The Parts Of A Saddle

Jessica McDaniel
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Parts of a Saddle

A saddle generally consists of three main parts: the leather shell, the tree, and the panels.

  • The Leather Shell. In the olden days, saddles were made of rawhide, wood, fibers, or metal, depending on the type of saddle. Today, most saddles are made of leather, and they vary in quality and in state of finish. The highest quality saddles can cost thousands of dollars. The price tends to go up as the quality of the leather increases.
  • The Tree or Assembly is the basic saddle structure that you might think of as the actual saddle, because it is the part that fits to such parts of the horse as the withers and the back, and therefore is what ultimately holds up the rider.
  • Panels. Panels are all the other components of the saddle that are not the leather shell or the tree. They are pieces of leather or leatherlike material that are attached to the tree. The purpose of panels is to provide a secure area to which the rider can affix stirrups and to which the saddle rigging–such as rigging for the girth, bit, and front rigging–can be attached. The panels are known by such names as flaps, skirts, and rigging straps. Panels may be integral to the tree or they may be attached separately.

Pommel

The pommel is the front-most part of a saddle. The saddle may have a thin padding of leather or a heavy padding, or be completely un-padded. The pommel is meant both for comfort and for the security of the rider. It gives the rider something to hold onto and also gives them a place to anchor the stirrups.

It also serves as the top for stirrup leathers, which is one of the three parts of the traditional Western saddle. The stirrup leathers attach to the pommel of the saddle with a set of buckles.

While the pommel of most Western saddles is a single piece of leather, Morgans and some other types of English saddles have pommels divided into two halves.

Seat

It is perhaps the most important part of the saddle, and something that should not be overlooked or underrated. We’ll let you in on a little secret: The majority of people use a saddle that isn’t right for them.

The incorrect saddle will often lead to discomfort, making it difficult to carry on your horse for long periods of time, and could have a negative affect on your performance in the ring.

So, what should you look for in a saddle?

A well-cushioned seat is a must! In terms of its shape, the seat should fit your hip bones and thigh bones to ensure everything is supported. Try to find a saddle that has a slight dip in the middle to add extra room.

A wide back end is also vital as it ensures extra room to distribute the weight evenly, which in turn distributes pressure. Lastly, make sure the skirt (the part of the saddle next to your horse) has enough room to support your leg.

Cantle

The cantle is a piece that is mounted on the neck of the horse, beneath the withers. It protects the withers and enables free shoulder movement.

It is most commonly seen in western saddles, but can also be found in a few English saddles.

There are several structures that are called cantle, and these are the features that you can find in your saddle: the cantle panel the neck roll panel cover cantle in the seat Combinations of these are sometimes seen as well.

The withers are in the upper part of a horse's back, between the shoulder blade and the spine. The saddle cantle commonly covers the withers up to the shoulder blade.

Flaps and Billets

Your saddle, along with your stirrups, is one of the biggest investments you make in riding. It is important to understand the parts of a saddle so that you can be sure you are making the right choice when purchasing one. Saddle parts influence the price, fit, and durability of the saddle, and each rider has different needs, purposes, and expectations.

Saddle Attachments- Functions

Attachments are the areas where the saddle is connected to the pommel or the top of the horse’s back. From there, the rider is able to control the horse through the reins. The most common attachment for English saddles is the breast collar. Some saddles use a gullet strap, and a few use a girth. All of these provide different benefits to the rider on different types of terrain.

Breast Collar: This is the most common attachment for English saddles. It is attached to the middle part of the saddle and is usually used during horseback riding sessions. There are various types of breast collars that can be used for different types of training. The breast collar reduces the distance between the rider and the horse. This is a helpful feature during the jump training of the horse since the rider will feel more connected to the movements of the horse. This attachment also allows the rider to shift the horse’s center of balance by utilizing it as a fulcrum.

Gullet Strap: This is another important attachment that you use during horseback riding. It is attached to the chest area. This attachment is mainly used in trail and jumps. The Gullet strap helps to distribute the weight of the rider evenly on the horse. It is beneficial during horseback riding as it helps to reduce the impact that reaches the horse’s back.

Stirrup Leathers

The stirrup leathers are the leather straps that hold the stirrup bars to the saddle. They are filled with holes to allow air to go through and the stirrup bars to stick out.

The stirrup leathers allow you to adjust the distance between the stirrup bar and the saddle. This is done by screwing or sliding the stirrup straps.

The bar that the stirrup leathers attach to is called the stirrup bar. It is made out of aluminum, steel, or plastic and is used to increase the grip and contact area of the saddle. If you ride a lot, the stirrup bars can take a lot of wear and tear and may need replaced periodically.

Stirrups

These offer extra room for the rider while there are still being stabilized by the rider's legs, but they do not provide enough stability for very fast riding.

The stirrup is usually made of metal, leather or a synthetic material. They come in different heights and lengths for different types of riders, which is to facilitate the rider to position his feet above the level of the horse's shoulders and still be able to provide input to the horse. A rider is more secure and comfortable in one stirrup length than another. To determine which length is best for you, try them all out in the saddle.

The most common stirrup lengths are:

  • Short: The flat side of the stirrup is about six inches in length or less. Commonly used by children.
  • Regular: The flat side of the stirrup is about eight and a half inches in length. This used by most adults.
  • Long: The flat side of the stirrup is a foot and more in length-used by adult women, especially those of petite stature.

Grab Strap and Croup Strap

These two straps go around both the horse's belly (located at the top) and croup (behind the saddle). They aid with stability by holding the saddle in place. All saddles come with these basic straps, but there are two options for how they are attached.

The first is a simple loop of material that attaches in two places. This option makes for a very universal fitting such that you can replace the strap and attach it in a different way if you find it isn't fitting right.

If, however, you want something that is specific to your saddle on, there is also the option of a adjuster piece. These pieces of metal are shaped to go in between the skirt and the cantle. A hook on each end goes in a loop so that you can easily slide it left or right to adjust the length of the strap. Double-ended adjusters are good for use in either the middle of the saddle or in the front. If you are having a hard time getting the fit correct, however, you should consider replacing the adjuster piece because it is more difficult to adjust later.

Girth

The girth, or the measurement around the base of the back of the horse defined as the area between the shoulders, is usually measured using a girth tape in inches. It is also measured in centimeters. The measurement will vary depending on the type and style of saddle you use.

Breastplate/Martingale

A breastplate (or martingale) is a piece of equestrian equipment designed to go over a horses chest. Made of leather, nylon or cotton, a breastplate is fitted in front of the saddle that restricts the movement of the withers.

What is the use of a breastplate?

Breastplates are used to teach flexions: to elicit supple movements in the horse and to break angular contact with the horse’s withers. Breastplates are used primarily by dressage riders to train a more upwardly mobile and supple movement and as part of a training seat. The martingale loop goes under the horse's neck; many have a buckle which tightens the loop as the horse drops its head below it.

Conclusion

The sad thing about saddles is that they are one of the most frequently overlooked and forgotten about parts of a horse. It is important that you are able to care for your saddle properly so that it is in top condition for every ride. Not to mention that a saddle that smells good will probably be a saddle that’s easier to ride and enjoy. Learning how to care for your saddle is not difficult, and gives you even more respect for the invisible part of your horse. In a nutshell, there are two main points to remember: 1) Keep the leather oiled, conditioned, and well cared for, and 2) Try to keep the sweat and bacteria out.

For those of you who would like to learn more about the care of a saddle, read on. Here is an article written by an experienced farrier explaining the various parts of the saddle and the care of each. The renowned farrier Richard Freeman gives owners and riders a comprehensive guide to the saddle and its care.