Western Saddle Descriptions

Barrel Saddles

Barrel racing saddles are designed for speed. They are the smallest and lightest of the western saddle types. The well-designed barrel saddle will secure the rider and maximize maneuverability through hard turns and fast sprints. In addition to barrels, these saddles are suitable for a variety of eventing games.

Typical features of a barrel saddle include:

  • A deep seat to hold in the rider
  • A thin and taller horn for the rider to grab onto during hard turns
  • A higher fork with relatively wide swells to secure the rider
  • Rough-out seat, fenders, and side jockeys for extra grip
  • Relatively high cantle for security
  • Free swinging fenders to allow the rider to keep her legs underneath her center of gravity
  • Narrow stirrups to hold the foot in place
  • Front cinch only. No flank cinch
  • In-skirt rigging
  • Shorter skirts. Round skirts used to be the norm, but square skirts are now in fashion.
  • Lighter weight; usually under 30 pounds

With females comprising the majority of barrel racers, barrel saddles can often have a flashy look with a bold use of color and materials such as ostrich leather.

Information from western-saddle-guide.com

Cutting Saddles

The cutting saddle is designed for “cutting,” the process of separating a single cow, steer, or calf from a larger herd. Cutting is a finesse activity and requires a finesse saddle. A cutter is designed for to keep the rider balanced and out of the way of the horse during sharp starts, stops, and turns. Contrary to what you might it expect, a cutter is not an overly secure saddle, so it’s up to the rider to use their balance to stay in place during what can be quite a wild ride.

Typical features of a cutting saddle include:

  • Tall, thin horn for an easy handgrip
  • High, wide and straight swells – the one feature on the saddle designed to hold in the rider during sharp turns
  • Flat, long, smooth seat to allow maximum maneuverability. (Cutting seats tend to be longer than other styles.)
  • Rough-out jockeys and fenders for better grip
  • Forward-hung and free-swinging fenders to allow the rider to stay balanced and deep during sharp stops and turns
  • Slim stirrups to keep the boot in place
  • Low cantle that won’t hit the rider in the back
  • Double rigging – front cinch and flank cinch

A cutter saddle is a relatively versatile saddle, which can make it an economical saddle to own. In addition to cutting, a cutter can be a good choice for training, for penning events and even for reining, in a pinch. These activities all require close contact and movement by the rider to stay out of the horse’s way.

Information from western-saddle-guide.com

Endurance Saddles

The endurance saddle was designed for endurance competition where horse and rider can cover 50 to 100 miles in a single day. To be competitive, a rider needs a saddle that is lighter weight but still sturdy enough to withstand the long miles that can include rugged and steep terrain. Built for close contact with the horse, this saddle minimizes bulk wherever possible.

Typical features of an endurance saddle include:

  • Very comfortable, often padded, seat for long hours in the saddle
  • Typically, no horn in order to prevent the rider from getting poked in the stomach when posting, standing while trotting, or jumping trail obstacles
  • Very short, rounded skirt to lessen weight
  • Deep stirrups for comfort
  • Single rigging, typically in center-fire position, to prevent the saddle from tipping
  • A good number of saddle strings and rigging dees for securing gear
  • Smaller and lighter weight

While designed for competition, the endurance saddle is gaining popularity as a general trail saddle. It’s unusual styling, which is influenced by English versions, results in the most “unique” looking of all of the western saddle styles.

Information from western-saddle-guide.com

Ranch Saddles

A ranch saddle is a true working saddle. You’ll find these saddles also called “cowboy,” “buckaroo,” “old time,” and “all-around,” with each term indicating slight differences. What they all have in common, however, is that they’re heavyweight, sturdy saddles designed both for cow work and for long hours of riding. Their goal is both comfort and functionality for a variety of ranch work.

Typical features of a ranch saddle include:

  • A deep seat, set low on the horse for comfort and communication
  • Low swells to stay out of the way of the work. Many are Slick Fork (also known as A-Fork) saddles
  • A tall, thick horn with a horn wrap for dallying
  • Fenders hung directly below the rider for correct riding and working position
  • Double rigging – both a front cinch and a flank cinch
  • Typically, plate rigging for even pull on the horse and maximum strength
  • Higher cantle
  • Multiple saddle strings for tying gear on to the saddle
  • A rope strap for holding a lariat
  • Heavier weight

The ranch saddle, particularly the slick fork-style with a Wade tree, has regained popularity of late with the renewed interest in the buckaroo style of tack and riding. You’ll find a wide variety of these solid saddles for sale among both custom saddle makers and manufacturers. The ranch saddle is just a solid all-around using saddle.

Information from western-saddle-guide.com

Reining Saddles

A reining saddle is designed for use in the sport of reining, a competitive event that involves meticulous patterns of circles, spins, and sliding stops. A reining saddle provides the rider with the close contact needed to communicate those moves to his horse in a manner so subtle that they will ideally go unseen by the spectator.

Reining is an event created to show off a horse’s athleticism and the advanced communication between horse and rider. In reining, it’s the horse, not the rider that’s the star. The reiner saddle will place the rider in the proper, balanced position and keep the rider out of the horse’s way.

Typical features of a reining saddle include:

  • Medium height horn and fork (lower than on a cutting saddle) so as not to interfere with the rider’s hands or reins
  • Seat sits low on the horse’s back and is shaped to allow the rider to roll their pelvis back for the big stops
  • Cutout skirts to put the rider’s leg close to the horse for communication
  • Free-swinging fenders hung from the center of the saddle tree to provide maximum freedom for the rider to communicate the cues
  • Thinner stirrup leathers to remove bulk and allow the leg to be closer to the horse
  • Front cinch only. No flank cinch.
  • Dropped rigging to lessen the bulk under the rider’s legs
  • Silver trim is common to add some flash at competitions

The reiner is a very event-specific saddle designed to provide the rider with the maximum amount of contact with the horse for subtle communication cues that appear invisible. Although a reiner is definitely not appropriate as a working saddle, some riders like to use reining (and cutting) saddles as an overall training saddle because of the close contact and communication it provides with the horse.

Information taken from western-saddle-guide.com

Roping Saddles

A roping saddle is designed for demanding use and maximum freedom of movement for the rider. In a well-designed roper, a rider can easily chase, rope, and dally a cow to the horn. To withstand this punishment, the saddle must have a particularly strong saddle tree and horn.

Typical features of a roping saddle include:

  • Preferably, a wood saddle tree with a bullhide cover for maximum strength
  • A low, rounded fork. This will keep down the leverage of the rope on both the horn and the horse, and not interfere with a swinging rope.
  • A tall, thick horn with a horn wrap for dallying
  • Full double rigging – both front cinch and flank cinch with the front cinch most commonly in the 7/8ths or full position
  • A deep, rough-out or suede seat for maximum grip
  • A low cantle for an easier dismount
  • Stirrups hung a bit more forward than usual to allow the rider to put their feet forward and brace against the stirrups when necessary.
  • Deep, wide, roper style stirrups
  • A rope strap for holding a lariat
  • Heavier weight

Specialty roping saddles are designed specifically for roping and are most often used by those participating in roping events. For more general-purpose ranch work and riding, ranch-type saddles are a better choice. They’re built for comfort during long hours of riding, but also incorporate features that make them suitable for roping.

Information taken from western-saddle-guide.com

Show Saddles

The show saddle is designed for looking good rather than for working hard. These decorative saddles are for the horse show arena and are impacted by current fashion trends more than any of the other western saddle types. Particular styles and features come in and out of fashion, and if you want to be in the ribbons, you better know what’s in and what’s out. Nothing’s more embarrassing in the show circuit than to be caught with last year’s fashion.

Typical features of the show saddle include:

  • Ornate and deep tooling patterns
  • Silver trim on the skirts, cantle, horn, fork, and stirrups
  • Short horn and fork to avoid interference with the reins
  • Deeper skirts to show off silver and tooling
  • Seat with the balance point in the center for a proper rider position
  • Padded or suede seats for grip
  • Low cantle
  • Turned stirrups to present a proper line to the rider’s leg

Like all fashion, show saddles seem to run the gamut from the tasteful to the truly tacky. It’s up to you to police yourself.

Information from western-saddle-guide.com

Trail Saddles

The trail saddle is also known as a pleasure saddle as it’s specifically designed for pleasure riding. Comfort is the main goal. Hours in the saddle over uneven terrain can make you quite appreciative of a saddle that’s designed to lessen the wear on your body.

Since you won’t be doing heavy work on your pleasure rides, this saddle is much lighter weight than working saddles such as roping or ranch style saddles. Because trail saddles are so popular and the choice of so many riders, they come in more styles than any other western saddle type. You can choose from a wide variety of trees, horns, swells, seats, and skirt styles. Typical features of a trail saddle include:

  • Higher fork for keeping you secure in the saddle
  • Thinner horn designed for holding on to rather than for dallying a cow to
  • Often has a padded seat
  • Medium height cantle with a pronounced dish (recess in the front side) for comfort
  • Often has cutout or round skirts to lessen weight and bulk
  • Fenders positioned underneath the rider’s body to put the rider in the proper riding position
  • Wide stirrup tread for stability and comfort
  • Double rigging to hold the back of the saddle down
  • In-skirt rigging to lessen the weight
  • Breast collar to stop the saddle from sliding backwards when climbing hills
  • Multiple saddle strings for tying jackets and gear
  • Lighter weight

Trail or pleasure saddles make up the largest group of saddles purchased today. Most riders simply ride for pleasure and don’t require heavy working saddles. Because of their popularity, the trail/pleasure saddle type is also where you’ll most often see new materials (i.e. synthetics) and new concepts (i.e. treeless saddles) first appear and gain traction.

While some pleasure riders prefer the comfort, security, and tradition of the ranch-type saddle, the trail saddle, with its many varieties and lighter weight, will be the ticket for the majority of riders.

Information from western-saddle-guide.com