Whilst it is important that the correct type of saddle should be used, it is more important, if only for the sake of the horse, that it should fit correctly. 1 t is false economy to buy a cheap saddle the best quality only should be bemused even at the risk of straining the budget. A saddle made from the best quality leather by a skilled craftsman, if properly looked after, will last a lifetime. Often the well-kept saddle will appreciate over the years. To buy and use a poor quality, the cheap saddle will certainly prove uneconomical, may prove unsatisfactory or uncomfortable, and, worst of all, cause injury to the horse.
Saddles fall broadly into four groups: dressage; jumping; general purpose; showing. Other specialist saddles are beyond the scope of this discussion.
The dressage saddle is shorter and deeper in the seat than the general purpose saddle, with a more upright head the saddle flaps are cut straight and long; the stirrup bars are set more or less under the seat the girth tabs are long and the girths short. II is designed to assist the rider to sit deep in the bottom of the saddle, with a long leg. The shape of the saddle and the set of the stirrup bars help with the maintenance of the most effective riding position. The long tabs and the short girths permit the rider’s legs to be kept in close contact with the horse’s sides.
The jumping saddle is made longer and more shallow in the seat; the flaps are cut forward with knee rolls and sometimes thigh rolls. It is usually built on a spring tree to relieve both horse and rider of some of the strain that might be put upon them in heritors of jumping. The stirrup bars are set further forward to allow the rider to sit with a short stirrup and the knee bent. The knee and thigh rolls help to keep the leg position secure. The saddle is made longer to allow the rider the freedom of movement that is required when jumping and to adjust the position of the upper body.
The general-purpose saddle is more like a jumping than a dressage saddle. It is usually built on a spring tree with the flaps cut slightly forward and a slight knee roll. It is ideal, as the name implies, for general-purpose riding, and perfectly adequate for hunting, hacking, and most jumping. It is not suitable for dressage riding, even at the most modest level, as it does not encourage or allow the correct riding position which is fundamental in dressage. The showing saddle is designed to show off the horse to his best possible advantage. It is often cut back at the head, the flaps are cut straight and long, and the stirrup bars are set to the rear. The purpose of this is to enable the saddle to be fitted further back, showing off the shoulder.
Saddles are measured in inches from the pommel to the cantle. Adult saddles range from about 15 to 18in. Where the saddle is cut back at the head the measurement is taken from the stud at the side of the head, to the cantle. The saddle must fit both the horse and the rider. A reputable saddler will usually visit a stable and bring a selection of saddles in various sizes to try on a horse. He may even allow a customer to take two or three saddles on approval to select a suitable one. It is best, however, that it is fitted to the horse by an expert.
The saddle is designed to distribute the weight of the rider over the horse’s back as evenly as possible. It must not touch the horse’s spine at all. A clear channel must be left from the withers to the back of the saddle, only the padded panels coming in contact with the horse’s lumbar muscles. These checks must of course be made with the rider in the saddle. Saddles are built on a wooden tree, usually beech. In some, the tree is sprung with a steel insert. In all cases, the tree is fairly fragile and a fall or a horse rolling on a saddle may damage it. Continued use of a saddle with a broken tree would almost certainly cause the horse discomfort and injury.
A new saddle requires the attention of the saddler after about six months of use. It needs to be checked and will probably require some more stuffing, the original stuffing having been compressed. Thereafter the saddle should be checked over by Saddler every year or so to ensure its continued reliable service.
The best stirrups are made of stainless steel, which is strong, safe, and easy to keep clean. Nickel stirrup irons are weak and bend or crack easily. Ordinary steel stirrup irons tend to rust and are difficult to keep clean. Stirrup irons must be the right size for the rider’s foot. If they are too large the foot may slip right through the iron and get caught. If they are too small the riding boot may become wedged in the iron.
Stirrup leathers must be safe and easy to adjust when the rider is mounted. Rawhide leathers are best, being very strong and durable, but they tend to stretch. Plain leather is quite satisfactory but the holes do wear and the leathers do eventually break. Stirrup leathers must be cleaned and the saddle soaped regularly. Particular care must be given to wear on the buckle holes and stitching.
Girths are made in many different styles. They are found in nylon, leather, and various types of string and webbing. Leather is the best material as it is safest, lasts longer than the other materials, and is easy to maintain in a soft, supple condition which is so important to the horse.
Girths are made in various lengths from about 24 to 50in and must be the correct length for the horse. If they are too short they can be difficult to fit and adjust; too long and they may not be able to be fastened securely. It is disadvantageous to have the girth buckles too high up under the herder’s legs as this tends to cause discomfort and keeps the legs away from the horse’s sides. Whichever type of girth is used it must be kept clean, supple, and in a good state of repair.
See more: Horse Rug