The Best Dressage Saddles + Buying Guide

If you’ve chosen this ancient discipline of equestrian art for your latest obsession, you’ll need theperfect saddle. Saddle fit for horse and rider is perhaps more important for dressage than for anyother sport; only with a perfectly fitting saddle can the horse truly move his body to its fullpotential, and the rider sit in perfect balance. But how do you know which saddle is best for you?Having ridden dressage since I was a teenager and being a qualified saddle fitter, I’m here to helpyou out.

Dressage Saddle Buyers' Guide

Dressage saddles are designed to allow the horse to move freely. The short girth, long and straight flaps, and cut-back pommel allows for freedom of the wither, shoulder, and elbow, enabling the horse to work over his back. One thing that varies between dressage saddles is the panels. Some are filled with wool flocking, which is easy to adjust. Others have air pockets, like the Cair system, which can be even softer and more pleasant for the horse’s back but it is harder to adjust. The right choice depends on your horse.

It goes without saying that whatever saddle you buy, it should fit your horse. But the ideal dressage saddle is one that places you into the ideal position, too. While you can fluff through the bottom levels in a GP saddle if you like, as the movements get more difficult, you’ll need a dressage saddle to keep you sitting tall and deep and allow your horse’s shoulder to move more freely. By the middle of the levels, a dressage saddle is required for competition.

The perfect saddle assists you into the right position: sitting deeply in the saddle, with a tall and relaxed back, a strong and supple core, and a long, draping leg. The design of the seat and stirrup bar can have a massive impact on your position and balance, particularly your shoulder, hip, and heel alignment. When sitting correctly, the rider’s shoulder, hip, and heel are all on a vertical line. A stirrup bar that’s too far forward pulls the rider’s heel out from under the hip, forcing you to flop back into a chair seat that’s unpleasant for your horse to carry. On the other hand, a poorly balanced saddle that is too high in the back tips your pelvis forward, sending your lower leg back and rendering your seat all but useless. You need to know your strengths and weaknesses before choosing a saddle for yourself. For instance, a rider who tends to ride in a chair seat needs a saddle with more pronounced knee blocks to keep the leg from sliding forward, where a rider who tends to perch could use a saddle with a higher pommel and deeper seat.

This is why it is utterly essential to ride in a saddle before buying it. Not only does the saddle fitter have to check that it fits your horse, but you also have to see what changes it makes to your position and how comfortable you feel in it. You’ll be spending many hours in that seat – be sure you like it before you buy it.

The Four Best Dressage Saddles

There are huge amounts of saddles on the market today, and the perfect one for you is out there. Use this handy guide for a few suggestions on saddles that could work for you.

CHAMPION

The Bates Isabell Dressage Saddle:

Best Overall Dressage Saddle

This is the upmarket cousin of the Wintec. Using exactly the same design, it also provides an adjustable gullet for a perfect fit on the horse and a beautifully designed seat that keeps the rider in the right position.

This is the upmarket cousin of the Wintec (below). Using exactly the same design, it also provides an adjustable gullet for a perfect fit on the horse and a beautifully designed seat that keeps the rider in the right position. This time, though, it’s made from fantastically soft, supple, lustrous leather. The seat is incredibly soft and comfortable and your lower leg feels rock-solid in this saddle. The most remedially spooky horse I ever rode had a Batessaddle and through all of her wild antics I was never once unseated, and I attribute much of this achievement to the fact that I never slid anywhere in that Bates. It held me like a safety belt. Once again, it does have Cair panels, so the panel shape cannot be adjusted to the individual horse.

RUNNER-UP

The Wintec Isabell Dressage Saddle:

Greatest Value Dressage Saddle

This is the cheapest saddle on the market that still doesn’t compromise on fit and rider balance.

This is the cheapest saddle on the market that still doesn’t compromise on fit and rider balance. Current World Champion Isabell Werth assisted in the design of this saddle, and its suede seat helps to keep you even stiller in the tack as your horse performs the movements. Its Cair panels ensure that your horse’s back stays comfortable, but are impossible to adjust, so a flocking option might be better if your horse is very asymmetrical or still growing.

The drawback of the Wintec – and the reason why it’s cheaper than other options – is its material. While everyone loves leather, Wintec saddles are made from a nasty synthetic that isn’t nice to touch or to look at. The horse doesn’t know the difference, and this synthetic lasts forever and is incredibly durable, but some riders just can’t come to terms with how it looks and feels. When used with sturdy breaches – like those made of denim – it can also cause some chafing for the rider. However, if you’re looking for an outstanding fit on a tight budget, there’s no better option than a Wintec Isabell. For a cheapskate like me, the Wintec has always been the only option. There’s also a Wintec Wide variant for those super-round horses that many lower-level dressage riders are fond of, such as cobs and Friesians (and fatties like mine).

RUNNER-UP

The EquiRoyal Newport Dressage Saddle:

Best Beginner Dressage Saddle

If you’re just starting out and not sure if dressage is for you, this saddle will meet your needs at the bottom levels to start with.

If you’re just starting out and not sure if dressage is for you, this saddle will meet your needs at the bottom levels to start with. It has a tendency to tip the rider back, allowing the lower leg to slip forward, but it’ll do for a start. It’s also available only in 17and 18 inches, so really petite riders might not be able to use this option. The flap is correctly cut and the panels are appropriately shaped for most horses. The most attractive thing about this saddle is its price – about a tenth of what you’d pay for most dressage saddles.

RUNNER-UP

The Kent and Masters Dressage Saddle:

Best Option when Available

This saddle is hard to come by in the U. S., but it’s made the list because it is utterly fantastic to ride in.

This saddle is hard to come by in the U. S., but it’s made the list because it is utterly fantastic to ride in. K&M saddles are adjustable and made with British wool flocking, which stays soft and comfortable for your horse for years. The leather is utterly dreamy to touch and ride in and somehow, magically, my K&M fits basically every horse I have ever ridden – including those that don’t fit in anything else.ConclusionYou owes it to your half-ton dance partner to give him a saddle that fits perfectly and helps to make you easy to carry. Contact a qualified saddle fitter to assist you in making your decision.

Conclusion

You owe it to your half-ton dance partner to give him a saddle that fits perfectly and helps to make you easy to carry. Contact a qualified saddle fitter to assist you in making your decision.

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