Riding in an Australian saddle is for sure, going to feel different from what you have been riding in. Whether it is an English style saddle or if it is a Western saddle that you are used to riding in there are core difference in the Australian saddle style of riding.
An Australian saddle was originally called a poley or stock saddle and you have probably heard this term before. The poleys is the biggest difference from other saddles. They are positioned at the front of the saddle and act as thigh blocks by keeping you from sliding forward in your seat when you are riding downhill. This is a very important and brilliant part of the Australian saddle design.
The Australians designed the entire saddle with a purpose, taking the best of English and the best of Western and adding a bit of their own style. By adding the poleys to the front of the saddles, they were thinking of the Australian Outback, chasing cattle through thousands of acres where there were no quick routes back to a hospital if there was an emergency. A cowboy was on his own and had to have the best security in a saddle as possible. So no horn, added poleys and a forward position saddle were needed for taking on such a dangerous job. The poleys to allow the cowboy to stand and be held in, no horn so that if things got western he wouldn’t land on it and break his pelvis. As well a horn would get in the way while leaning forward going through brush.
What do we mean by a forward position saddle? This is like an English saddle, which is also a forward position saddle but now with your feet slightly more in a forward position and in a longer stirrup leather length. You should have about 25% of your weight in each stirrup. This gives you balance and strength in your riding position.
When you are riding and starting to move out in a trot and then canter, the saddle seat will start to push you forward kind of into a 2 point position. This is a natural progression in riding the saddle and many western riders will try and sit back and ride it. This is fine, but to get the best out of the Aussie saddle experience, the rider should move into this position. The faster you go the more the saddle will push you forward and you will start to stand and naturally start to post. You will be off of the back end of the horse and more over the shoulders of the horse, unlike a western saddle where you sit down on your back pockets. When cantering your body will continue to move forward like a jockey position. This is aerodynamic and allows you to move with your horses movements as well as moving your weight off of his lower thoracic spine and over your horse’s stronger shoulder muscles.
And what about your feet being more forward? The way the saddle is designed your feet are slightly forward, stirrup leathers longer and your pelvis naturally in a neutral position. This helps keep your posture perfect which doesn’t add stress to your lumbar vertebrae and hip joints. We literally have tons of broken riders in Aussie saddles now who can easily ride for hours in these saddles without their bodies or knees killing them. There riding days are not over!
So, when you are moving out at a fast pace, your body is set more forward, and your feet are in front of you at the same time. The reason you stand in the stirrups a little and have your feet out in front of you has a purpose, too. These saddles, being designed for the Outback need to be safe for that type of terrain. If the horse stumbles on a root or goes down, your feet in front of you are in a perfect position to catch you so you don’t get hurt. You can basically just step out of the saddle if that was to happen. You can actually feel this safety feature while riding if you allow yourself to ride this way.
The Australian saddle is truly the ultimate trail saddle. With built in safety features, the comfort of the seat and leg position, you can literally ride for hours, or days in comfort.
I once had a mother in law who said, “well that is a great beginners saddle”. Well yes, that was meant to be a jab, but there is much truth in that. Australian saddles are a great confidence building saddle for a new rider, and also a great horse training saddle, cowboy saddle, endurance and seasoned rider’s all day saddle.
If you are an English rider looking for a good trail saddle, the Aussie feels familiar but gives the rider better security and depth of seat. For a western rider, you gain a lighter weight saddle and a seat that doesn’t spread your hip joints and has less strain on your spine and hips for those longer rides out.