If you’re new to riding horses or are switching disciplines from Western to English, choosing which saddle to buy
can feel overwhelming. Which English saddle you buy can actually limit what disciplines you compete in and completely change the way you ride.
Some English saddles are built to accommodate close connection with your horse’s back, while others are designed to easily allow the rider to stand up out of the saddle quickly and efficiently. Understanding the differences between English saddles, as well as how they’ll help you accomplish different goals, is key to buying the right saddle for you and your horse.
Dressage is often referred to as “horse dancing.” The goal is to train and develop the relationship between horse and rider to promote obedience, flexibility, and balance. An English saddle that is designed for dressage accommodates a longer leg position and has a deeper seat to promote close connection and feel of the horse’s back.
Dressage saddles have a longer flap that extends straight down from underneath the seat and along the side of the horse. The seat of the saddle is shaped almost like a cup, with a higher pommel and cantle to allow the rider to sit deeply and move with the horse.
Most commonly found in black leather, dressage saddles can have large or minimal thigh blocks and knee rolls to help the position of the rider. Many riders prefer medium-thickness knee rolls and thigh blocks to help with the rider’s equitation, but also so as to not interfere with the feeling of the horse.
For example, take a look at the Henri de Rivel Pro Buffalo Leather dressage saddle.
Featuring a padded flap and concealed knee block, this saddle also has a moderately deep seat for a closer feel of the horse’s back.
If riding in an arena on the flat sounds a little boring to you, you might want to try jumping. There are a variety of disciplines that involve jumping, including showjumping, hunter/jumper, cross country, and foxhunting.
All of these disciplines require a similar saddle, known as a close contact saddle. This English saddle has a shallower seat with shorter flaps to allow the rider to get up out of the saddle over fences and ride through the arena in a half-seat position.
Unlike dressage saddles, the flaps come down at an angle with the knee roll more onto the horse’s shoulder, instead of its side. This is designed to accommodate the closed knee position of the rider over fences, as in this discipline riders maintain a “squat,” known as a half-seat position, for the majority of the ride. The knee rolls on a close contact saddle are much wider than those on a dressage saddle to provide extra security for the rider’s knee.
If a close contact saddle sounds like what you need, take a look at the Henri de Rivel Cahill saddle.
This saddle has an interchangeable gullet system and adjustable knee and thigh blocks for added leg stabilization.
Ideal for eventers and showjumpers, the Cahill saddle comes in both black and brown.
All Purpose Saddles
If you’re uncertain if you’d prefer to ride over fences or stick to having all four feet firmly on the ground, you could purchase an all-purpose English saddle for your first forays into the world of English riding. These are designed to accommodate both styles of riding. The flaps are medium length and the seat is deeper than most jumping saddles, but not quite as cup-like as a pure dressage saddle.
Most riders who use all purpose saddles are beginner to intermediate riders. This is because, while you’re able to both jump and ride dressage with an all purpose saddle, it can be very difficult to maintain the correct equitation necessary to win a blue ribbon in the show ring. The phrase “jack of all trades, but master of none,” is a great descriptor for all purpose saddles. This makes the all-purpose English saddle a good choice for riders who are new to the sport or who only wish to ride for pleasure, not competition.
The Henri de Rivel Advantage All Purpose saddle is a great option for those looking for an all-around English saddle.
The moderately deep seat offers stability and comfort, while the padded and angle flap accommodates a wider variety of stirrup lengths.
Monoflap English Saddles
Many riders seek to develop the closest connection possible with their horse’s back, allowing them to feel the motion of the horse and influence it in the most subtle way possible. If that describes you, you may want to purchase a monoflap English saddle.
These saddles have one less flap than most English saddles. Instead of two flaps with the girthing billets in between the two, these saddles have girth billets sewn into the bottom of the flap, which reduces the number of flaps from one to two. This allows the rider’s leg to be as close to the horse’s sides as possible, without any additional interference.
Available in both close contact and dressage styles, many riders prefer these types of saddles for clearer communication with the horse. Check out the Henri de Rivel Parisian Monoflap dressage saddle or the HDR Phoenix Monoflap close contact saddle. Both of these English saddles foster clearer communication with the horse without sacrificing comfort or functionality.
Polo is not as common of a sport as dressage or jumping; however it is very popular in hot spots like Wellington Florida, or Aiken South Carolina. Two teams of players compete using wooden mallets to hit a small hard ball through the opposing team’s goal.
The type of English saddle required for this sport is very unique. With no knee rolls, the flap is very straight, similar to a dressage saddle; however it does angle forward slightly. Extra grippy leather is highly-favored by polo players as the fast-paced nature of the sport and necessity of leaning out from the saddle in all directions requires some extra grip.
One common challenge polo players face is finding a saddle that fits their mount well. Polo is actually played using polo ponies or small thoroughbreds as they are lower to the ground, making it easier to hit the ball.
Unfortunately, finding a saddle with adequate spine and wither clearance for both a round-shouldered polo pony and a high-withered thoroughbred can be a challenge.
Henri de Rivel’s Jaipur Polo saddle was designed with this problem in mind.
The reinforced tree comes with a lifetime guarantee and provides lateral flexibility for effortless support for the motion of the horse, as well as adequate spine and wither clearance.
Horse racing has been referred to as the “Sport of Kings.” Arguably the fastest-paced equestrian sport, it requires jockeys to have extraordinary strength and balance.
In order to allow the horses to run as fast as possible, the tack needs to be extremely light weight. Some racing or exercise saddles are as light as just 11 ounces. Unlike a regular English saddle, they can also have a full tree or a half-tree. The half-tree saddles are quickly losing popularity as they can put undue pressure on a horse’s spine. Exercise saddles are no-frills. They’re much smaller than the average saddle, and lie absolutely flat on the horse’s back, so nothing gets in the jockey’s way when they stand in the stirrups.
If you’re shopping for a new exercise saddle for your racehorse, check out the HDR Exercise saddle.
Available in black and havana leather, this saddle is designed for Thoroughbred racing, breaking, practicing, and general training.
Breeches.com: Home to Henri de Rivel English Saddles
Breeches.com has a wide variety of English saddles to choose from. While we are the home of Henri de Rivel saddles, we also have brands like Jacks and Vegan-X for our eco-minded or racing customers. Quality tack is a luxury that can sometimes be unreachable for riders that are starting out or have limited budgets. HDR saddles offer great quality at reasonable prices.
Check out our collection of English saddles.