There is a vast choice of dressage saddles on the market, and finding the right one for both you and your horse can have positive results on your overall performance in this phase. It is acceptable to ride in a GP saddle in dressage, but at the top end of the sport — and increasingly at grassroots level — riders choose a purpose-made dressage saddle that puts them in the optimum position for riding a dressage test, as well as flatwork training at home.

“Buying a dressage saddle had a massive impact, I would never change back. It improved everything and that was reflected in our dressage marks — we were scoring in the mid 60s with our GP saddle, but since we purchased our Fairfax dressage saddle we now score around 69-72%,” says Zoe Burgess, who regularly contests dressage competitions with her 11-year-old Irish Sports Horse, Blue.

“We used to be happy hackers but then we started doing some schooling and dressage competitions. As I got more into it I thought my position could improve so I tried some dressage saddles and I’ve never looked back. The Fairfax dressage saddle holds me in a better position, it changes how I hold my core and allows my leg to be longer.”

Dressage saddles v GPs: what’s the difference?

A deeper seat

One of the main differences between dressage saddles and GP saddles are that the former has a deeper seat to help the rider sit into their horse and support correct rider position.

Straight cut

Dressage saddles also boast longer, straighter flaps to allow riders to lengthen their stirrups, ride with a longer leg and encourage them to sit in a more centralised, deeper seat.

“While one of the features of a dressage saddle is that it’s more comfortable for the rider, you need to ensure the saddle doesn’t lock them into position. The rider needs to have their own balance and use the saddle as a guide to help them,” says Society of Master Saddlers (SMS) qualified saddle fitter and British Equestrian level 4 coach Steph Bradley.

Longer girth straps

Another key difference is that dressage saddles have longer billets or girth straps, so the buckle doesn’t sit under the rider’s leg. It is located below the saddle flap instead.

“The buckles of a dressage girth fasten on the brachio-plexus nerve cluster, which is an extremely sensitive part of the horse’s anatomy. It’s important that there is padding underneath the buckle so that the horse only feels pressure from the pad and not from the buckle itself,” explains Steph.

Single saddle flap

Many dressage saddles also feature the monoflap design, which allows riders a much closer contact with their horse’s side. One of the things I also really like about monoflap saddles is that they’re much lighter to carry.

“Monoflap saddles allow you to refine your aids better as you have that extra feel of the horse and less leather to communicate through,” says Steph.

New to the market

New to the market are dressage saddles with modular panels, which easily clip on and clip off using a special click system. This concept from Aviar Saddles is useful for horses who are changing shape, such as those horses currently lacking in muscle. You can clip a deeper panel on for that period of time and then change it. I also like the fact you can swap to a flock panel from a foam panel and vice versa.

WOW Saddles claims to have the first modular saddle. This concept means you can mix and match seat and saddle flap designs to suit you as a rider. For your horse, it means there are a choice of panels, head-plates and tree curvatures to suit their conformation.

Dressage saddles: correct fit

As with all tack, dressage saddles must fit their intended horse. This means their type, shape and conformation should be taken into account when you are choosing a saddle. The saddle should also be professionally fitted by a SMS qualified saddle fitter. Have the fit checked regularly to ensure it continues to fit properly.

Along with fitting the horse correctly, dressage saddles also need to fit their riders. As with horses, riders come in different shapes and sizes, and so the saddle needs to work for them too. This ensures maximum comfort for both horse and rider and it allows for optimal performance.

“Horses and riders both have unique conformation, so it can be tricky to find a saddle which fits both together. If the saddle doesn’t fit the rider properly then the rider will not be able to use their seat and back effectively,” continues Steph.

Choosing a dressage saddle

Personal preference also comes into play when choosing a dressage saddle. Some people prefer the stirrup bars to be further back or find a narrower or broader twist more comfortable. If you are tight in the hips like I am, then a saddle with a narrower twist may be more comfortable. You just need to ensure that it’s also suitable for your horse.

“Saddle fit is a very personal thing to a rider and their individual conformation,” advises Steph. “Depending on how their pelvis is tilted affects how their femur hangs and how they hold their leg. This not only affects the seat which will be most comfortable, but also which thigh rolls are most suitable as your conformation will influence the angle of thigh block you use.”

As well as the wide variety of different styles, designs and sizes on the market, dressage saddles also come in a range of materials and colours and can be individualised with coloured trims, stitching and thigh blocks.

Which dressage saddles do top riders use?

Carl Hester

Carl uses both PDS Saddles’ Brioso and Hester’s Jaguar models on his horses. Each PDS Saddle is individually made, which allows the rider a choice of seat size, panel width and flap length. You can also select the stitch colour and cantle leathers.

“The Brioso tends to fit most of my horses, and I like the seat as it is supportive and not too wide in the twist,” says Carl. “The thigh blocks are very soft and perfectly positioned for almost any rider. Some of my staff are small females and they find the saddles just as supportive and comfortable as I do, even though their legs aren’t as long.

“The individual Jacobs wool flocked panels offer a generous weight-bearing surface and the channel is wide giving the horse’s spine plenty of clearance on either side. The gullet bars can be changed to make a saddle narrower or wider. This also means that if the horse changes shape — or you change your horse — the saddle can be re fitted.”

Isabell Werth

Germany’s multi-medalled dressage rider partnered with Wintec on their Isabell Icon saddle, which she rides her horses in when training at home. It is a synthetic saddle with Wintec’s changeable gullet system inside.

“The Wintec is very light and you can change [the gullet] very easily, so it makes sense to use it for younger horses,” says Isabell. “I love to work with the young horses because this is the start. If the saddle fits the horse in the right way and you as a rider feel comfortable, then this equipment, this package, is top and ou can make a good horse into a champion.”

Roberta Sheffield 

“My Tokyo Olympics horse, Fairuza, has the typical flat wide back shape of her Gelders horse heritage, making her a challenge to fit. Bliss of London have been able to bespoke create saddles for her throughout her development from the skinny wide tube for her younger years to the mature muscular frame she sports now,” explains Canadian paralympic rider Roberta Sheffield.

“As a Paralympic rider with significant disability issues it is immensely important to me that my saddles fit my horses in perfect balance so I can use my seat to its full effect. My seat is my most important aid and nothing must ever compromise our two-way conversation. My body won’t allow me to compensate for poorly fitting tack.”

Austin O’Connor

Austin O’Connor, winner of the Maryland 5* in the USA last year, chooses to ride in Childeric Saddles.

“The horses feel so much freedom in the dressage saddles and I feel very comfortable and balanced in them,” he says. “Trish from Childeric Saddles is extremely particular when she comes and checks all the horses, which she does on a regular basis, adapting the saddles as soon as they need it. The quality of the saddles and the attention to detail in the fitting makes a huge difference to my horses and I only have good things to say about Childeric Saddles.”

Dressage saddles: a fitter’s view

“As a saddle fitter, as long as you have the saddle you need which fits you and your horse, after that it’s personal choice,” says Steph Bradley. “Many riders prefer leather saddles. Erreplus [made in Italy] use the strong and versatile ‘bull leather’, while Buffalo Vienna is a suede type of leather used by Aviar Saddles which gives the rider more friction with the saddle seat.

“You can also get synthetic saddles, where the seat’s material doesn’t have as much ‘give’ and for some they can feel hard. But if you do a lot of beach riding or ride somewhere which is very muddy they can be brilliant as they are easy to wash off.”

Find an SMS qualified saddle fitter

Shop for dressage saddles

Fairfax Classic Deluxe Low Wither Monoflap Dressage 

Pictured is the Fairfax Classic Low Wither Dressage SaddleThe manufacturer says: Designed for stability and comfort on all low wither conformations, including natives and cobs, this saddle has slimline panels and a low profile for closeness, stability and comfort. Adjustable thanks to a changeable gullet bar and pure wool flocking.

RRP £2,490

Buying in the UK? Purchase here

Buying in the USA? Purchase here

Pictured is the PDS Brioso saddlePDS Saddles PDS Brioso

The manufacturer says: The PDS Brioso offers a new and improved girthing system with three girth straps, including a point strap to choose the most suitable solution for the horse. It fits the horse that has a typical warmblood conformation, with a wide back and big shoulder. The Brioso is flocked with Jacob’s wool and features a double leather skirt design.

RRP £4,200

Buying in the UK? Purchase here

Pictured is the Wintec Isabell Icon dressage saddleWintec Isabell Icon

The manufacturer says: Designed for the dressage rider with serious aspirations and perfectly suited for training horses at every level. Sink into the perfectly crafted, ultra-deep, and grippy seat and feel perfectly balanced and poised to focus on your aids. Fine-tune your position by moving the stirrup bar for optimal comfort. Communication with your horse will be effortless as the saddle enables your leg to find a natural groove for easy contact. Available in black or brown.

RRP £1,399 (US$1,625)

Buying in the UK? Find out more 

Buying in the USA? Purchase here

Bliss of London Bliss Sportiva Dressage FLX

The manufacturer says: The Bliss Sportiva Dressage FLX is a performance saddle which combines twin flap styling with a Monoflap edge. The saddle is the ultimate in horse and rider comfort and offers the first fully interchangeable knee block. It is made from luxurious French Calf, which provides the perfect amount of grip while still allowing independent movement in the seat.

RRP £4,140

Buying in the UK? Find out more here

Pictured is the Childeric DPL dressage saddleChilderic DPL Dressage

The manufacturer says: Designed to give a closer connection between the rider and the horse while simultaneously giving greater freedom of movement for the horse through the shoulder and back. The DPL dressage saddle is equipped with specially-shaped foam panels to guarantee optimal contact. These panels make it possible to increase comfort on the horse’s back and allows it to adapt to subtle changes in the horse for the perfect fit.

RRP £4,900 (US$7,000)

Buying in the UK? Purchase here

Buying in the USA? Purchase here

Pictured is an Amerigo Classic dressage saddleAmerigo Classic

The manufacturer says: The Amerigo Classic is great for horses with higher withers that drop sharply to the deepest point of the back while the top line remains straight. This saddle contains a wooden tree with MPS synthetic flock panels and is available in calf skin, plain leather or grip leather. It boasts a nice deep seat for the rider and can be fully customised with blocks. From the fashion side, coloured piping stirrup leather keepers and stitching is available.

RRP £4,550 (US$5,700)

Buying in the UK? Purchase here

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Pictured is the Kent & Masters Competition DressageKent & Masters Competition Dressage

The manufacturer says: This saddle is available in black only and will suit you if you are looking for the professional close-contact feel of a monoflap design. It has a hide-covered flap for a luxurious look and feel, while patent welt and piping add luxurious finishing touches. There is a true dressage seat that isn’t too forward, and a surface mounted block to offer leg support for the rider without restriction. We use 100% British flocking and there is a changeable gullet bar

RRP £1,490 (US$1,995)

Buying in the UK? Purchase here

Buying in the USA? Purchase here

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