What is a Western saddle?
A Western saddle is the type saddle that is used for Western riding; saddles of this type are seen most commonly in the United States, where they are used on cattle ranches, at rodeos, for trail rides, and various other equestrian activities.
Origins of Western Saddles
The original design for Western saddles comes from the saddles of Mexican vaqueros, who were horse trainers and cattle handlers. The design of these Mexican saddles was in turn based off of older Spanish riding styles (la jineta and la estriodata in particular), which when combined put a stronger emphasis on both greater stability and security for the rider as well as greater freedom and range of movement for the horse.
Furthermore, Western saddles are designed to be more comfortable than other types of saddles. This is because Western saddles are designed for practicality and functionality, and are specifically geared towards use by ranchers and cowboys who spend many long hours each and every day in the saddle (and sometimes even all day, depending on their duties!).
Parts of a Western Saddle
A Western saddle has many individual parts; approximately twenty-two different pieces on a standard saddle, in fact. The parts of a standard Western saddle are (in no particular order) the seat, the seat jockey, the cantle, the Cheyenne roll, the back jockey, the skirt (which can comes in a variety of styles, lengths, and designs), the rear rigging dee, the saddle strings, the flank billet, the front cinch, the cinch connecting strap, the stirrups, the stirrup leather, the hobble straps, the fenders, the front rigging dee, the latigo, the latigo holder, the front jockey, the gullet, and the fork.
Additionally, another key aspect of a Western saddle ( and perhaps its most distinctive feature) is the horn; this horn has its origins from the days when vaqueros would rope cattle and then wrap the other end of the rope around the saddle horn for added control.
Types of Western Saddles
The type of saddle you need depends on what type of riding you’ll be doing There are saddles for barrel racing, roping, ranch work, trail rides, endurance races, and more. Before investing in a saddle, it’s important to understand the differences between these various types of Western saddles.
Ranch Saddles. These saddles are designed to be sturdy and heavyweight while also providing comfort and stability that allows a rider to remain astride their house for many hours. A real Ranch saddle is considered a genuine working saddle, and they can often be seen at many working ranches throughout the United States. Some common features seen on ranch saddles are deeper seats and higher cantles (to help promote comfort for the rider) as well as taller saddle horns (which are an important part of a functional ranch saddle).
Pleasure Saddles. Also sometimes known as trail saddles, these often come with a padded seat to increase the rider’s comfort. These types of saddles are also designed to be more lightweight than other types of saddles, and often also feature specially positioned fenders that are meant to help the rider maintain a proper riding position while on the move. Trail saddles have seen a boom in popularity in recent years, and as such are now available in a wide variety of styles and color schemes.
Roping Saddles. As the name implies, saddles of this variety are designed specifically for use in roping events. A roping saddle of high quality provides a greater range of movement for the rider, allowing them to better chase, rope, and handle the cow that they are pursuing. Roping saddles are also designed to have very strong saddle horns, since dallying a cow to the horn is a critical part of the roping process. This taller and thicker saddle horn also makes the saddle heavier, so bear that in mind as well. Additionally, the stirrups on roping saddles are often hung more forward than the stirrups on other saddles.
Barrel Racing Saddles. These saddles are designed to be lighter and smaller while also allowing for increased maneuverability. They are also specially designed to help a rider remain secure while executing fast maneuvers and sharp turns. The best Barrel Racing saddles often feature deep seats and high cantles (to help the rider keep their seat more easily), a higher fork with wide swells (the better to hook your knees under for additional stability), and narrow stirrups. This type of saddle is also popular for equestrian gaming events besides barrel racing due to how effective they are.
Endurance Saddles. These are the types of saddles used in endurance competitions. Since many competitions involve long and grueling rides through many different types of terrain, endurance saddles are designed to be lightweight, sturdy, and comfortable. A good endurance saddle must be durable enough to hold up during a long ride, light enough to not overburden the horse during the ride, and comfortable enough for the rider to sit in for many hours. Due to these various attributes, endurance saddles have recently gained popularity for regular trail riding as well. Some notable equipment differences seen in endurance saddles are deep stirrups, padded seats (for comfort), a lack of a saddle horn (because it serves no purpose on an endurance saddle and would only add additional weight when the goal is to keep the saddle lightweight), and additional saddle strings (for securing your various saddlebags).
Show Saddles. These saddles are designed to look stylish and appealing in the context of horse shows and formal competitions. They are often highly embellished, and can be seen in a wide variety of different styles and designs. It is also worth noting that there is in fact something of a fashion industry surrounding show saddles, with different styles going in and out of popularity as time passes. Show saddles usually feature short horns and forks, deep skirts, ornate tooling patterns, padded seats, and sometimes even silver or gold trim on the skirts, cantle, horn, and stirrups.