- What are the main differences when riding between western/english and Australian? I'll just be using it for trails.
An Australian style saddle is basically a dressage saddle. The knee blocks have moved up and become thigh blocks called poleys, which I like. If your horse makes a flying twist, the poleys will shove your thigh around, and your hips and you with it. Been there, done that, got the bruise but stayed on the horse.
It is easy to post in an Australian saddle as long as you don't try to fan your crotch (something my youngest daughter seems determined to do).
It feels to me like a wide twist English saddle. I've read that some sit you farther back, more like a western saddle, but mine do not. The cinch is under your leg, and the double flap puts more leather between your leg and the horse than a western saddle does.
- Do you need a special saddle pad? Or is an english pad just fine?
An English pad is fine. I prefer a Navajo blanket, but that is because my horses seem to like wool better than cotton. I have sometimes used mine with a Wintec rubber pad without a problem - other than it sits you up too high. Does that with an English saddle too.
- Do they fit the horse differently than an english saddle does? How so?
The panels on an English saddle are L shaped. They are more rectangular on the DownUnder saddles - missing the short part of the L that runs down the front of the flap.
- I read on that website that they are situated farther forward on a horse than either a western or an english saddle? True?
Here is what DownUnder emailed me when I thought the fitting was wrong:
" Ideally, the Australian saddles are positioned over the highest point of the wither, and when adjusted properly, the scapula moves freely under the front of the saddle tree."
I sent it back for adjustment anyways, because I think that is hogwash. I don't know what kind of horses they ride, but there is no way my Arabian's shoulder will move freely under the saddle tree. I gave it a short try, but after a minute my mare looked at me with her "Are you F^%$*@# stupid?" look. I reckon she knows what bothers her.
Other comments: I've got one with a horn and one without (it is a smaller saddle my oldest daughter used). I've ridden both, and by a small margin prefer no horn.
DownUnder seems to have variable quality in their leather. One of mine has decent leather, the other...well, it is OK but it seems to be wearing too fast. The warranty only covers the tree, although if you got one where the leather seems questionable, you could send it back for an exchange or refund (unless you bought it on clearance - no refund on those, IIRC).
I started riding English, drifted to Australian and now have drifted further into western. I'll probably ride with my Australian saddle for another year or so, then sell it and switch permanently to a western saddle. The picture below is of my gelding. The saddle has a wither pad because Trooper is a little narrower than Mia and his withers go further back. Also, the saddle was a bit too far back when this photo was taken.