Parts of an English Saddle
Now that we have gone over the basic types of English Saddles last week, let’s take a closer look into parts of an English Saddle. Not everyone is lucky enough to be part of 4-H or Pony Club growing up, so this information can be missed in a basic riding lesson program.
Pommel: The pommel is the front part of the saddle. It covers the head plate of the saddle and can be prone to scratches and damage if the saddle is not stored correctly. A basic fit tip is the pommel should never come in contact with the horse’s wither. A rule of thumb is you should have at least 3 fingers of room between the saddle and your horse’s wither.
Seat: The seat is simply where the rider sits. We measure the seat from the nail head under the pommel, across to the center of the cantle. An average English Saddle will range from 16” - 18”. Seat size is determined more from the length of your femur than the size of your booty. When looking at a saddle on a horse, we want to make sure the seat looks balanced and will put you in a secure spot on the horse’s back without tilting forward or backward.
Cantle: The cantle is the rear part of the saddle. It is included in the structure of the saddle tree (see below). By changing the angle of the cantle will affect how deep the seat is for the rider. This is another place prone to scratches and damage if the saddle is not stored correctly.
Gullet: The gullet is a very important part of the saddle to take into consideration when fitting the saddle. The gullet is designed to allow for a channel over the horse’s spine and clear the sides of the vertebrae. In older saddles, the gullet is often very narrow and in my personal opinion shouldn’t be used on a horse’s back. Often when looking at saddles online, the gullet will commonly be referred to as the head plate (see below on the saddle tree diagram).
Skirt: The Skirt, can also be called the Skirt Jockey, or just jockey. This part of leather transitions the top part of the saddle to the lower flap and covers the structural component of the stirrup bar. A high point of wear is between the skirt and the pommel seam, this repair can be done but is time-consuming to fix.
Stirrup Bar: This is a structural part of the saddle tree that is visible from the outside. It is how we connect our stirrups to the saddle. It is important that if your stirrup bar was the ability to lock up on a 90-degree angle that you keep it unlocked and straight. This allows for in case of an unplanned dismount or other emergencies that your stirrup will come off rather than dragging the rider. This stirrup bar is how the saddle is designed to transfer the weight and pressure from the rider carefully on the horse’s back.
Knee Roll: This feature is simply for the rider’s comfort. You will find that older saddles are often found without knee rolls. This creates a very close contact feeling and typically dates the saddle. Older saddles may also have a suede knee roll.
Flap: Flaps come in all shapes and sizes depending on the style of English Saddle. It is designed to create a comfortable position for the rider’s leg. Some saddles will have an extreme forward flap for riders with a long leg who like to ride in shorter stirrups or a very straight flap such as on a Dressage saddle.
Stirrup Leathers: Even those these are not always included with a saddle and often sold seperate, leathers are still important to note. They connect the stirrup irons to the stirrup bar. Stirrup leathers can come in different lengths and materials. Typically the lengths are as follows; Child 48”, Average 54”, Dressage 60”.
Stirrup Irons: Stirrup Irons are what the rider will balance their foot in when riding to help disperse their weight on the horse's back. Lately, there are lots of trendy stirrups that are light weight, wide footbeds, special safety releases and so much more. It is all a personal preference on what you as a rider feel comfortable in. The average size for an adult rider is a 4-3/4” stirrup.
Billets/Girth Straps: Most often called Billets, but labeled as Girth Straps in the above photo. These are a structural component of the saddle, and very important that they are check for damage on a regular basis. Billets are connected to the saddle’s tree and often come in a set of three on the saddle. Even though we only use two straps, the third is there in the case one breaks or you need to change the direction of pressure on the saddle.
Panel: The panels under the seat are what give the horse comfort from the saddle’s tree and the horse’s back. Panels can be filled with either wool, foam, air panels, or latex. Both have pros and cons and it is up to you and your saddle fitter on what works for you and your horse. Wool can be re-flocked but usually has a thicker panel. Foam offers a closer contact feel and more common in French saddles.
Sweat Flap(also called a Panel): With the simple job of protecting the saddle and the billets, the panel keeps the sweat from the rest of the saddle. Don’t forget about the panels and the underside of the saddle when giving it a quick clean.
Girth: In simple terms, this is the “horse belt”. The girth keeps the saddle on the horse and in the proper place. It should be tight enough that the saddle doesn’t move but not too tight it isn’t comfortable for the horse. I like to be able to get at least a finger at the base of the horse’s belly/sternum.
The diagram above shows a basic description of a standard English Saddle Tree. Saddle trees can be made of wood, spring steel, composites, or a combination.
When you read about the width of an English Saddle Tree, the only true way to know is to know the distance between the tree points. This can only come from that manufacture unless you have a saddle fitter take apart the saddle and check the tree. When fitting the saddle we want the angle of the head plate along to the tree points to match the angle of the horse’s shoulders. Along with many other things.
In this diagram, you can see how the stirrup bars are connected to the tree. This is another important reminder of why we want to sit straight and even in the saddle.
Some saddles can have their head plates adjusted by a saddle fitter, however, we don’t want this to be done too often. When you see a saddle that is advertised with an adjustable gullet, they are truly talking about changing the head plate. By saying an adjustable saddle will fit every horse is NOT an accurate statement, as there are a million other factors than the head plate when fitting a saddle.