A saddle is a saddle is a saddle. Or is it? Saddles come in all shapes and sizes depending on their usage. Although the basic structure is the same, saddles have been tweaked over the years to provide the best performance features for their intended uses.
Like all horse jump accessories, jumping saddles are designed for the safety and comfort of the jumper and horse. This includes a flatter seat than a traditional riding saddle and extra padding for the knees which are drawn up in shorter stirrups.
Dressage saddles must accommodate a rider’s long hours atop a horse while perfecting training. A rider sits upright (as opposed to leaning forward to jump) and keeps a longer leg in the stirrup. The seat is deeper, and the look is elegant.
Most jockeys own several different racing saddles to accommodate the weight allowable in each event. Racing saddles are very flat as the jockey doesn’t actually sit on it but rather floats above it during the race. Stirrups are kept noticeably short.
Polo players need maximum flexibility so there is very little padding under the riders’ legs. The saddle itself integrates horse and rider as one for the best game time performance.
Trail riders and their steed appreciate endurance saddles that are thoughtfully crafted to distribute weight as evenly as possible across the horse’s back. This type of well-padded saddle often features extra rings to clip various riding equipment to.
Side saddles are curious inventions designed to give the modest woman of yore the ability to ride, race and jump with security. Side saddles feature an extra pommel around which a lady could secure her top leg rather than throwing it over the other side of the horse. The bottom leg is in a regular stirrup.
If you’re learning how to ride, a general-purpose saddle is probably your best choice. As your riding ability increases, you can upgrade to a specialty saddle.