Advantages Of An Australian SaddleBy Jeffrey Rolo
Although the Australian saddle is slowly gaining in popularity throughout the United States, it is still a niche when compared to the two dominating styles: English and Western. But as with any niche, there are very good reasons why Australian saddles have developed a loyal following in a "foreign" country… reasons this article will briefly discuss.
An Australian saddle is basically a hybrid of an English and Western saddle, taking the strong points of each and blending them together to create a saddle that is multi-functional, safe and extremely comfortable when taking extended trail rides or galloping in the pastures. The first thing you'll notice is that Australian saddles come in a wide range of styles; some possess horns, some do not. Some possess a good deal of western rigging, others appear closer to be little more than an oversized dressage saddle.
The saddle's design allows for two basic modes of riding: pleasure riding and galloping. When walking or gaiting at a leisurely pace the rider should sit into the saddle deeply with their legs stretched slightly forward from their body. The rider's heels should also point towards the floor. This riding position offers you a better sense of balance and safety; you will be less jostled or surprised by a sudden transition in movement in this "set" seat as you would be if you sat upright wound up tight as a clock. Beyond the protection afforded to you by the more balanced, solid seat, the horse will also be more comfortable since rider unbalance is a primary factor in causing a horse stress, hardship and pain under saddle.
As you increase the speed of the horse's movement your seat will progress steadily forward, until you are actually assuming a jockey's stance at full gallop. A jockey positions himself such that the reins are shortened to maintain maximum control, his back is straight and his head is down; the jockey basically lifts himself from the seat while securing his thighs against the knee pads.
Of course if you strenuously object to the notion of assuming a jockey's position you can stick with a western style of riding; ultimately an Australian is at its best when we're not trying to work "against" the design, but they are highly flexible saddles that can generally accept your riding preferences.
Some would argue an Australian offers the best of both worlds: the disciplined riding style and lighter saddle form that an English offers, plus the added substance and security that the Western offers. If it sounds like an Australian saddle is just too good to be true I encourage you to give one a try – you may find yourself as the newest member of the steadily growing niche audience.