English Riding: Saddle Seat

Saddle Seat riding was developed largely to exhibit a smooth-moving, high-stepping type of horse. In America, this tradition originated with horse breeds cultivated to be attractive, comfortable rides either while “hacking” about town or around extensive acreage (like plantations). In England and Europe, this style of riding was once associated with outings in city parks, for which the flashier-moving horses were especially prized.

The emphasis in the Saddle Seat discipline is on a showy horse that moves with a high head carriage and dramatic, elevated action (lifting its knees and feet in an up-and-down motion). In the show ring, the names of Saddle Seat classes vary by breed and can include Pleasure, where manners are as important—or even more important—than an extravagant way of moving. However, the classic Saddle Seat horse is one that has been selectively bred and trained to perform with high action and brilliance. Morgans and Arabians are often shown in Saddle Seat classes at the three “traditional” gaits of walk, trot and canter. Brilliant special gaits like the rack and running walk according to its breed and/or show ring class. Some other breeds, such as the American Saddlebred and National Show Horse, also perform two additional gaits: the slow walk and the rack.

As the horse moves, the Saddle Seat rider sits tall and erect, hands held higher than in Hunt Seat. The traditional Saddle Seat saddle is flat, with straight flaps, little or no padding and a rather long seat. It has a cutback pommel (front) to accommodate the higher withers and neck set of most of the breeds used in this discipline. As with the Hunt Seat saddle, the stirrups leathers that connect to the stirrups attach under the skirts on either sides, but are adjusted longer in this discipline than in Hunt Seat. A girth is used to strap the saddle onto the horse; in the Saddle Seat tradition, these are often white.

Though there are variations according to breed and show ring class, the traditional bridle used in Saddle Seat riding is a double bridle. The parts are the same as for the Hunt Seat bridle, but with a browband that is usually a bright color and individual cheekpieces that carry two bits—a bridoon (like a small snaffle) and a curb bit for leverage. The two bits work together in the horse’s mouth to allow precise positioning of the horse’s head and neck. The noseband or cavesson on a traditional Saddle Seat double bridle is sometimes colored to match the browband.