By Trevor James.
The Australian Stock Saddle has evolved over around 150 years and was first modelled on the English style all purpose – dressage type saddle. The English saddle featured a deep comfortable seat and a knee roll at the front to help the rider grip the saddle. With the increased demands placed on horse and rider by Australia’s rugged conditions, saddle makers began increasing the knee rolls and making different shapes to hold the rider in place.
Instead of a knee roll under the outer flaps, which gave a recessed shape around 1 1/2″ deep, a knee pad was attached to the outer flap. These were originally placed low and were regarded as a “knee pad”. They served much the same purpose as the knee roll. The height was also similar, around 1 1/2″ to 2″.
This new adaption was quickly accepted and saddle makers competing for customers came up with many new shapes. The “knee pad” over the years increased in size and saddles with kneepads up to 6″ in height became available. However, the most popular size has proven to be between 3 1/2 and 4 1/2″.
As the Australian Stock Saddle evolved the knee pads were moved away from the knee to a position on the saddle further up the leg. They are still however called kneepads, but are positioned to contact the upper part of the riders thigh. This gave the rider much more security. If the horse suddenly stopped or the rider was thrown forward he locked in under and behind the kneepad. The seats of the saddles were also redesigned. They were made wider and dished to provide more comfort. The dish seat could be just that, a shallow dish or in various stages through to a full roll seat as the rider required.
The one feature that has remained constant on Australian Stock Saddles is the stirrup bar. The stirrup bar has proven to be a great safety feature. The stirrup leather or fender strap passes over it and is held in place by the upward curve at the rear end of the bar. This allows the stirrup leather or strap to slip off and release the rider in the case of a fall and drag situation. If a stirrup iron gets caught on a post or a tree stump or any other item securely attached to the ground the stirrup bars design allows it to bend in outward direction when the horse pulls away from what ever it is caught on, once again allowing the release of the stirrup leather or fender strap and ensuring horse and rider safety. The original stirrup leather was 1 1/4″ in width. This remains the standard even today for an Australian Stock Saddle. A wide leather, generally 2″ to 2 1/2″ in width also became popular. The increased width improved strength and helped eliminate the pinching associated with the narrow 1 1/4 leathers.
The only changes in the stirrup bar have been in recent times. The rider stirrup leathers have been increased in size to a full on American Style fender. This style fender has a 2 1/2″ strap. When this wide strap passes over a stirrup bar Australian Style the rider movement of the fender gradually cuts through the fender strap starting at the outer edges. The introduction of a rotating stirrup bar that moves with the fender has eliminated the stress on the fender strap and provided better balance and a friction free ride. A duel position stirrup bar has also been introduced allowing riders to choose different riding styles or different size riders to use the one saddle more comfortably.
The original stock saddles were built on a carved timber tree with a steel frame work to prevent distortion and spreading of the gullet of the tree which is shaped to a horses wither but if not made strong enough will spread allowing the saddle under the riders weight to come down on the horses sensitive backbone and shoulder area.
With new technology becoming available in the mid 1960’s different materials were adopted to saddle tree design. These included fibreglass, carbon fibre, Kevlar and polyurethane’s. Most of these products were a great help to saddle makers. Saddles could be made stronger, lighter and more close contact. While the saddle was vastly improved by the use of these new materials saddle making methods were undergoing changes as well. As the Australian stock saddle became popular world wide saddle making became a huge industry in Australia. The new technology improved and stream lined production methods.
Australian saddle makers and designers have over the years made the best and safest saddles. Until recently they adhered pretty much to the designs of 150 years ago. With the saddle being marketed world wide Australian designers are recognising and incorporating many new features.
Today’s Stock Saddle still has the original design features of a dish seat and the Australian “kneepad”. The Stirrup bar is still in use but the narrow 1 1/4″ stirrup leather is replaced by an American style fender eliminating pinching and increasing strength. The under side is now sheepskin lined and much more close contact than the old style hair stuffed panels of a century ago.
It has become light weight, close contact and improved in strength. While its appearance has changed it has maintained its distinctly Australian features built into it by the original designers over a century ago.
Those craftsman knew the demands then of the Australian bush and those demands are the same today. Those craftsman sure were right when they designed and invented the unique Australian Stock Saddle.
Traditional Wooden Tree with stirrup bar.
Modern Fibreglass Tree with Dual position Stirrup Bar
Most recently developed. Revolving Stirrup Bar.