Different Kinds of Horse Saddles
There sometimes seem to be as many kinds of saddle as of rider and horse. And once decoration is taken into account, there may be more unique horse saddles than riders. A saddle must be suited to the rider, the horse, and the kind of work they will do together.
Workhorses are sat on differently than thoroughbreds or jumping horses. English saddles have padding built into their lean construction; western saddles, on the other hand, must be used with a horse blanket. Western saddles also have a distinctive horn for holding on during rough work. Some sportswomen have even revived the sidesaddle in certain competitions. Racehorses are saddled with the bare minimum material.
Fitting a Horse to a Saddle
English saddles must be carefully matched to the horse it will be worn by. Saddle makers do not necessarily tailor each horse saddle, but they do come in different sizes. A customer must be educated enough to pick the right English saddle for his or her size horse. Western saddles, on the other hand, are generally about the same size. The fit is achieved by putting a blanket on the horses back underneath the saddle. The blanket acts as a padding perfectly molded to the animal's back.
When we imagine a horse saddle, it is inevitably made of leather. Indeed, many saddles are made of leather, but today synthetics are an option too. Racers especially appreciate saddles that are as light weight as possible. In very formal shows and parades, especially associated with European courts or historical reenactments, you do not actually see the saddle leather. For show, a horse can be decked out in cloths, trim, and jewelry as much as any lady of the court.
Stirrups are a feature of both Western and English horse saddles. Their chief claim to fame is that a mounted warrior with his feet in stirrups makes a much more deadly fighter. The mounted warriors of Roman times were ferocious, but mostly for being tall and fast. They had no stirrups and thus could fight with only the power of their own muscles. Riders mounted the horses by simply vaulting up, or bringing the horse to a mounting block.
Jousting in the Middle Ages was made possible by these foot supports. Hunkered down on a horse, pressing against the stirrups, a knight could wield his weapons with the combined muscles of himself and his horse.