|Saddles today are basically divided into two styles and they are the English and the Western saddle. The western saddle is more or less a design from the old type of “box” or travel saddles as it could be called or as I will refer to it in such ways. One has to be aware of the fact that before the technology came, the horse was mainly a transportation object, especially here in the Big Country of America. Immigrants, farmers for the most part were not riders. The travel/box saddle is design to provide safe and secure seat for the non-rider (hence the popularity of it). It is more or less the old design of the “knight saddle” which main purpose was to prevent the knight to be unseated.|
Typical old box/travel
Typical older English saddle, more concerned with the horse. Note, much more shallower than today's saddles and with closer contact. Less stuffing in the rear and very thin in the lowest part. A good old broken in saddle with pulled up cantle and pommel. When new, the skin/leather was more stretched lengthwise across the saddle. This was uncomfortable in the beginning but in time the leather is pressed down by the raider's weight, causing the pommel and the cantle to be lifted and creating "nest" like place for the rider. Of course one has to know where to sit, in order to break in the saddle the right way.
photo of an older English saddle.
The knights of course could not ride at all since they were carrying at
times 100 pounds of iron on themselves, while their horses were extremely
front heavy, traveling way too much on the forehand, thus hard to control
(That is why they always had to have some one lead them). The knights also
did not fight always off the saddle as the later light cavalry did and the
purpose of the heavy knight cavalry was for most part to intimidate and to
trample down the opposition of the foot soldier. The knight horse, very
heavy on the forehand, traveling in shorts strides of high action
(otherwise the horse would fall down) was merely nothing else but a living
tank that when sent into the higher speed/gait/gallop could not stop even
if he wanted to; thus trampling down everything in his way. Development of
the “Long Spear” however ended quickly such warfare.
This type of saddle also proved itself very practical to the non-riding public, because the prime concern was to keep the rider in the saddle and to make the ride as comfortable as possible. People were not getting any riding lessons. One got on the horse and learned as he went, simple as that since the purpose was to get from point A to point B and nothing else.
All the non-riders suffer from the same syndromes, mainly the feeling of falling off over the head of the horse and constant sliding back toward the rear of the horse because of the tendencies of sticking the legs forward (pushing into the stirrups) to provide more false security to prevent falling over the head of the horse. (The stirrups prevent the sliding to the side.). Having a high pommel and the cantle provided the required feeling of security. Also forcing the rider to sit further back provided greater comfort from the bounce, since the hind legs are more springy (pushing forward), while the front lands somewhat stiff by the unbalanced horses. The Romans actually sat almost in the loins of the horses (there were no stirrups in those days!) where they found it most comfortable from the bouncing. Mainly the officers sat on horses to be lifted up above the soldiers. The cavalry was the chariots, serving to the same principle as the “knight cavalry” to trample down the foot soldiers. Very little fighting was done from chariot to chariot and the cavalries were not usually sent against one another but against the foot soldiers. The fighting from the chariots was mainly done in pursuit of the retreating opposition. The spear in the chariot or by the knight was a “onetime shot” since one would loose it in the body of the opponent, though the chariot was able to carry more than one spear and the bows and arrows could be used as against the knight who couldn’t use the bow and carried only one spear. (He did have a guy to carry his stuff, but in the battle the guy was somewhat worthless and hard to find). The sword was somewhat useless (often too heavy to use with one hand), since the horse was barely maneuverable and any farmer could easily beat/poke the knight to death with only a pitchfork, were he quick on his feet. (See Hussites warfare, where a bunch of farmers destroyed the entire well trained German knight army with sticks, forks, clubs, stones and other available objects)
Click to enlarge for better
Click to enlarge for more
To be able to recognize a good saddle for a rider (not for a non-rider) is to know where is one supposed to sit. The rider is to sit in the area of the lowest (last) vertebrae of the withers and the first (even) vertebrae of the back (hence horses with a longer/prominent withers are more suitable for riding). The deepest part of the saddle should be in the same area because the rider is to sit in the deepest part. (You can read more about “horse balance” on this site). The saddle should be large enough so the rider does not feel the cantle of the saddle with his butt. (Of course the rider is not to sit on his butt and you can read about the seat here.)
English saddle today is more or less designed for the “light seat” and
not really for the “heavy seat” of dressage, which will be discussed
later. Nevertheless, the English saddle today, especially for dressage
is just another version of the travel/box saddle “English style”.
These saddles often have a high cantle with too much padding behind and
often they are too small (or people have too big ass). (Most people feel
more secure when they feel support at the end of their butt.) To have
the hind end of the saddle, the cantle and the stuffing higher than the
pommel will result in pushing the weight of the rider forward, thus he
will compensate by leaning backward in the heavy seat (usually one or two
degrees behind the vertical, which of course will also give him a false
sense of security; same principals as when riding down hill); this can be seen in the entire style of dressage
riding these days and it includes the “best” (of the worst) in the
world. The horse usually compensate for this imbalance by leaning more
into the bit or refusing it altogether, thus traveling on his forehand.
This is demonstrated in horses flexing in the center of the neck, rather
than at the pole and often either refusing the bit and going behind
vertical or pulling into the bit. Most of all however, is the fact that
just about all horses, especially the dressage horses these days, carry their
below the hipline and that proves inevitably that the horse is on the
This type of saddle also pushes the weight of the rider more onto the
withers, hence causing great discomfort to the horse and often making him
sore in shoulders and the withers area. The high cantle seen by the Lipizzaners
serves mainly for the
in the air
(jumps), where it is practical and useful.
This type of saddle also pushes the weight of the rider more onto the withers, hence causing great discomfort to the horse and often making him sore in shoulders and the withers area. The high cantle seen by the Lipizzaners serves mainly for the work in the air (jumps), where it is practical and useful.
The saddle dilemma is very sad, but the reality remains and that is, since there are no riders anymore, there are no decent saddles either, because the “riders” today cannot tell the good one from the bad. In reality, it is the rider who gives the finishing touch to the well made saddle (see comments to the photo above)
A typical western saddle sending the rider comfortably (though dangerously) to the rear of the saddle, further into the back of the horse, thus making him (falsely) more secure and comfortable. Note, the forward set stirrups to provide the same.
Note, how most of the saddles are depicted in catalogs. When in fact this saddle is put on the horse, the pommel is significantly lower than the cantle. Forward (light) seat has nothing to do with the forward out of balance saddle.
Written by Ludvik K Stanek a.k.a Lee Stanek