I posted a similar thread a few weeks ago, with the zame opinion as you. The reins look too tight, their heads look too high, and the rider seems too far on the horses back. Though I never got an answer about the saddle placement, the other things were explained. The horse naturally carries it's head very high, Saddlebreds are bred for that conformation. As for the reins, they may look tight, but many people were trained with tissues as reins. It's comstant contact with the mouth, but not harsh contact.
Like any equine sport, there are people who aren't as humane about it, but that's the specific person, not the sport. Not my favorite style of riding, but everyone has different tastes.
I will explain about the saddle's placement.
These horses have immense shoulder movement, have sloping shoulders too, and if you ever sat one bareback when it was moving, where the rider is sitting in the saddle, that looks so odd? Is actually where you would be sitting bareback too.
Their backs are also quite long, compared to many other breeds, but if rider were too far back, as it does seem to those that don't ride them? Rider would be thrust forwards with each step.
But I can assure you, if you can ride bareback on one just once, and "feel" where you should be? You would naturally be riding right there.
And as an aside to something about broken tails in this world of ASB's. They are NOT broken, nor reset, and the tailset is not attached to the saddle in any of the breeds that wear one. The tailset has a surcingle, and breastcollar and various leather pieces as well as crupper too. No way to be using it, with its sheepskin or fleece pads, under a saddle, harness or under rider.
They call the tail a "breakover", as in it is raised with bustles and then put into set as horse learns to carry it. We referred to them as "broke" tails. But not broken bones in them, and in fact, if you took one out of tailset, tail would eventually look like any horse's.
Great care is taken with these horses, they are much loved by the people who care for them, and own them and train them. Very smart horses too and great personalities.
One on my string, barn name Bert, reg name Diamond Kite, liked to take 10am nap, and nap at 2 pm. So we worked around "his schedule". He was a hoot too. Loved Cola Chapstick, I would put some on his lips and he would be so impressed. Cool horse indeed. He also snored loud enough to wake barn.
Others preferred to work in morning, some in afternoon. Danny didn't want to work first, but wanted to be no later than 3rd to work. And had to have a snack with us at 10am too. Dill pickle potato chips, hot dog with bun and mustard and Coke. Shared mine every day with him.
And Old Money, at Louisville, where they place TV's in alleyway? Had to be able to see TV as he like watching the show, even moving around to see past people who stopped in his way. I even told people they had to move, so he could see.