The cantle is the back of the saddle that curves upward from behind the seat. It’s usually the highest point on an English saddle because the pommel (tip of the head) has no horn or other projection. To someone accustomed to the traditional western profile of a horn-embellished pommel (known as the fork or swell) looming above the cantle, the English saddle may seem a bit out of balance.
History, however, shows us that the English cantle is exactly where it should be. Today’s cantle is actually a pared-down version of the higher one common in the English saddles used generations ago for fox hunting. As a departure from the western saddle, those saddles eventually lowered the high cantles and removed the projecting horns simply to make jumping safer and more comfortable.
Back then, there were considerations that limited the degree to which the cantle could be lowered, and these still hold true today. Although its height varies according to the type of saddle and riding discipline, the cantle should always be higher than the pommel. This design keeps the rider from leaning too far backward, a stance that forces the legs forward and upsets the correct riding balance.
A Cantle Rule of Thumb
Most English saddles demonstrate this recommended relationship quite well, with cantles that are noticeably taller than the pommels. It’s a good clue about product quality, and one general caution is that in most cases a saddle has been poorly fitted if its cantle is on the same level with or below the pommel.
The Right Cantle for the Job
To further evaluate a cantle’s suitability, you must take into account the activity to be performed in the saddle. Envision a straight line parallel to the ground and running from the pommel to the cantle. In English saddles with moderately deep to deep seats, such as the all-purpose, dressage, or eventing saddle, the cantle should be 2 to 3” higher than the pommel. In English saddles with shallower seats, such as the close-contact jumping or hunt seat saddle, the cantle should be 1 to 2” higher than the pommel.
As is true with all other aspects of saddle selection, treat these cantle guidelines as a starting point. The real test of a saddle takes place in the saddle.
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