Learn more about the parts of a saddle. Saddles are actually very complex creations that can be handcrafted and customized to fit each unique horse and rider pair.
It’s important for all horsemen and horse-women to know and understand how their saddles work. Part of this understanding comes from knowing about the design and the parts of the saddle.
In this article, I’ll be discussing the different parts of a saddle. I’ll be talking about the different pieces of the saddle itself, as well as common saddle attachments.
Parts of a Saddle
Saddles can be broken up into three areas: the pommel, the seat, and the cantle. Think of these simply as the front, middle, and back of the saddle.
So, the pommel is the front of your saddle. It rises above the horse’s withers, and it slopes upward, to properly position the rider in the seat. Pommels should clear a horse’s withers by a few inches, and include the knee flaps or pads, where the rider rests his or her knees.
The seat of a saddle, as can be expected, is where you sit. This part is wider than the pommel, and it is often cushioned with foaming to make it more comfortable. The seat also attaches to the main flaps on either side of the saddle, where the rider’s legs rest.
The seat is also where the stirrup leathers and the girth attach to the saddle. But, more on that later.
The cantle of the saddle is the back of it. This part also slopes upward, to give the rider more support in the saddle. It is the widest part of the saddle. The cantle determines the “type” of the saddle in the English riding world.
It can create a “deep seat” if the cantle is high, and more of a “close contact” if the cantle is low. Cantles are also frequently adorned with brass or silver nameplates.
Flaps and Billets
A saddle can either be duo-flap or mono-flap. A duo-flap has two flaps attached to the seat. One flap lifts up to reveal the “billets” where a rider will attach the girth to the saddle.
A mono-flap saddle has only one flap, with the billets attached at the bottom of this flap. A much shorter girth must be used with mono-flaps and attached to the billets below the flap.
Saddle Attachments- Functions
Nearly as important as the saddle itself are the pieces of tack that attach to it. These pieces include the stirrup leathers, the stirrups, grab straps, croup straps, girths, breastplates, and martingales.
The stirrup leathers attach to the seat and provide a strap with which to attach stirrups to the saddle. Stirrup leathers can be conveniently adjusted to many different lengths, depending on the length of a rider’s leg.
The stirrups are the metal attachment that rider’s put their feet into. They are important for a rider’s balance and stability in the saddle. There are many different kinds of stirrups; stirrups with spikes to help with grip, stirrups with extra joints for mobility, and even some stirrups that are made out of plastic.
Grab Strap and Croup Strap
Some saddles have D-rings that allow a rider to attach either a grab strap or a croup strap. A grab strap is a small, leather strap that goes from one side of the pommel to the other. The purpose of a grab strap is to give the rider somewhere to grab onto when working on the stability of their hands. Grab-straps are most commonly used in dressage, but they are also helpful when teaching a young or new rider about balance and hand position.
Croup straps are an attachment that connects from the cantle around a horse’s tail. These are most commonly seen on ponies, and they help the saddles from sliding up a horse’s neck. Think of them like breastplates for when saddles slide forward, not backward.
For a saddle to stay on a horse, it must be attached around the horse’s belly with a girth. There is a truly impressive variety of girths that can be used. Girths can be leather, cotton, synthetic, rope, or even rubber.
Different girths serve different purposes. Frequently, thin leather girths or thin synthetic girths are seen in the hunter ring. The purpose of this is for the tack to look as minimal as possible, so that attention is not drawn away from the horse.
On the other hand, leather girths that take up a horse’s entire belly are often seen in the jumper ring. This is to protect a horse’s belly from its own hooves; many horses in the jumper ring will kick themselves in the stomach to avoid knocking a rail.
Common in any almost any ring is a breastplate or martingale. A breastplate’s purpose is to hold the saddle in place, preventing it from sliding backward. Breastplates can either be the standard three-point or the eventing five-point.
A three-point breastplate has three points of contact with a saddle. It attaches to both sides of the pommel of the saddle and the girth. A five-point breastplate has five points of contact with a saddle. It attaches to both sides of the pommel, the girth, and two of the billets.
Martingales attach to the horse’s girth and sit around a horse’s neck. Their purpose is to prevent a horse from throwing its head up too high, which can prove dangerous to both horse and rider. There are two types of martingale: standing and running.
A standing martingale is all leather and attaches from the girth to the noseband of a horse’s bridle. A running martingale attaches to a horse’s breastplate, or martingale neckpiece, and has two straps that attach to the reins of the bridle.
As you can see, there are many parts to a saddle! It’s more than a leather seat you use when riding. Saddles are important for both a horse and the rider’s comfort and safety.
I hope this helped you better understand the different parts of a saddle. If so, please share this article.