The ABCs of Draft Horse Saddles

There are almost as many different kinds of draft horse saddles as there are draft horses and they are all a little bit different. One thing that these saddles have in common is that they must fit a horse exceedingly well so the horse will be comfortable. Horses will let you know very soon if a saddle is not to their liking by showing erratic behavior while being ridden.

Construction of the Saddle
Most saddles have something that is called a tree. It is the foundation of the saddle and the best saddle trees, most people agree, are made out of wood. There are others as well; some are made of synthetic material called ralide; it is a type of polyethylene and is molded in one piece. Trees are covered with various materials including leather, rawhide, bullhide and even fiberglass.

One popular kind of tree is called the flex tree. Its design has the fork (the saddle front) and cantle (the curved rear piece on the saddle) and lets the bars of the saddle move with the horse.  English saddles often have a spring tree; the spring steel is attached to the wood to allow some give and take. But the saddle itself is not flexible.

Saddles also have what is known as a gullet or a channel that runs the length of the underside of the saddle. It is located between the side panels. The gullet can cause the horse some pain if it is overly narrow by putting pressure on the horse's withers. Also part of the saddle is the swell, which is in the front of the saddle. It is often called a saddle fork or pommel.

Types of Saddles
Both Western and English saddles are used for draft horses, as well as the Australian saddle, a kind of cross between the two of them.

 Both the English and the Australian are similar because the rider sits on the front part of the saddle. English saddles allow greater freedom of movement and so are used traditionally for competing in horse  shows. The Australian saddle also allows greater freedom of movement than the Western saddles; they were developed to be used in the Outback of Australia and have double girthing.

The Western saddle was designed for cowboys who would be riding for long hours; the rider sits back in the  saddle not forward so it is a more relaxing ride. Western saddles differ from English-style saddles because they have a horn in the front of the saddle, which was used traditionally to tie steer to.

The various saddles serve different purposes. English saddles are better when jumping or doing dressage with a draft horse, while Australian and Western saddles are used for more practical purposes including using the horse for work.

There are also saddles that do not have trees and for the rider are almost like not having a saddle at all. They allow riders to have the feel of the horse. The saddle if not reinforced enough could turn as the rider is sitting on the horse, which would obviously be dangerous.