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No matter what type of riding he is doing, the rider should sit exactly over the center of gravity of his horse, and as close to his horse as possible. The old-fashioned English hunting saddle was a flat saddle, constructed somewhat like a platform with a slightly raised pommel in front. On this kind of saddle the rider was thrown backward so that his buttocks touched the back, or cantle, and his legs pushed forward in front of him. This type of saddle was designed before riders learned how to balance in the stirrups and thus relieve the horse of their weight while galloping and jumping.
Well-cut English, or "flat", saddles now have a decided dip in the seat, the deepest point of the dip being directly over the girth and the stirrup leathers. The stirrup leathers are attached to metal bars under Little flaps called skirts, which protect the rider's thighs. When well fitted, this type of saddle needs no pad underneath, being equipped with thickly padded panels that hold it away from the horse's spine. The stirrups are of metal, and they are sometimes fitted with rubber attachments on the treads.
A Western saddle is somewhat differently designed because the cowboy expects his horse to hold a roped calf or steer while the cowboy dismounts to tie it up. The horse does this by means of a lariat, or rope, attached to a horn on the pommel. At the back of the saddle there is a high cantle, behind which the cowboy can tie a blanket roll, raincoat, or other equipment. As a rule the Western saddle is secured by two cinches, or bands, for added security, and it must rest on a heavy folded blanket so that it will not rub the horse. The Western saddle has broad wooden stirrups, often with leather protectors. Since much of his riding is done through rough underbrush, the Western rider needs this protection.
Why are horses ridden with a saddle?
Men have ridden horses for thousands of years. Yet, as you can probably remember from the first time you tried to ride a horse, there's quite an art to riding.
The chief marks of good riding are ease and grace, combined with straightness of posture. When people are trained from earliest childhood, these things come naturally. The cowboys of the West usually get this kind of training, and they can ride without lifting from leather, which means they never bounce on the saddle.
The type of saddle that is used can make quite a difference in riding. In modern rodeos, the saddles used most often have a horn, or high pommel, and a cantle. A pommel is the knob in the front of the saddle and the cantle is the hind bow of the saddle.
The army uses a different kind of saddle with a medium-height pommel and cantle. On this saddle, the rider posts or lifts himself in the stirrups to avoid part of the up and down jolting of a trot.
At horse shows and for most pleasure riding, the English or "postage stamp" saddle is used. This is a light leather pad, with only the slightest suggestion of a pommel and cantle. It can only be used on well-trained horses.
With all saddles, the rider generally grips the leather with his thighs, allowing the lower parts of his legs to hang free in the stirrups. Just the balls of the feet are in the stirrups. The feet are held straight along the horse's sides. The reins are held in the left hand, the left rein between the little finger and the next finger. The right rein is, looped over the index finger.
Guiding the horse is accomplished first by pulling one or the other of the reins, or by kneeing or neck-reining. The horse must be trained for either of the latter two methods. The off-rein or off-knee (the one farthest away from the direction of turn desired) is pressed against the horse's neck or shoulder to signal the turn. Neck-reining is considered much better horse show style than pulling on a rein.
Of course, the art of riding a horse gracefully must be learned with much training and practice. Without it, you're likely to discover that it's not only painful, but you look quite awkward.