English Saddles: A Guide to Parts & Fit
How well do you know the parts of your saddle?
For new riders, learning the parts of an English saddle is as important as knowing how to groom a horse. Experienced riders too should know the different parts, their purpose, and how they are supposed to fit. The individual parts work together to protect the horse’s back and support the rider’s seat. The Pony Club asks young members to identify 25 English saddle parts as part of their education component.
We’ve trimmed that list to 13 of the most common parts as a guide. The English saddle parts diagram here offers a visual guide to the list below.
Seat: The seat is the most obvious part of the saddle. This is where the rider sits. The discipline determines how deep or shallow the seat should be. Hunter/jumper riders prefer a shallower seat whereas dressage riders look for deeper seats.
Cantle: The cantle is the raised part on the back of the seat. Its purpose is to support riders.
Pommel: Located at the front of the saddle, the pommel is the place where the tree, including the gullet, come together.
Gullet: If you turn a saddle over, you'll see a channel that runs the length of the saddle. This is the gullet. It holds the saddle bars together and is the most important part of the fit for the horse. It is positioned on the horse’s withers and continues down their spine.
Skirt: This small piece of leather is attached to the seat and covers the stirrup bar to prevent it from rubbing the rider’s inner thigh.
Flap: The flap is a smooth piece of leather that slides up and down the billets. It is designed to cover the billet straps and girth buckles.
Panels: Panels, like supports you might put in your shoes, provide cushioning. Flip your saddle over to find them lining both sides of the gullet.
Knee Roll: Don't panic if your saddle doesn't have one. Knee rolls aren’t on every English saddle. They can keep a rider’s knees from sliding too far forward and can easily be added to the front flap.
Billets: Both sides of an English saddle have three billet straps. They are found below the flap and are the piece the girth buckles to. There are three billet straps, but girths only have two buckles so one billet is left hanging.
Girth: The girth is not technically a part of the saddle because it is detachable, but is necessary for holding the saddle on the horse. On the English saddle, buckles on both billets secure the girth in place.
Stirrup Bar: A small piece of metal connects the stirrup leather to the saddle. To find this part, lift the flap and jockey. Stirrup bars allow English riders to swap out stirrup leathers more easily than western riders by sliding them on and off the connector.
Stirrup Leather: Made of leather or synthetic materials, these straps thread through the stirrup and over the stirrup bar connecting the stirrup to the saddle.
Stirrup: Most English stirrups are a metal triangular piece with a rubber grip where the ball of the foot rests upon while riding. Stirrups are also used for mounting and dismounting.
English saddle measurements
Finding a saddle that fits your horse is a priority. At a minimum, a poorly fitted saddle is uncomfortable. In worst-case scenarios, improperly fitted saddles create pain and interfere with performance. The horse’s health and soundness are priorities. However, the saddle has to fit you too. If it doesn't, good fit negates the benefits for the horse.
Saddle seats are measured in inches. How those dimensions are assessed in an English saddle vs. a western saddle varies. On English saddles, the seat is measured from the center of the cantle to the side of the pommel. Western saddles are measured from the center of the cantle to the center of the pommel. The slight difference in angle means riders need a larger English seat size than western riders.
Three other measurements for riders are important to consider when shopping for a saddle.
- Hip to knee length: During the saddle buying process riders tend to focus on the seat size. Instead, start with how the flap fits your leg. The angle and size of the flap should complement your leg. Look for your knee to be positioned at the top point of the flap.
- The flap: Flaps that are too long can interfere with the rider’s cues. A flap that is too short can get caught on the top of the rider’s tall boots. In most cases, the flap should extend about one-third of the way down the rider’s leg. The rider’s thigh should be parallel to the saddle’s flap. If the rider’s thigh extends over the flap and off the leather, or the thigh is in a straight line behind the flap, the saddle will prevent even the most accomplished riders from achieving correct equitation. The seat:When sitting in an English saddle, the rider should have approximately one hand width between their backside and the back of the saddle. The seat should feel secure to prevent sliding without being too constrained.
Take it for a test ride
You wouldn’t buy a car without taking it for a test ride. The same is true when purchasing a saddle. Borrow a friend's or try your trainer's saddle to find a model that fits you and your horse best.
Tack stores often provide an area where riders can sit in the saddle to see if the seat, flaps, and fenders match their body. Tack stores may also have an arena or round pen on-site and allow riders to trailer their horses in to test ride in the saddle. If this is not an option, ask if a trial period is available where you can take the saddle home and try it on your horse to make sure you're both comfortable.