English saddles differ among themselves in several distinct ways. Primarily, the differences lay in the seat location and the flap shape and flap length. In disciplines like jumping where the rider needs shorter stirrups for extra support, the flap is more forward and shorter to accommodate the bend of the knee. For the same reason, the seat is positioned further back so that the rider is not pushed ahead of the saddle when jumping a fence. Additionally, padding in the seat and knee rolls of a saddle will assist the hunt seat rider, but is not necessary in other English saddles.
Within the discipline of Dressage, the rider sits more upright and with a longer stirrup length than a hunt seat rider because Dressage riders do not jump obstacles. Therefore, the saddle flap is longer and straighter down behind the horse’s shoulder than a hunt saddle. The seat is closer to the horse’s withers which helps keep the rider’s center of gravity in the proper place. The pommel is a bit higher and the deepest point of the seat is more forward as it allows for a longer leg position.
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The seat is usually much deeper in a Dressage saddle than a jumping saddle, and allows the rider to comfortably sit up in the saddle yet in a relaxed position to influence the horse. The padding of the panels is usually less than in a hunt saddle to permit a closer feel to the horse. It often has a wider bearing surface than a jumping saddle as well.
Some designs feature more padding in front of the knee, much more than in a jumping saddle, said to assist the rider in keeping the knee down and thigh back. However, there is usually little padding behind the calf, as the rider needs to be able to freely move the lower leg around to give aids to the horse.
The billets of most dressage saddles are very long, to allow the girth to be buckled near the horse’s elbow rather than underneath the rider’s leg (which would get in the way of giving effective leg aids).
It is important that your saddle fit both you and your horse. When you decide to select a Dressage saddle be sure you measure your horse from his hoof to his withers and then from his withers to his croup. You will need these measurements when you select your saddle to be sure it fits. However, if you ride more than one horse, it is not that practical to buy a different saddle for each one! You can try gel pads that will conform to your horse’s shape to help your one saddle fit. Try to fit the saddle such that there is sufficient room between the gullet and the horse’s withers and spaced over the spine evenly.
You should also sit in several Dressage saddles to find one that is most comfortable for you. Most often you can visit tack shops and sit in the Dressage saddle you may buy while it is on a saddle stand. Brands and styles vary, so become familiar with them all before spending a lot of money!