Endurance riding is a sport that requires having proper equipment. Not only do you want to focus on the comfort of the saddle for you, the rider, but also the comfort of your horse to move out comfortably for hours is extremely important. Otherwise, how else are you going to win and maintain glory? Or even if you are just competing for your own personal interest and not having a focus on competing against others you will need to consider the following:
Weight of your saddle: The weight of your saddle needs to be kept low. This can be tricky in finding a saddle that is light weight and is properly supporting the rider’s weight over the horse’s soft tissue. You need to protect your horse’s spinal muscles and bony structures properly. Considering that you will be carrying extra gear such as water that also adds to the rider’s weight, a saddle that is light but doesn’t have the proper supporting structures will eventually cause pressure points across the back.
A light weight saddle panel helps in keeping the weight down. Foam will conform into the horse’s back nicely while riding and doesn’t add extra weight. Many foam panel saddles are also easy to replace and can be a relatively inexpensive change out when the foam panel does need to be replaced.
A fleece panel does take more time to change on a saddle by as saddle maker so the cost is higher.
The Aussie serge panel is unique in that a rider can aerate the panel themselves with a bit of skill. This keeps cost of changing out the flocking relatively cheap as it doesn’t have to be done often if at all for the life of the saddle. We also recommend a low pile serge panel like the Campdrafter for an endurance saddle. The reason for that is also a lower weight on the saddle.
Check the fit of your saddle: Your horse may change condition during rides which will be important to keep in mind during the endurance riding season. Keeping shims on hand can help to balance out a saddle when your horse may have thinned down over the wither or behind the shoulder. Using a saddle pad that has shim pockets is useful. It’s easy to place a shim in under the saddle if needed during a 80 k ride when your horse is needing extra protection.
Free moving stirrup leathers: There are going to be hills. Being able to get your legs out in front of you on a downhill slope can save you time. If your saddle blocks your legs you may end up with the feeling of falling forward on riding down hill therefore losing your seat. If you have to dismount just because of a hill then that is riding time wasted. Stirrup leathers situated on the stirrup bar allow freedom of movement so you can walk or trot downhill with comfort and maintaining security in your seat. That is one of the best security features of the Aussie saddles.
In an Australian saddle when you are riding downhill, you legs come forward like a brace, you then can plant your tush back in your saddle on a walk, or grip easily with your thighs and trot on down. It’s truly brilliant. No time lost. And no sensation of falling over top of your horse downhill because your legs are in a fixed position.
Do you need a crupper? This will depend on how many hills there are to deal with. Some horses just don’t need the extra help of a crupper. Many horses do. What are they used for? Downhill riding is the #1 reason we recommend using one. It will stop a saddle from moving forward over the wither by keeping it back where it belongs. Also just for keeping a saddle in balance while competing is helpful. So having a saddle with a crupper bar keeps that option open.
The same goes for a breastplate. The breastplate is designed for keeping a saddle from slipping backwards. So along with a crupper you now have the ability to keep a well balanced saddle in place. We recommend keeping the breastplate flat against your horse with only enough room for a flat hand underneath. The girth strap should also be buckled at that tension level.
And for some horses a back cinch is helpful. Especially for the faster paces when a horse is in trot or canter. It will help pull the back of the saddle down and prevent too much lifting at this point. We recommend only a flat hand for space under the back cinch belly strap. Not tight or lose. Too loose and it has lost its ability to be of any use.
Endurance riders also really need to keep contact with their horse during the ride. That sounds like an obvious statement, but many saddles don’t really allow that. Heavy leather impedes a close feel. Australian saddles are made with a soft English bridle leather that allows increased contact. It is very easy to holds your thigh muscles against your horse’s ribcage even during the trot /canter gaits.
Also this is important with stirrup leathers. The Australian stirrup leathers are light weight, allowing easy twisting and little stress on the knees. For those long rides, this is not only helpful in eliminating stress on the soft tissue structure of the knees but also doesn’t tire out your legs since they are not fighting a heavier leather. You can also add wool stirrup leather covers for more comfort against your calves. Especially if you are concerned of pinching from thinner stirrup leathers.
For the longer endurance competitions, a wool seat cover is also something to consider. The added cushioning for your seat can save your hips from sore joints and helps to keep your hips cool with the temperature regulating abilities of genuine sheepskin.
Proper endurance stirrups are important. If you are standing and putting weight into your stirrups then a good set are crucial for comfort of your foot and legs. A wider foot bed with a sturdy cushioned cover for the foot will help prevent fatique. Caged stirrups are also a benefit, especially in brushy country. They will help prevent sticks from getting into your stirrup as well as stop to much forward movement of your foot.
So that’s it. Just another great reason to go Aussie!