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The 5 Best English Saddles for Hard-to-Fit Quarter Horses

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Written by Susie W.

When it comes to Quarter Horse English saddle fit, the struggle is real.

American Quarter Horses (AQHAs) are well known for their versatility. If you ride in different disciplines, you may need several different saddles. For example, I often ride in a Circle Y Western work saddle, but I switch to a Blue Ribbon show saddle with an equitation seat for Western show classes. For English events, I practice and show in a Pessoa hunt seat saddle.

In this article, we will review the parts of the English saddle, saddle types, and saddles sizing—an important part of the selection process for you and your AQHA. We also discuss five saddle brands that are most popular in the Quarter Horse world.

Best English Saddle Brands for Quarter Horses
Antares Top-of-the-line
  Made for performance
  Designed for advanced rider
Bates (State Line Tack) Focused on comfort
  Highly adjustable
  Optimized fit
Collegiate (State Line Tack) Exceptional price
  Great entry-level saddle
Pessoa (State Line Tack) Great on the flat & over fences
  High quality
  Known for feel & balance
Toulouse (Amazon) Quality at an affordable price
  Popular among AQHA people

 

 

Anatomy of an English Saddle

First things first, let’s look at the anatomy of an English saddle.

Anatomy-English-Saddle

The saddle pictured here is a Close Contact saddle, or a Jumping saddle.

The picture below shows the gullet of the saddle; this is also how we measure tree width.

best-english-saddle-quarter-horse

This saddle has a medium tree gullet width.

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Types of English Saddles

Here are the three main types of English saddles you’ll see in the Quarter Horse world.

  • Close Contact: Sometimes referred to as a jumping saddle. This style of saddle is appropriate for Quarter Horse shows. Classes include: Hunter Under Saddle, Hunt Seat Equitation, Hunter Hack, Working Hunter, and Equitation Over Fences
  • All Purpose: A saddle that has been modified so that the rider can lengthen the stirrup for lower-level dressage, but also jump for lower-level eventing. The design does not allow for specialization in either discipline. This type of saddle would be appropriate for your Quarter Horse if you are riding recreationally or trail riding.
  • Dressage: These saddles have a deeper seat and allow for a longer leg position. They are designed to allow the rider a centrally balanced seat. This type of saddle is appropriate if you are going to ride or show your Quarter Horse in Dressage. Please note, while Dressage is an official AQHA class, it is generally not offered at Quarter Horse shows. Riders show under USEF/USDF judges.

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English Saddle Sizing

Saddles are sized using different components—the gullet/tree, seat size, and flap length.

Fit for the Horse

Gullet:

Also known as saddle width or tree size, sizes are narrow, medium, wide, and extra-wide. The average size horse generally needs a medium gullet size, but thicker Quarter Horses may need a wide tree.

Horses with narrow backs, such as Thoroughbreds, might require a narrow width.

(My old paint pony, who could look at a feed bucket and gain weight, required a wide tree.)

When fitting the saddle to your horse, pay close attention to both the gullet and the tree. You want enough clearance in the gullet to give the horse room for movement in the spine and withers; the saddle should not directly touch the vertebrae.

Some saddles, like Bates, offer “easy-change gullet replacement” so you can more easily customize the saddle’s fit to your horse.

It’s important to note that saddle manufacturers don’t all use the same angles between makes and models.

For example, just because a “wide” tree from one manufacturer fits your horse, doesn’t mean that same horse will require a “wide” tree from a different brand.

Fit for the Rider

Seat:

Size is measured in inches from the pommel of the saddle to the middle of the cantle.

Measuring-saddle-seat-size

The seat size corresponds to the rider’s upper thigh. The easiest way to measure your thigh length is to sit in a chair and use a tape measure from the end of your knee to the backside…well, of your backside.

Rider-saddle-seat-size

For this example, the actual measurement from the knee to the backside is approximately 18.5 inches, which corresponds to a 16.5” saddle. This rider does, in fact, ride in a 16.5” Pessoa saddle.

Rider Thigh Measurement Corresponding Seat Size
> 16.5″ 15″ saddle
16.5″ – 18.5″ 16″ saddle
18.5″ – 20″ 16.5″ saddle
20″ – 21.5″ 17″ saddle
21.5″ – 23″ 17.5″ saddle
< 23″ 18″ saddle

When you are sitting in the saddle, you should be able to fit 2-4 fingers in front of you and behind you.

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Flap Length

A rider with a longer leg might need a longer flap. Generally, only two sizes are offered; regular and long.

Once you have an idea of what size you need, you should fit the specific saddle to you and your horse. Don’t assume it will fit based on measurements alone! If you have questions, enlist the help of a professional saddle fitter or your trainer.

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5 Best English Saddles for Quarter Horses

The best saddle is going to be the one that fits you and your horse. There is no one “best” saddle.

That being said, you should buy the highest quality saddle you can afford.

(Don’t be afraid to consider a used saddle—it might mean you can afford a higher-quality saddle that will fit you and your horse better. A well-made, well cared for English saddle could easily last 15-20 years, so it is worth spending the extra money.)

AQHA-english-saddle

Shop Pessoa Saddles on State Line Tack

Most Quarter Horse shows offer hunter under saddle and hunt seat equitation, while some offer jumping classes, like hunter hack, working hunter, or equitation over fences.

The purpose of the flat classes is to prepare horses and riders for over-fences classes—even if you never want to jump, the goal is to look like you could.

For this reason, you want a saddle that looks like a jumping saddle.

When shopping, try a “Close Contact” saddle. All Purpose saddles are just that—made to cross between jumping and dressage. For Quarter Horse classes, you want to look like a jumper, not a dressage rider, so All Purpose saddles generally aren’t ideal.

A close contact saddle will enable you to get into a two-point (or jumping) position and maintain a better leg for that hunter/jumper look.

5 Best English Saddles for Quarter Horses
  Price Point Quality Known For
Antares $$$$ *** Top-of-the-line jumping saddle with semi-deep seat; designed for a more advanced rider, made for performance.
Bates (State Line Tack) $$ ** Focused on saddle performance and comfort for you and your horse, these are highly adjustable saddles to optimize fit for the horse.
Collegiate (State Line Tack) $ * Combines modern materials and traditional technique to provide authentic quality and craftsmanship at an exceptional price.
Pessoa (State Line Tack) $$$ *** Known for feel & balance, Pessoas are a great choice for competitive riders both on the flat and over fences.
Toulouse (Amazon) $$ * M. Toulouse saddles focus on tradition and elegance combined with technology–quality at a price you can afford.

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Saddles to Avoid

Dressage saddles

These are perfect for dressage…and that’s it. If you plan to ride or show dressage, get a dressage saddle. If you don’t, then avoid them.

Dressage saddles are not allowed in the show pen per the AQHA rulebook.

Black Leather or Synthetic Saddles

Per the rulebook, you could hypothetically show in a black and/or synthetic saddle.

However, this is very not traditional, and the hunter world is all about tradition. A brown, leather saddle is the way to go.

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Different Parts of an English Saddle Infographic

You’re welcome to use this infographic on your own website *as long as you link back to horse-rookie.local.*

Feel free to share on Pinterest, as well by hovering over it and clicking the Pinterest icon. #knowledgeishorsepower

Parts of an english saddle

Happy Saddle Shopping!

Selecting the right English saddle for you and your Quarter Horse is no easy task—there are so many different options available. You’ll likely need to try several options.

Bates_Caprilli_Close_Contact_Saddle

Shop Bates Saddles on State Line Tack

Remember, sitting on a saddle in a tack shop isn’t going to be the same experience as riding in it at home. Try to do a test-ride before you buy, or ensure you can return a saddle that doesn’t work.

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About the author

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Susie W.

Horses are my first love, but travel is a close second! I grew up riding in 4-H and went on to ride on my college equestrian team. As an adult, I've ridden and shown Quarter Horses for 20+ years, including several wins at Quarter Horse Congress. I also worked for 7 years at a leading horse feed company, and I'm passionate about equine health and nutrition. Lastly, I have a big soft spot in my heart for senior horses!