Choosing the Right English Saddle for AQHA Competition

Choosing the Right English Saddle for AQHA Competition


Whether you’re broadening your horizons this year chasing high point awards, challenging yourself with a new discipline, or find yourself fighting the “Quarantine 15” weight gain like this author, you might need a new English saddle.

Many small tack stores have closed since the pandemic. So equestrians will find themselves shopping for a saddle online. This article will help you select the right English saddle for showing AQHA in 2021. We’ll cover saddle style requirements and help you sort out sizing.

First, the 2021 American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) rulebook says very little about English saddle requirements. Let’s get those out of the way.

AQHA English Saddle Requirements per the 2021 Rulebook

The new AQHA rulebook (page 113) only says that English saddles shall be black or brown, in a forward knee style. (We’ll explain that in a moment.) Saddle pads must be white or natural wool colors and can be fitted or squared to allow for numbers on each side. “Bling” is forbidden.

English Saddle Types 

English saddles come in four basic types:

  • General Purpose“GP” / All Purpose “AP”— OK for most AQHA classes, preferred by most general riders, great for flatting and small fences
  • Jumping— OK for any AQHA English classes, best for fences 3′ and up
  • Dressage— only for Dressage tests
  • Eventing— only for cross-country

Of these saddles, both GP and Jumping styles are considered “forward knee.” GP saddles are more comfortable for flat classes and appropriate for small fences.

Dressage saddles are not appropriate for any AQHA flat class or jumping class. They are not forward knee. Instead, they encourage a rider’s leg to hang straighter and long.

Technically, eventing saddles are not forbidden, as they have forward knee design. However, these saddles are built for galloping big, solid fences and jumping into water obstacles. They have extra support for sticking power at the knee and thigh rolls. In other words, they’re meant for a different competition and won’t make your Quarter Horse look elegant.

Most QH Amateur Owners (“AO,” the non-professional equestrian, not a trainer) will get the most mileage out of a General Purpose saddle. They’re appropriate for all rail classes and smaller courses, up to around 2’9″ or so. Once you’re tackling bigger fences, anything over 3″, you’ll need a genuine jumping saddle.

Now that you know the styles to look for, let’s think about seat size.

English Saddle Seat Sizes

Unlike Western saddles, English saddles are measured from the nail head on the pommel (“brads”) to the center of the cantle’s back. Many riders are comfortable choosing an English saddle that is two inches larger than their Western saddle.

  • If your Western saddle is a 15″, you may like a 17″ English saddle.

Online sources suggest (not always correctly) that a rider should sit in a chair and measure themselves from their knee to buttock. This is not always accurate. If you’re very tall or have a little junk in the trunk, or both (like this author), disregard this method. (This author is 5’10” and thick and rides in a 17.5″ saddle, but this method would have her ordering a 19″.)

If this is your first time buying an English saddle, talk to others around you. Sit in their saddles. Each one is a little different.

But the good news is that English saddles make contact with very little of your horse’s back. So other than seat size (and a long flap if you’re 5’8″ or taller), your only other concern is the gullet size.

Gullet Size

The gullet is the space above your horse’s spine. 99% of quarter horses will be happy with a “medium” gullet. But just in case, here is a video about measuring your horse’s gullet without any special tools.

The team at Trails West Trailers knows competitive equestrians, and we know AQHA. We hope you’ve enjoyed this article about choosing the right English saddle for AQHA shows. We sure enjoyed writing it! Now that you have the right saddle, maybe it’s time for the right horse trailerContact us to learn about horse trailers, livestock trailers, and living quarters horse trailers today.