Function and Fashion

When it comes to English saddles, the French influence is still strong, but so are synthetic materials and deeper seats.

The 2004 International English and Western Market had 83 product lines on display with hundreds of styles. Here’s what’s new for hunter, jumper, dressage and event riders.

Saddles for Athletes

Today’s saddles are built for the human and equine athlete. For riders, some brands are available in a choice of flap lengths. The same model can match the short-legged rider or a longer-legged person. For example, Mortack’s Gazelle line has four seat sizes and four flap designs.

You can also adjust leg support to your taste. Many saddles feature detachable knee rolls or thigh blocks, affixed with self-fasteners. Just peel the block from its position and replace it with another, or place it forward or back, up or down, etc.

What you won’t see are many choices in the all-purpose saddle type. With the emphasis on specific disciplines, manufacturers may offer just one all-purpose model in a product line.

In dressage saddles, look for wider panels to distribute pressure over a broader area. Many dressage saddles now feature gusseted panels: a panel shaped of two sections stitched together. Identify a gusseted panel by the seam visible from the side, just above the panel’s placement on the horse’s back.

On both dressage and jumping saddles, shorter points of the tree can free up the horse’s shoulders by reducing the pressure on the shoulders when the horse lifts his forehand to jump or lengthen his stride. The points angle forward on a jumping saddle’s tree, and are more upright for dressage.

Courbette Saddlery’s Rick Thompson says, “The sizes of 31 or 32 centimeters width are the most-sold saddles on the market. That tree fits the average horse.” Courbette uses the E-motion tree with flexible points. “The tree flexes from the sides, not from the middle of the pommel,” says Thompson.

For young riders, the trend is smaller saddles built on horse-sized trees. Models are in smaller seat sizes of 15 to 16 inches. Examples are Courbette’s junior Bernina dressage and Pessoa’s new pony-sized saddle, the Legacy XP Pony. This slightly narrower tree is designed for the modern hunter pony, or “bigger ponies with withers,” according to Peggy Murray of English Riding Supply.

To fit your broader horses, manufacturers have launched new wide saddles. These trees fit warmbloods, draft horses and crossbreds. Wintec has a warmblood model on a molded tree, and Thorowgood’s new Griffin Warmblood Fit “fits the horse that is broadbacked and has a high wither,” says Peter Johnson of Thorowgood. The Warmblood Fit is available in dressage and all-purpose styles.

Traditional or High-Tech?

You can still opt for a conventional saddle—spring tree of wood and steel, or of wood reinforced with fiberglass—with wool-flocked panels. A saddle fitter can adjust wool flocking inside the panels, which can also help the panels match the horse’s back.

The English firm, Black Country Saddlery, sells models using traditional materials, even lining the panels with serge fabric. “Endurance riders prefer serge panels,” says Nikki Newcombe. “They absorb heat and mold quicker to the horse.”

Panels of closed cell foam blend old and new for user-friendly comfort. The “sandwiched” panel combines a foam core with layers of wool felt. “It’s maintenance-free, and great for the consumer,” says Schmidt.

This panel can be used on a spring tree or a molded plastic tree. You’ll also see saddles built with foam panels on molded plastic trees.

Or, go for the saddle of all manmade materials: molded tree, foam panels and leather-like seat, skirts and flaps. Popular dressage models in the Wintec line feature comfortable seats of faux suede.

The Thorowgood Griffin synthetic saddles are built on molded trees. Peter Johnson says, “The saddle sits higher when you first put it on, and in 10 or 15 minutes it molds to the horse.”

These all-weather saddles are completely weatherproof. If the seat gets wet, it’s not slippery.

The French Influence

For hunters and jumpers, many models evoke designs from France. The famous Hermès brand established the fashion for a saddle of superb balance and sensation. Hermès look-alikes feature reasonable prices, along with French leather and shape.

The soft, “grippy” feel of French leather makes the seat secure in saddles designed for jumping.

The height of the pommel and square cantle also distinguish this style—a French tree is generally higher in the pommel than the English tree.

“The cantle is tapered for that French look,” says Karla Schmidt of Thornhill Enterprises, Inc.

You’ll see close contact saddles with deeper seats. Schmidt describes the Pro-Am product line as “the new style in close contact. Most have gone to a semi-deep seat, so you see larger seat sizes.” A deeper seat provides more security.

Another slightly deeper seat is Crump’s Prix de Saute 21st Century. Judy Layne says, “Flaps are of Sedgwick leather, and the panels and seat of French leather. That allows us to have a better selling price.”

JPC Equestrian, Inc., offers the new Rivella DJ, or deep jumping saddle. “It’s all French leathers, not a super deep seat or a really forward flap,” says Nina DePetris. “It’s in between a close-contact and show-jumping saddle, with the seat of the show jumping and the flap of the close contact.”

A saddle of French style may be made in Europe, Latin America or Asia. The country of origin affects the retail price, with many of the brands listed here made in Argentina.

Saddlers from the U.K. compete with the French look. Names like Barnsby, John Whitaker, and Frank Baines maintain the classic English styles. And if you swear by the Crosby line marketed by Miller’s, you’ll be happy that Weatherbeeta continues the Crosby name.

Whether going for a traditional European look made with time-honored materials, or buying for a busy and somewhat abusive lesson program, there are no shortages of saddles to choose from.

Saddle Suppliers

• Courbette Saddlery Co., Inc:

• JPC Equestrian, Inc:

• Gazelle:

• Thornhill Enterprises, Inc.:

• Thorowgood:

• Collegiate Wintec:

All other saddles mentioned in the article can be found at any number of on-line tack shops, at your local tack shop or from tack catalogs.






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