A lightweight, hornless saddle with a steel cantle and pommel, a padded leather seat, and full side flaps usually set forward.
The saddles known as English Saddles (as opposed to Western Saddles) are used throughout the world, not just in England or English-speaking countries.
The term English Saddle encompasses several types, including those used for show jumping and hunt seat, dressage, Saddle Seat, horse racing and polo. To non-horsemen, the major distinguishing feature of an English saddle is its lack of a horn. (However, some Western saddles, such as those used in Endurance riding, lack a horn as well).
The other major characteristic which defines an English saddle is that it has panels: these are a pair of pads attached to the underside of the seat and filled with wool, foam, or air. Thus the English saddle contains its own padding and, if correctly fitted, does not require the use of a separate saddle blanket to protect the horse's back as does the Western saddle.
Although some modern saddlers have developed alternative models, the English saddle is usually constructed on a framework known as a tree. The tree is made of wood, spring steel, or composite, and it supports the rider on a sling of webbing between the firm pommel (front of the saddle) and cantle (back of the saddle). On either side of the tree, a steel hook known as the "stirrup bar" is affixed. It is upon this hook that the rider hangs the stirrup leather, which is a very strong leather or nylon loop supporting the stirrup. At the bottom of the tree are several more very strong leather or nylon straps known as billets, to which will eventually buckle the girth--the beltlike strap which holds the saddle onto the horse.
The tree and its various parts are upholstered with a covering made of leather, nylon or microfiber and shaped to form the seat above and the panels below.
In addition to the seat and panels, English saddles feature a leather flap on either side called, appropriately, the flap. The flap sits between the rider's leg and the horse's side and protects the horse from being pinched by the stirrup leather. On some saddles it is also specially padded to protect or support the rider's knee.
The differences between the styles of English saddle are small but significant. The most important distinctions are the location of the seat, and the flap length and shape. A saddle used for a discipline where the rider sits more upright with a longer leg, such as in dressage, has a flap that is longer to accommodate the leg, and less inclined forward (as the knee doe not need to go forward). The seat will also be closer to the withers, to keep the rider's center of gravity in the correct spot. However, in disciplines where the rider needs shorter stirrups for extra support, such as in the jumping disciplines, the saddle flap is moved proportionately forward and shortened, and the seat is moved further back. A jumping saddle will have a shorter and more forward flap than a dressage saddle, with the seat slightly more towards the cantle. If the flap was not inclined forward, the rider’s knee would hang over the flap. If the seat was not moved rearward, the rider would be forced ahead of the saddle over a fence. A racing saddle, where jockeys ride with incredibly short stirrups, will have an extremely forward and short saddle flap (almost more horizontal than vertical), and the seat will be extended very far back from the pommel to keep the rider’s center of gravity correctly situated.
Padding is also considered when developing a saddle. While a polo saddle is constructed with a minimum of padding so as to allow the polo player great freedom to twist and reach for his shot, a saddle used for jumping or eventing may have more padding to help give the rider support over fences.