The history of the Aussie saddle is very interesting. The Australian saddle has evolved over more than two centuries, after English settlers colonized Australia in 1788, bringing with them their traditional English saddles. The refined English saddle that suited British nobleman for playing polo, or riding their horses out on fox hunts in the tame English countryside, just didn’t cut it, and was lacking in functionality, comfort and safety, for a saddle that was used primarily as a stock saddle on Australian cattle ranches. The rough terrain and harsh Australian conditions required a more robust saddle to offer the rider safety in the rugged Australian outback. Australian saddle makers slowly altered the design to suit the local conditions, and developed a saddle more practical for the type of riding, and demands of local Australian riders, who were predominantly stockmen. Today the Australian saddle is also commonly known as an Aussie saddle, stock saddle, or Australian stock saddle, and is used widely as a ranch saddle, endurance saddle, and trail riding saddle.
Design Features of the Australian Saddle
Although the history of Australian saddles indicates that they evolved from the English saddle, the Australian stock saddle has a lot of the same features of a western saddle, and can be considered as a hybrid of the English and western saddle styles. In many ways, it is similar to an English dressage saddle. The design of the Aussie saddle not only keeps the rider in a balanced position, but the stirrup leathers, saddle flaps, and rigging, allow the rider to have close contact with the horse for giving the leg aids, thus offering the rider greater control. While it is much lighter, and simpler than a western saddle, it offers a lot of similar design features in terms of comfort and safety, such as a deep seat, high cantle, knee rolls (or poleys), and an optional horn that some models sport.
The Australian saddle offers enhanced comfort for both horse and rider. While the deep dish seat and poleys make for a pleasurable, secure ride, the suspended seat flexes with the rider’s hips for added comfort. The underside of the Aussie saddle has a well padded woolen serge that self-adjusts to take the form of the horse’s back, providing extra cushioning and comfort for the horse as well. In addition, the Aussie saddle is a much lighter saddle than a western saddle, and thus reduces the load that the horse has to bear.
The most obvious modification to the English saddle is the addition of the kneepads (poleys), which in conjunction with a deep seat, holds the rider securely in the saddle, preventing slipping about, no matter how rugged the terrain. However, should a rider become dislodged and fall from his mount, the stirrup leathers easily slide off the stirrup bars, breaking away from the saddle, to prevent the rider from being dragged, and possibly severely injured.
For added security, the Australian saddle is fitted with a double girthing system, and a surcingle that holds the saddle firmly in place. It also has an attachment point, should you wish to use a crupper to prevent the saddle from slipping forward on mountainous terrain, and it comes with lots of D-rings to attach saddlebags, water-bottles, and other accessories, which can come in very handy, especially on trail rides.
Riding Disciplines Best Suited to Using an Australian Saddle
The Australian saddle is built for hard work. The safety aspects, together with the comfort it affords both horse and rider, makes it extremely suitable for any riding discipline where the rider will spend long hours in the saddle, such as herding stock, inspecting ranch fences, endurance riding, and trail rides, making it a good general purpose saddle. Given the features that it offers, the Aussie saddle is gaining in popularity around the world as the ideal choice for an endurance saddle, trail riding saddle or ranch saddle. However, as with any type of saddle, correct saddle fit, for both horse and rider, is essential for maximum comfort.