Saddles – Do you know the pommel from your cantle?

Brown Leather Saddle

Saddles – Question: Do you know the pommel from your cantle?

Here, The Society of Master Saddlers takes a close look at the components of a saddle and the importance of understanding each part. Correct saddle fitting is a key part of horse management and it is important that all parts of the saddle fit the horse correctly.

With this in mind, it is therefore vital to understand the composition of a saddle and the different elements that comprise it. The racehorse, for example, requires a different type from a showjumping, cross country, general purpose or dressage saddle. The cut is different, it is much lighter and has several other variations from the typical schooling counterpart.

In this feature, we give you the lowdown on all the parts that make up an English type saddle from the front and back to the middle.

A typical English jumping saddle with each point marked out

The tree

Almost all saddles are built on some sort of tree, whether it be made from traditional wood and steel or more modern synthetic materials such as strong plastics and polymers. Whatever materials are used, the tree is the most important single item for characterizing the shape and appearance. Some of the more advanced trees which are common in a wide range of types today are adjustable. This means that the tree can be changed from a narrow to an extra-wide fitting through use of a tree adjuster. Alternatively, adjustable gullet plates can be used to simply adjust the width.

Stirrup bars

Stirrups bars are normally attached to, or sometimes built into the tree and can be of differing length. Dressage saddles usually have a longer bar so that the stirrup leather can hang further back, allowing the rider to sit in the classical position. On the other hand jumping saddles have shorter bars so the rider’s leg can sit more forward.

The seat

The seat is as it says, where the rider sits when horse riding and the skirts are the sections that cover the stirrup bars. Seat types can vary, with the differences seen between a dressage saddle and one made for showjumping, for example. Dressage riders need a deeper seat than a showjumper, so often a higher cantle is seen in this type.

A horse wearing a dressage saddle
A Dressage Saddle – note the longer girth straps, higher cantle and extended knee roles

The panel

The panel is the gap between the tree and the horse’s back contains either flocking material or air cushioning. Alternatively it may be pre-formed from a synthetic material or may be a mixture of all of the above.

The saddle flap

The saddle flap varies enormously depending on the style and its intended purpose. Its shape must be cut appropriately according to the discipline it is intended to be used in. A dressage type will be cut long and straight, whilst the jumping type will have shorter, forward cut flaps. Modern-day types can now be designed with a monoflap, which as the name suggests, sees only one piece of leather instead of two, where the girth straps are also attached.


The pommel

At the front of the saddle, the pommel essentially protects the horse’s spinal processes from the underside of the arch of the tree. The pommel should sit level with the cantle, or for dressage up to three inches below the cantle.

The cantle

The cantle is opposite the pommel at the back of the seat which is raised and curved. It can provide comfort and support for the rider.

It is advisable to always seek the advice of a Society of Master Saddlers Qualified Saddle Fitter when choosing the right type, size and fit for your horse.

Information about the Society of Master Saddlers can be found on the website Master Saddlers.

A jumping saddle, the knee roll is cut differently from the GP saddle
A jumping saddle, the knee roll is cut differently from the GP saddle

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