After learning how to show your model horses in halter showmanship, the next step is to show in either Western or English performance classes, or both. There are numerous styles of horseback riding, including English (also called huntseat), Western or stock seat, or Saddleseat. There is also a type of English riding called dressage (pronounced: DRESS-ahj) which focuses on training the horse to be supple, athletic and responsive. For the purposes of model horse showing, collectors typically focus on the basics of English, Western and Saddleseat.
The Differences Among the Horseback Riding Saddles
There are noticeable differences among the three basic horse saddles. When you show your model horses, it is important to use the right type of saddle in the various performance classes.
- English: The traditional English huntseat saddle is a flat saddle with rounded flaps set slightly forward. The pommel (front) lacks a horn and the cantle (back) rises up only a few inches. The stirrups are metal and hang from thin leather straps that buckle under the side flaps. The rider sits in what is called a three-point position, with the knee bent and the heel down. When the rider's leg hangs loosely off the saddle with foot out of the sitrrup, the bottom bar of the stirrup should hit at or slightly below the ankle bone. Saddle colors are traditionally shades of brown, although black is accepted for schooling or pleasure use. The saddle pad is white and made of fleece. It is shaped to the saddle, showing just about an inch all around. A single girth strap made of leather buckles on to each side of the horse and is set slightly forward, usually places close to the horse's elbow. A breast collar may be used to keep the saddle in place but is not required unless the horse's conformation makes the saddle slip.
- Western: Western riding developed among working riders who needed a deep, comfortable seat and attributes such as the saddle horn for cattle roping. The Western saddle features a much deeper seat with high pommel and cantle. The pommel has a saddle horn. Stirrups are covered in leather. The girth may be rope or leather. Some Western saddles have two girths, with the back girth left loose. A breast collar or plate is almost always used. The saddle blanket is thicker and heavier to provide additional padding. It may be made of fleece or another material. It is generally rectangular and provides ample coverage under the saddle and beyond. The rider sits further back than in the English style with a long, straight leg.
- Saddleseat: Saddleseat horses are ridden and shown in a cutback saddle. It looks similar to the English saddle but with wider leg flaps and a flatter seat than the hunting saddle. The girth is white, and a white girth is required in saddleseat equitation classes. Stirrups are metal and look similar to the English huntseat stirrup. It's common to see a narrow leather breast strap attached to the saddle.
Keep in mind that among these three major types of saddles, there are many variations. There are Western parade saddles, which feature fancy details such as silver trim; Native American costumes, which feature beadwork and saddles and blankets; Spanish breed type saddles using in bullfighting and training; historical costumes; sidesaddles, and many, many more.
Choosing the Right Saddles for Model Horse Classes
As your interest in showing Breyer and other model horses grows, you may want to show in English, Western or other performance classes. It's best to focus on one style first and learn all that you can about it before buying model horse tack. While Breyer's mass produced tack is affordable for most people, custom made tack by model horse miniaturists is expensive. Learning how to make your own tack is fun but takes time.
If you can, take real horseback riding lessons in the style of your choice. You can find both English and Western riding instructors and lessons nationwide, but Saddleseat instruction and lessons are more common in the south and southeastern United States. When you take lessons, ask your instructor if you can learn how to tack up or place the saddle and bridle on the horse. This personal, first hand instruction will help you learn all the details of how a real horse saddle fits so you can apply your knowledge to model horses.
Tack Catalogs and Books
Some people won't have access, time or money to pay for riding lessons, and that's okay too. You can still learn more about tack and saddles. Library books or books about each style of riding often feature diagrams of saddles and detailed information about how to fit a saddle to the horse. Pay particular attention to fit; many model horse enthusiasts place the saddle incorrectly on the horse, especially English saddles, or use saddles that are too large for the model.
Another great resource for showing or tack making are real horse tack catalogs. Catalogs such as Dover, State Line Tack and others feature close ups of every item of tack you can imagine. Visit their website or call each company for information.
Look at Champion Model Horses
Lastly, look at champion model horses and how they are presented in live and photo shows. Attend a live show if you can. Look at photos on Webshots, Photobucket or model horse clubs to see how the best people in the hobby present their models. With a little bit of work, soon your horse show photos will look like that, too!