Last Updated on February 22, 2023
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 horsewomen 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
- Cantle: This is the back of the saddle, usually curved, that provides the rider with a secure and comfortable seat.
- Skirt: This is the leather or synthetic material that covers the saddle tree. It is designed to protect the rider’s legs from the tree and to keep the saddle secure on the horse’s back.
- Gullet: This is the channel between the saddle tree bars that allows the spine to move freely underneath the saddle.
- Pommel: This is the front of the saddle that supports the rider’s weight.
- Stirrups: These are the metal loops that the rider’s feet go through to keep them securely in the saddle.
- Flap: This is the piece of leather or synthetic material that extends from the skirt down over the horse’s shoulder.
- Knee Roll: This is the extra padding on the saddle flap that provides extra support and comfort to the rider’s knees.
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 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 a duo-flap or a mono-flap. A duo-flap has two flaps attached to the seat. One flap lifts 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 stirrup leathers, 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 riders 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 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 a 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.
How to Make a Saddle Seat Less Slippery?
A slippery saddle seat can make a rider feel very insecure in the saddle, particularly younger or novice riders. An advanced rider should be able to stay secure and comfortable in the saddle no matter what, but sometimes we all need a little extra help. Luckily, there are some simple ways to make a saddle seat less slippery!
A quick way to make a saddle seat less slippery is to use a cover that lies over the top of the saddle, called a seat saver. These are made from a range of different materials, including sheepskin, wool, gel, and fleece. They fasten securely onto the saddle and can make life much more comfortable for the rider.
If you have a brand-new saddle the seat is often very slippery until it gets worn in. In this situation, it should become less slippery over time, but there are also products available to spray onto the leather to give more grip. Another option is to buy ‘sticky bum’ riding breeches, which help to keep the rider secure in the saddle.
How Do You Attach a Cantle Bag to a Saddle?
If you regularly go on long trail rides, it helps to take a saddleback of emergency kit along with you. Here you can keep small but useful items such as a hoof pick, tie rope, pocket knife, and some little snacks for you and your horse.
Saddlebags can attach to any point of the saddle where you can find a D-ring. In English saddles, these are normally located by the pommel, while on western saddles they can often be found at the cantle as well. If possible, attach the bag at two separate points, to stop it from bouncing around too much when the horse moves.
Saddle bags can be attached using a variety of methods – velcro, tie strings, buckles, or carabiners. If this is the first time you and your horse have used a saddle bag, test it out on short rides first. You may need to modify the way the bag is attached to make it comfortable for both you and your horse before embarking on a longer ride.
What is a Forward Flap Saddle?
The flaps of a saddle are the part where the rider’s leg sits, on the sides of the horse. The aim is for the leg to sit neatly within the saddle flap, with the lower part of the leg extending below the flap onto the side of the horse.
In some equestrian disciplines, riders will ride with shorter stirrups, closing the angle of the leg and moving the knee upwards and forwards. On a regular saddle, this may cause the knee to be positioned too close to the edge of the saddle flap.
A forward flap saddle is cut so that the saddle flaps protrude further forwards toward the horse’s shoulder. This makes them ideal for equestrian pursuits where the riding style requires a shorter stirrup length, such as jumping and cross-country riding. They are also more suitable for riders with longer legs, who struggle to fit on a standard-shaped saddle.
In English riding, jumping saddles are normally made in the forward flap style. A direct contrast to this is the dressage saddle, which has long straight saddle flaps to accommodate the classic leg position of a dressage rider.
How to Replace Saddle Billets?
The billets on a saddle are the points where the girth, or cinch, is attached. The placement and number of billets will vary according to whether you have an English or western saddle, but the theory behind them is the same.
Replacing saddle billets is a specialist task that should only be carried out by a reputable and qualified saddler as if done incorrectly it could be dangerous for both horse and rider. The billets are what secures the saddle to the horse – if they break, the saddle will quickly become dislodged, causing the horse to panic and the rider to fall off.
If one billet needs to be replaced, it is normally advisable to do them all at the same time. The billets are an integral part of the saddle and replacing them is an extensive task. Expect to pay around $200 to have a full set of billets replaced.
Is Saddle Seat Bad For Horses?
The term saddle seat refers to a style of riding, which involves the use of a specialist saddle. The saddle seat riding style is utilized on high-stepping horses such as American Saddlebreds, Tennessee Walking Horses, and Morgan horses. A flatter saddle is used which has a low, cut-back pommel to account for the higher neck position of the horse.
Like any equestrian activity, a saddle seat is not bad for horses if it is carried out correctly. The horse must be trained gradually and sensitively, and never pushed beyond its physical ability or fitness levels. In the past, there were some activities related to saddle seats that many people regarded as inhumane, but modern-day trainers shun these painful training methods.
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’s 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.
Michael Dehaan is a passionate horse owner, horse rider, and lover of all things equine. He has been around horses since he was a child, and has grown to become an expert in the field. He has owned and ridden a variety of horses of different breeds, and has trained many to compete in shows and competitions. He is an experienced horseman, having worked with and competed many horses, including his own. He is an active member of the equestrian community, participating in events and teaching riding lessons.