are made for pleasure, trail riding, speed events and showing. In every field they offer unique benefits. Pleasure riders will enjoy the extra padding in the seat while trail riders will appreciate how well their synthetic Western saddle stands up to hard use.
Barrel racers will shave pounds off the weight of their rig while young showmen will catch the judge’s eye with unique colours and patterns. Synthetic Western saddles aren’t just for smart shoppers; they’re for smart riders!
Synthetic Jumping Saddles
For the discerning rider, there is no substitution for a good, high quality jumping saddle and synthetic jumping saddles are a variable alternative to traditional leather. Jumping saddles come with a slight curve in the seat, wide padded flaps to give good knee support, and a short stirrup length, all tailored to keep the rider firmly in the saddle during the most rigorous of leaps.
For these reasons, jumping saddles are frequently called close-contact or forward-seat saddles. Other features include a balance set further back than in traditional eventing saddles, and a low pommel that won’t get in the way of a rider’s posture. Just as in other types, jumping saddles can come in traditional leather or synthetic materials, such as Cordura.
There is a substantial debate between which material is superior, just as there is in many other competitive sports. While leather saddles are by no means an inferior choice, synthetic jumping saddles are a viable option for riders looking for a lower cost, equal quality alternative.
Synthetic Dressage Saddles
For many competitive and exhibition riders, everything revolves around dressage. A system of training designed to truly showcase the abilities of both horse and rider, proper dressage should appear effortless and relaxed, with horse and rider flowing from movement to movement as naturally as breathing. Such execution requires excellent control and similarly outstanding equipment. In particular, it requires a good dressage saddle and synthetic dressage saddles are plentiful and of high quality.
The dressage saddle is distinguished from other English saddles by two features in particular, the first being a very deep riding seat and the second a long, straight cut flap. The deep seat allows the rider to feel more secure during the many changes of position required in dressage performance, leaving the rider free to focus on guiding the horse instead of fighting to remain seated.
The longer flap allows the rider to stretch out their legs, instead of keeping them high and tight as do competitive jumpers. Both these features are intended to keep the rider focused on the matter of making the gentle, almost invisible motions required to steer the horse through a proper dressage routine, giving them much more control than a jumping or general purpose saddle.
The weight savings of a synthetic saddle allows a rider to execute commands to the horse for less pressure than the denser leather saddle would require, as well as making less demand on the horse’s endurance in competitions.
In addition, there is the practical consideration of reduced initial and maintaining costs for synthetic saddles, and less time spent maintaining is more time spent caring for the horse itself, and more time out riding.