As for riding..... well..... when you first get on one your eyes will bulge out and you'll be praying for the first few laps. Think about riding a Grand Prix dressage horse/top level reiner mixed with the power of a working draft horse doing a log pull. My trainer told me one sure fire way to ride a saddle horse and look good: "Think about controlling an explosion, find the moment to let it get chaotic and find the moment to bring it back down!"
Oh gosh, I remember my first Saddle Seat lesson. My trainer hauled out her huge 20-something-old jet black Saddlebred gelding - he must have been over 17h tall! I hopped on him and he just went
. Not in a terrifying "dear God" type of way, but as soon as he started moving even at the walk, you knew this horse was a tried and true professional at his job. His trot was 100% natural, full of energy, and forward moving, and even though it was quick and bouncy and he covered so much ground, I felt absolutely safe on that horse. Surprisingly, most Saddle Seat horses are actually really, really bold!
I was hooked after that ride. I've ridden my fair share of finished horses, but so far nothing even compares to the exhilaration of riding a finished Saddle Seat horse.
I think the adjustable bars are a great feature on any saddle. Getting your leg in the right place is a vital part of riding well.
Regarding grooming and fashion, I've been curious about why Saddlebreds often have their forelocks shaved off. Is it just to save time braiding or is there a more historical or cultural reason for it?
Right now, I ride in an older Blue Ribbon cutback saddle (I estimate it's probably from the 1980's) but it's more for the Arab type as it's a tad wider and black in color (the Morgan and Saddlebred circuits like brown). I'm going to be in the market for a new saddle in the near future so hopefully I can get my hands on one of those equitation saddles. I think one of the nice things about shopping for cutbacks is they have terrible resale value, so you can usually find nicely used ones for around $400!
About the forelocks.... I think it's tradition, based on the rest of the grooming regimen for the Saddle Seat horse. Because we keep their manes natural and grown out, we don't have the privilege of braiding our horse's forelocks to keep them tucked away and out of the horse's eyes in the ring. So we just cut them off. That, and I think it may also have something to do with showing off the natural expression of the Saddle Seat horse. Our horses have the 'crazy eyes' (LOL), and we want them to have freedom of expression in the ring.
Also, correct me if I'm wrong, but most breeds of driving/cart ponies and horses have their forelocks removed too for the same reason. At least Saddlebreds, Arabians, and Hackneys for sure..... where is greentree?