Staying alive is a good reason. The ground hurts. And not ending up with a burning butt is another.

is a question I have been asked several times a day since 1979, when I introduced the saddle to the US. Obviously, as selling these saddles are my business, I have given the question much thought. Now consider, I am a horseman not locked into any particular discipline. I jump in a jumping saddle, steeplechase in a jockey saddle, do dressage in a dressage saddle, rope in a roping saddle, shoot competitive in a vintage Western saddle and I blast through the Malibu hills at night in an Aussie saddle. I fear no saddle. I am familiar with many.  

However, it does surprise me how locked-in so-called Western riders are to Western saddles. Or how locked-in so-called English people are to English saddles. I say so-called because the difference between the styles are actually very minimal. There is only good riding or bad riding. And as far as the horse is concerned, there is even less difference. For the horse, the saddle either fits, or it doesn't fit. It hurts, or it doesn't hurt. Each camp, however, seems to know very little about Australian saddles, although opinions abound. Yet each desperately clings to dogma (invariably incorrect) as far as Australian saddles are concerned. Most just do not know, and do not want to know. The Australian saddle is, quite simply, a BIG DRESSAGE SADDLE. The stirrups hang in a dressage position, and they are free swinging. Many Aussie saddles I have designed since the early 80's incorporate aspects of Western saddles. I have always liked Big D western rigging, fleece lined panels, fenders, ... even horns (which I don't particularly like! But at least half my customers do!)

So, the Aussie saddle is actually a FORWARD SEAT, as in an English saddle, and certainly NOT A REAR-READING SEAT, as in a Western saddle. Interestingly, the Aussie saddle is somewhere in between. At the walk, the rider sits in the back of the saddle, with the leg slightly forward, and the heels down. This spreads the bearing weight of the rider not just under the butt, but also under the thigh, making it more comfortable for the rider. Which is why we sit in the back of chairs, not on the edge of them. This rider position does the same for the horse. The bearing weight of the rider is thus spread over a greater surface of the tree, lowering pounds per square inch for the horse. It is also a much SAFER way to ride. If the horse at the walk puts his foot in a hole, and drops on his knee, you may not go over the front, BECAUSE YOU WILL ALREADY HAVE YOUR FOOT IN A POSITION TO PROP AGAINST A FALL. You will also be helped by the knee pads, or poleys. They are there to STOP you going over the top. The straight up and down leg, as in dressage, and as in Western pleasure, is deadly on the trail, although it does look pretty in the arena. If the horse stumbles, and your ankle is inline with your elbow, which is in line with your shoulders, you will not have time to tell your brain to tell your foot to get forward to prop against a fall. You will already be on the ground. Now, the faster you go in an Aussie saddle, the more your weight comes forward, so, at the full gallop, you should be in the jockey position, with your thighs secured against the knee pads, your head down, back straight, reins short, and your leg will AUTOMATICALLY be in full dressage position. This will enable you to control the direction of the horse with leg pressure and body weight shift, a good thing in thick timber at a flat gallop. Yank mouth, and you'll certainly buy bark. And if you think this is not a good position for a rider on a galloping horse, check out where they ride on racetracks with million of dollars in the balance! Put simply, there is NO saddle more comfortable for the trail horse, AND the rider, than an Australian stock saddle. It evolved over two centuries to be bush-perfect. The pattern belongs to nobody. The R & D was done by countless Outback riders who depended on the saddle for their very life - - and livelihood. Now modern riders are discovering the suitability of this unique saddle for American trails. With such precision equipment, there is, of course, a key factor: it must fit the rider precisely, and the same goes for the horse. Many new modern American saddles are copying aspects of the Australian saddle, and they are enjoying good success. The closer Western saddles get to Australian saddles, the more suitable they are for the average backyard equestrian (who is aging) and is riding trails that are growing precipitous. (I confess I've borrowed from the Western saddle too.) But I hope they don't copy ME too much, because the REASON I am in business is because so many Western saddles do NOT work on trails for either horse or rider. Traditional Western saddles were designed for working cattle in the traditional American way - which is a style peculiar to the Americas. It has more to do with tradition than efficiency. If roping cattle one at a time was efficient, all the cattle people in Australia would be riding Western, because, second to America, they are the largest producers of cattle in the world. And when you consider the population of Australia could fit into Southern California, THAT will give you some idea of how many people in Australia are on horses chasing cattle. Fact is, it wouldn't occur to the average Outback ringer to tie a raging 1200-lb wild steer to a saddle strapped on an 800-lb horse 300 miles from a phone. The Outback style and equipment has nothing to do with tradition. It has everything to do with money, and staying alive. English saddles work in limited circumstances, for horse and rider, but there is NO security, and a minimum bearing surface for the horse. Again, they were invented by the landed gentry in England, so they could look grand galloping their thoroughbreds over fences chasing foxes. Everything to do with tradition. If English saddles had worked when they were first introduced into the Australian bush, along with the first European settlers, they would still be using them today. Western saddles are well known in Australia, but they are not used on Outback cattle properties. If they were better for that job than Australian stock saddles they WOULD be used. Again, it's about money, not tradition. The fact remains, there is no one saddle to meet all needs, cover all disciplines, satisfy all styles, fit all horses. But I'm working on it........


Colin Dangaard

A happy horse in an Aussie saddle

A happy horse in an Aussie saddle


Lisa has a saddle we shipped to her and she thought it did not fit, although she had never ridden it. She came to this conclusion after simply sitting it on the horse and noticing "the front was up." Of course, it would be! Colin asked her to first ride it on the horse, and let the saddle find it s own position, after it settled down. He explained that saddles are a bit like a sandwich; they are high until you sit on them. She did ride it, then she sent pictures. This was Colin's response.

Lisa, G'Day. I have studied the pictures today. The saddle now is sitting perfectly, since you let it SLIDE back to the position where it should be, while riding it.
This is my observation.
1. The saddle is now sitting level, after you rode. Level happens with a saddle when you CANNOT insert you hand under the front and you CANNOT get your hand under the back and you CANNOT get the flat of your palm up under the center. This means that there is EQUAL bearing pressure. Now the horse in this case is showing us there is equal pressure because of the even sweat pattern. This pattern means there is pressure light enough to allow the sweat glands to function. Pressure greater than that cuts off these glands and produces "dry" spots, which are not always a problem, but they need to be watched. You have no such problem. Finally, levelness means that when the saddle is in place, and you stand back, the stirrup leathers are hanging straight down, like a "plumb bob" that builders use to establish perfect vertical. In this case the stirrup (weight) is attached to a leather fender ( "thread") that hangs freely off a stirrup suspension bar. It does in fact function like a "plumb bob." From my observation and four decades of experience, this saddle fits perfectly.
2. However, there is critical information you have not given me, which is something many people overlook, especially "experienced" trainers who may know about teaching horses but are extremely limited with fitting saddles. You have not revealed what the horse thinks. How is he moving? Does he "crab" downhill? Is his trail swishing?.
Is he taking short steps? What is his mood, what is he SAYING to you. Horses talk up a storm when something is not right with them. Please give me details of what HE thinks. I am confident it will confirm what I think. But I still would like his opinion.
3. Of course, we can alter the saddle -- but why should we fix something that is working?
4. Of course we can change the saddle to a stuffed panel, and I am confident that would also work, because here is a horse than can take either panel. But in my view, the fleece panel you have is the best for this horse. It has the widest possible bearing surface for weight. English-style stuffed panels have around 30 percent less bearing surface, which translates to 30 percent higher pressure for the horse. So again, why should we change something that is working to something that may not work as well?
5. I am sending a picture of THIS saddle on one of my horses that, so happens, is quite similar to your horse. See how it also sits perfectly here.

Thanks for the valuable information you have supplied thus far.


Colin Dangaard.


Hi Colin,

I'm considering my first Aussie saddle purchase & was curious about a couple of things. First, I currently ride in a 15" FQHB Wintec synthetic Western saddle which pinches her at the top of the bars in front, length is good. My mare is a 6yr old 14.3hh QH mare with medium wither, short back, & average build (not bulldog QH & not narrow). I would really like to get one with fleece because I don't like the stuffed panels but I don't know if it would fit her. I hear so many say that they're only for wide flat long backed horses or they will bridge. Can you explain how the tree will fit her differently than a Western saddle tree? I know if they aren't sized correctly they can bridge or rock depending on the fit also.
Thanks in advance for helping me understand the difference between the fleece panel tree & the Western tree.




Sylvia, there are many differences between the wood and metal tree of the fleece panel Australian saddle and a Western saddle. The big difference is we can BEND AND RESHAPE our trees. With Western saddles, the trees are solid. They cannot be altered once they are built. So a Western saddle either fits or it does not. Many of them don't, actually, which is why there is such a HUGE market in selling Western saddle pads to correct the many problems caused by rigid trees that don't fit. We can ADJUST any of our saddles to fit ANY horse. And we can re-adjust it many times over the life of the saddle which, say, could be 30 years. We use fleece panels for medium to lower withered horses, and stuffed panels for high withered horses. I have been doing this now for 40 years, and in that time have successfully adjusted at least 20,000 saddles. I have not met a horse I cannot fit. Can't say the same for riders, however! Horses are the easy part.
I need wither tracings of the horse, and a side on picture.
And I need your weight and height and pant size.
And horn preference.


Colin Dangaard