It’s a predictable question: Let one horse person meet another, and after the first and most obvious question (“What kind of horse do you have?”) they will ask the second: “What do you ride?”
If it’s English, the questions that follow can include: Hunter-jumper? Eventing? Dressage?
If it’s Western, they may ask: Reining? Cutting? Western Pleasure?
I have yet for someone to hit upon my answer, which is, None of the above—because I trail ride in an Australian saddle.
The reactions I get are varied. Some folks give me a puzzled look, and ask for more details: What does an Australian saddle look like, exactly? Why do you like it?
Others just shake their head. And that’s O.K. I love my Aussie saddle and wouldn’t trade it for all the custom English or Western saddles in the world.
Why do I love thee, oh Australian saddle? Let me count the ways:
1. Comfort (mine): I can ride for hours in my Aussie saddle and never get sore, unlike some of my riding friends in their English or Western saddles.
The reason for that, according to Lance Mitchell, a senior sales representative with Down Under Saddle Supply in Denver, is that the Aussie saddle tree is actually hollow right beneath your tail bone.
“They run woven material over that hollow spot, so you have a hammock effect in the middle of the seat,” Lance says.
And yes, while English saddles also have a suspended seat system, the Aussie has a deeper seat and a narrower twist than most English saddles.
What is a twist, you ask? This refers to the width of the saddle tree at its narrowest part, right behind the pommel. For the rider, this translates to how the wide the saddle is between your upper thighs. Get a saddle with a too-wide twist, and you could feel stretched. It certainly has to do with the build of the rider, so you’ll have to see what’s comfortable for you.
2. Comfort (my horse’s): Aussie saddles range in weight from 14 pounds to 26 pounds, fully fitted. My mare is petite, and my lightweight Aussie saddle has got to be a relief from the 60-pound Western saddle she once had on her back. Plus, it’s easy for me to throw on.
3. Safety: Did I menton the poleys yet? They are the tall, fat kneepads at the front of the Australian saddle that help secure the rider. My mare is young, and can be a challenge at times. I know those poleys have helped me stay in the saddle more than my riding skills.
Or, as Lance put it, “The Aussies make it easy—you just lean back in the saddle and you’re viced in.”
4. Price: I wasn’t sure if I’d like an Australian saddle at first, so I bought one of the less expensive Kimberly series from Down Under Saddle Supply. It cost $345, and has held up just as well, if not better, than the English and Western saddles of some of my friends that cost more than $3,000.
And in case you’re wondering about the rest of it, yes, I also have an Australian bridle. It’s a halter bridle, which means I can pop the bit out and easily convert it to a halter, which is handy.
As for an Australian bit?
“Most people ride with a snaffle—they connect to an Aussie bridle best,” Lance says. And remember the history: the Australian saddle is the evolution of the English dressage saddle.
“England, after all, colonized Australia.”
And when they did, history tells us, they realized they needed a saddle for working cattle in the unforgiving Australian landscape. Hence, the Aussie was born.
“If you’re hitting the open trail and actually getting into rough terrain,” Lance says, “riding an Aussie saddle will help you be a better rider.”