Dressage is becoming increasingly popular both at affiliated and unaffiliated level. Our success at the London Olympics has certainly given the sport a boost but what is most interesting is the number of horses and ponies competing who are not typical “dressage horses”. There are more and more native ponies, cobs and traditionals who are not only taking part in dressage but who are enjoying success. The saddle industry, in the main, still seems to be convinced that dressage saddles are only used on Warmbloods !! For this reason we have, over recent years, been developing our range of dressage saddles so that we can fit ponies, natives, cobs and traditionals as well as the saddles we do for the more “conventional” sports horses.
But do you really need a dressage saddle to compete? The answer is – no of course you don’t, but there are distinct advantages in using a dressage saddle over perhaps a general purpose saddle. It is to do with balance and position. A dresssage saddle has straight flaps, big knee rolls, a deeper seat and stirrup bars that are set further back in order to be more under the rider’s leg.
It is a common misconception that the straight flaps are designed to allow the free movement of the horse’s shoulder. In fact the rigid parts of the saddle, the points of the tree, are in much the same position on a general purpose saddle and the more forward cut flap is flexible and will not inhibite the horses shoulder.
The dressage saddle’s design is all about putting the rider in a good position so that they are sitting in balance. Rising trot creates its own issues. As we sit in a correctly fitted conventional saddle, our weight should be in the centre of the saddle allowing the saddle tree to evenly distribute our weight over the bearing surface of the horse’s back. Our centre of balance is in the centre of the saddle. As we rise, then gravity requires that we stand over our stirrup bars, which throws our centre of balance and our weight forward. Of course as we then return to the sitting position our weight transfers back again. This is true of all saddle styles but the more forward cut the saddle the greater the rocking effect we create on the saddle and consequently on the horse’s back. Many riders underestimate the influence they have on their horse’s ability to perform and dressage saddles are designed to minimise this effect.
So of course you can do dressage in any well fitting saddle but there are definait advantages in using a saddle designed specifically for this purpose.