An Australian saddle (also called an Australian Stock saddle or an Aussie saddle) is basically a hybrid between an English saddle and a western saddle. While the western saddle’s origins can be traced to the Spanish saddles used by the North American explorers, the Australian saddle is an offshoot of the English hunting saddle. Australian settlers modified the hunting saddles to meet the needs of the cattle business in Australia. The result is a saddle that looks more like an English saddle (particularly like a dressage saddle), but has a number of western saddle features.
Working enormous cattle ranches, or stations as they are called in Australia, with relatively untamed stock demanded saddles that were designed for comfort and security on very, long, hard rides in the roughest terrain. Anyone who’s seen “The Man From Snowy Winter” can appreciate the challenge. (If you haven’t seen this movie, run, don’t walk, to the rental store and see it now.) The release of “The Man From Snowy River” in the early 1980’s sparked an interest in Aussie saddles for pleasure and trail riding in the US market, and their popularity has continued to grow. They provide a very secure and comfortable ride and offer an alternative to English and Western saddles.
Typical features of an Australian saddle include:
- Very deep, level seat with a narrow twist (width)
- Poleys, a padded crescent-shaped piece attached below the pommel. The poleys are positioned in front of your upper thighs and lock your legs in position.
- Long flaps which are similar to western fenders. The flaps are shorter than western fenders but longer than English saddle flaps, making tall English-style boots (to keep the horse’s sweat off the rider) unnecessary.
- Typically without a horn (Australian cattle technique does not involve tying an animal to the horn), but horns are appearing on more and more saddles as a hand-hold
- Both a girth (an English version of a cinch) and a surcingle are often used for added security. (Remember that ride down the mountain in “Snowy River?”) A surcingle is a strap that goes around the belly of the horse and threads through slots to wrap over the seat.
- Much lighter weight than a typical western saddle, but heavier than an English saddle
Aussie saddles can be a good choice for beginner riders as they really secure you in the saddle. Aussie saddles tend to fit a bit higher and further forward on the horse than western saddles and the rider rides with a more forward (English-style) riding position. Seat size on Aussie saddles follow English sizing, which tends to be about 2 inches larger than western sizing.
There’s an increasing amount of variety available in Australian saddles, both in the intended use of the saddle (i.e. endurance) and in the features. Some have much more western styling than others.