The Different Styles OfBy Jeffrey Rolo
To the uninitiated eye all English saddles look just about the same, but there are a couple different styles with distinctive differences that better accommodate their intended uses:
Dressage SaddlesDressage saddles possess deeper seats than other English saddles, featuring higher pommels and cantles. Their saddle flaps are also straight and long (relatively speaking), and the stirrups are positioned under the seat.
The deeper seat and straighter flaps help place the rider in an upright position as well as keep his legs close to the horse's body. By keeping the legs close to the body, the rider is better able to provide his horse the subtle cues necessary for a successful dressage performance.
Jumping SaddlesJumping saddles possess a shallow seat so the rider can assume the jumping position easier as the horse leaps a hurdle. The saddle flaps are significantly shorter and angled in a forward direction. That, in combination with a shorter stirrup length, further assists the rider in transitioning to a jumping position quickly and painlessly.
Knee rolls are common in both dressage and jumping saddles. I recommend new jumpers select a jumping saddle with knee rolls as they can provide some added grip and reassurance. Although a knee roll probably won't help prevent an inevitable spill, they can compensate a bit for small balance errors.
All-Purpose SaddleAll-purpose saddles are perfect for those who want to perform in an assortment of horse events… or for those who just want to ride without worrying about making the "right" choice!
An all-purpose saddle is a combination of a jumping saddle and a dressage saddle. It has a seat that is deeper than a jumping saddle, but not as deep as a dressage saddle. The flaps are also a compromise between jumping and dressage; they are not angled as forward as a jumping saddle, nor are as long and straight as a dressage saddle.
This type of English saddle is recommended for who prefer general/pleasure riding since they allow the rider the best of both worlds. They are very comfortable, secure and versatile.
These saddles are also suitable for low-level show competitors since it permits the rider to enter various events without laying down the cash for multiple saddles. Once you go beyond amateur events you will want to strongly consider purchasing both a dressage saddle and/or a jumping saddle such that you can squeeze out every ounce of performance and efficiency. Remember that an all-purpose saddle is a jack-of-all-trades; you can use them for either type of event, but they will not function quite as well as one designed specifically for a particular event.
Lane Fox SaddlesLane Fox saddles are specialized English saddles that possess flaps longer and wider than a dressage saddle. Unlike the dressage saddle, a Lane Fox saddle's seat is flat, and knee rolls and sweat flaps are non-existent.
The Lane Fox saddle is used for Saddleseat events, or events where the shoulder action of the horse is meant to be showed-off (i.e., gaited horses, Saddlebreds, etc.). Although appropriate for a competitor, I don't recommend these saddles for casual pleasure riders as they have less comfort and security then all-purpose or dressage saddles.
Side SaddlesThis is another specialized saddle that comes in both Western and English forms. Although they are not often seen in use outside of a sidesaddle competition or horse events, there are riders that prefer this style of riding for everything from pleasure riding to jumping since they can be quite comfortable and secure for all general riding purposes. Some side saddles possess two horns on their front, as well as flaps of opposing lengths. One flap is very long (to accommodate the rider's legs) while the opposite flap is very short.
While some may consider these saddles inappropriate for general riding use, in actuality they can be of great benefit for those who cannot ride astride any longer due to injury or discomfort.