This blog on the different styles of English saddles may help you to decide which saddle to start out with.
The most important distinctions between the styles of English saddles are the location and therefore the balance of the seat as well as the flap length and shape. English saddles come in several designs, and their intended use ultimately dictates the difference in design. In this article, I am going to discuss the difference between the Dressage, Jumping and All-Purpose saddles.
The sport of dressage requires a deeper seat and a longer leg on the horse than in jumping. Saddles used for dressage are designed to allow the rider to sit upright with their legs close to the horse’s body. The seat is deeper in a dressage saddle than in a jumping saddle. The pommel is higher and the deepest point of the saddle’s seat is more forward to allow for a longer leg position. Dressage saddles have a very straight-cut, long flap, which accommodates the longer leg position of a dressage rider. The stirrups are positioned directly beneath the seat and the knee roll is generally smaller. The stuffing of the panels is often kept to a minimum in a dressage saddle to allow for a closer feel of the horse. It also has a wider seating surface than a jumping saddle. The billets of dressage saddles are very long to allow the girth to be buckled near the horse’s elbow rather than underneath the rider’s leg. This allows the rider to give effective leg aids to the horse.
The jumping saddle, sometimes called a “close contact” saddle, is designed for show jumping, hunt seat equitation, foxhunting and the show jumping and cross-country phases of eventing. It is most different from a dressage saddle in that it has a flatter seat and flaps that angle forward, which allows for a shorter stirrup length. This gives the rider more support and flexibility in their movement and allows the rider to quickly move into the jumping position. The flap also has supportive padded knee rolls that give riders a better grip. The balance of the seat is further back than on the dressage saddle and comparatively flat with the cantle and pommel low so that they do not interfere with the rider’s jumping position.
An all-purpose saddle combines features of both dressage and jumping saddles. Sometimes called an “eventing saddle,” it was developed to allow riders to use one saddle both over fences and on the flat. This type of saddle works best for riders who cross disciplines; riding in pleasure classes, hunting, novice cross-county eventing competitions, show jumping and basic dressage. The all-purpose saddle’s seat is deeper than a jumping saddle but not as deep as a dressage saddle’s seat. The flaps are not angled as forward as a jumping saddle but are shorter than those used in dressage. Due to the deep, secure-feeling seat, this type of saddle is popular for trail and endurance riding. However, the compromising in the design of the saddle means that an advanced rider may find the saddle limits their ability to obtain a correct position at higher levels of competition, either in show jumping or dressage. For this reason, some English riding instructors and coaches do not particularly encourage their riders to use these saddles.