Parts of the Western Saddle: A Beginner’s Guide

At the outset, understanding the various parts of the Western Saddle seems outrageous. They’re too many, and their functions vary a lot. Yet collectively, they fulfill the same purpose: entertain a comfortable ride.

Where the English saddles have equally dominated the industry, seasoned equestrians vote in favor of the Western saddle. This has partly to do with comfort and mostly to with their intricate build.

In this article, we’ll see

  • how the mechanics of a western saddle work out,
  • why they’re good for you;
  • and how to select the best one for yourself.

Let’s begin!

Parts of the Western Saddle

Source: Equinewellnessmagazine.com

The western saddle has numerous parts, but everything starts with the saddle tree.

Saddle Tree

The saddle tree (or ‘tree,’ casually) is the skeletal structure that gives the saddle its shape and strength. Initially, the tree’s material is made up of wood, but there are synthetic variants, too, like plastic and fiberglass. It is mostly handmade.

Parts of a western saddle tree include the fork, the cantle, two bars that join them both, and the horn erected over the fork.

The two bars are the foundation for the saddle seat and run along the horse’s spine. They distribute pressure over a more extensive area because weight concentration is painful for your horse – you don’t want that.

The fork and cantle work to keep the rider comfortable by providing front and back support to the pelvic and pubic area.

Other saddle parts are built over this structure called ‘tree’ later on to add comfort and control.

Here they are.

The Seat

The seat is where the riders sit. It is fixed directly above the two bars of the tree and is usually made up of foam and leather (or synthetic).

The seat’s inclination/declination depends on the type of horse riding in question.

For example, in barrel racing, the seat is deeper to accommodate the rider’s control over the horse as it dances and prances. Yet, in reining, the saddle is higher to allow the rider’s easy hip movement.

The Horn

The fist like and sized ridge atop the pummel, the horn is the western saddle’s identity. Initially used to hold the lasso, the horn also help in mounting and dismounting. It’s been a commodity for hanging saddlebags.

The Fork

The fork aka swell aka pommel is a protrusion/bump on the saddle’s front side just below the horn. Its structure resembles a bridge; the body itself is called a fork, and the underside (a void) is called the ‘gullet’.

Gullet keeps the saddle tree’s arches from obstructing the spinal movements of the horse. The fork acts as a connector to the two bars and as a support to the rider.

Jockey

Two jockeys (front and rear) are attached to the seat to prevent the rider’s legs from interacting with the rigging. These are leather plates that ensure rigging’s safety and prevent it from loosening by interacting with the rider’s legs.

Fender

An active and running horse sweats, which can get the rider’s pants dirty. Here is where the fenders come into play. They’re leather straps shaped for inner legs that join the stirrups with the saddle.

Other than keeping the pants clean, they also ensure a frictionless and swift rider leg movement.

Stirrup

The foot-rests on a saddle for rider’s control and comfort are called stirrups. Typically, they’re triangular and hang on the edges of the fenders.

Rigging

Rigging is essentially a set of D-rings, cinch-straps, cinch (AKA western saddle girth), latigo, and billets. Collectively, this system plays the role of keeping the saddle firm and fixed on the horse’s body.

Saddle Strings

The saddle strings are sometimes used for rigging horse winter blankets but usually are among the decorative saddle parts.

Reins and Bridle

Related (although, not directly) to the western saddle are reins and the bridle.

Parts of a western bridle include a headset of straps and reins (the whip-like strings). The reins give the rider control to steer the horse. The difference between western and English reins is that of ambidexterity and single-handedness.

In the west, riders go by single-handedness, whereas in English culture, ambidexterity is prevalent.

This step-by-step complex making of horse saddles explains why they are an expensive horse-related purchase. So, should you buy them?

Let’s answer that.

Why Should You Get a Western Saddle

Because it’s a better option. A little research will prove that most comfortable horse saddles are usually variants of the western horse saddles. So, comfort is one thing why they’re better.

The second thing is the purpose. The western saddles fulfil a broader and more frequent purpose of horse riding, which is entertainment.

Entertainment not as in racing and sports, but amusement – for example, trail riding.

An experienced equestrian would agree that English saddles are more technical to ride. They require a deeper interaction with the horse and its spine, whereas the western saddle seats you deep, nice, and tight, thus being better for a beginner.

While you might have different priorities when buying a horse saddle, the western saddle is more comfortable and is better for most purposes.

Here’s how to choose one.

[Important]: If you’re interested in reading about English saddles, too, check this article out.

Selecting the Perfect Western Saddle

Now you know all the western saddle parts’ names and why a western saddle is right for you. The next step is to look for the following in your saddle so that your ride is comfortable and purposeful!

You may also want to take a look at our guide on all the types of Western saddles.

Material Used

While synthetic saddles are cheaper, they don’t live as long as leather saddles. And while synthetic saddles vary in styles and colors, leather saddles only restrict to browns and blacks.

So, be sure to set your priorities before buying. Do you want a cheaper and stylish one? Do you want a dull yet long-lasting one? Answer these before purchasing.

Size & Fit for Horse

With the size guides available online, make sure you’ve measured your mare correctly and have ordered the right size.

Once you have the accurate size, ensure the right way to rig the saddle and fit it on your horse. Because as Rod Nikkel, a tree-maker of 23 years, says, ‘If the position is wrong, nothing else will be right’.

Size & Fit for Rider

While the fit mainly depends on your horse riding pants, it has to do with the horse saddle too. Be sure to select the right western saddle seat for your discipline.

That is, if you’re buying it for barrel racing, the seat must be deep enough. So, a quick research on your discipline will tell you which one to go for.

New/Used

You can buy a new defective piece or a used ‘like-new’ piece. This depends on your market research. While both can serve the purpose well, if a saddle fits your horse well, is affordable, and is durable – buy it regardless of new or used.

Occasionally, you might also find some good western saddle parts for sale. In this case, you can visit a saddle-maker and have a more customized saddle made, too.

That said, we can safely say we now know a thing or two about the horse saddles. As long as you go by this criteria, you’re going to have one outclass purchase.

If you think you’re ready to buy a Western saddle, then head over to our top picks here.

FAQs Related to Parts of the Western Saddle

There might be some additional queries/confusion left out. Let’s try to clear them now.

What is the proper way to sit in a western saddle?

The first thing to hit your mind once you mount a western saddle is that your hips feel good against the cantle. This is also the first thing you should avoid. If you lean on the cantle too much, this will poke your horse, which isn’t fair.

Once you’ve moved up a little, let your legs fall free and well-seated in the stirrups (letting them hang would make them hurt). Sit up straight and don’t lean on any side to prevent obstructing the horse’s spine.

Finally, hold the reins in your less-dominant hand, and you’re ready to ride.

What is the best saddle for a beginner rider?

The Acerug’s Western Leather Saddle is an excellent choice for starters as it promises both depth and strength.

And the best western saddle for a beginner rider has to be two things: deep and strong – here’s what both these factors mean.

Deep means the seat must be deep between the fork and the cantle to seat you comfortably and firmly, disallowing you to fall. Strong means the saddle must be rigged strongly enough to keep it fixed to the horse if the mare chooses to go all ballistic.

What is the most comfortable saddle for trail riding?

The King Series’s Jacksonville Trail Saddle is the go-to leather western saddle with a soft and grippy suede seat.

Trail riding is the horseback riding along the natural trails (e.g., forest roads) that isn’t swift, jolty, or jerky. It is a form of pleasure riding.

So, pleasure and amusement require the horse saddle to be comfy, secure, and well fit for both the rider and the horse which the Jacksonville Trail Saddle is.

How do you know if a saddle is of good quality?

To know if a saddle is of good quality, first inspect the thickness of the leather sheet it’s made from; the thicker, the better. Then look for the build quality and finishing. Do you see neatness and a strong build?

Then check whether it’s from a brand or not. If it is, study the brand and see how the market has responded. This should give you a better idea about the saddle in question.

Finally, always – and we can’t stress this enough – ensure an excellent fleece quality. You can inspect the fleece from the underside of the saddle. See if it feels warm and comfy or if it’s just a thin makeshift layer.

How do I know if my western saddle fits?

There are two aspects to western saddle fitting: the horse and the rider.

This means that the saddle is fit only if it fits both simultaneously. There should be no ‘points of no contact’ between the spine and the tree for the horse. The tree should precisely be shaped like the horse’s back (just behind the shoulder blades).

Fulfil this essential requirement, and there are good chances for the rest of the saddle to fit well naturally. Likewise, the rider should be placed in the middle of the saddle and shouldn’t be forced to lean on either the fork or the cantle.

This is a possibility when the saddle is smaller than it should be. The right saddle size can help you ensure the best fit.

What is the proper way to sit on a saddle?

There are three things you can ensure here, number one being distance from the fork. Your crotch and the fork should be about 3-4 inches apart. Otherwise, you’d be uncomfortable.

Number two, your hips shouldn’t push on the cantle. This would create a pressure point on the horse’s back, and the ride won’t be smooth.

Number three, sit upright and don’t let your legs rise when your feet are in stirrups. Sitting posture matters more than saddle fitness.

Conclusion

Glad to find you at the end of this beginner’s guide. Now you’ve learned all the different parts of the western saddle, why you should get one, and how to choose the best one – hurrah!

Horse riding has to be fun, be sure not to make it too expensive for yourself to forget the fun part. Keep your saddle purchase affordable, and choose it wisely.

Once the saddle is well in place, you can look forward to a smooth and excellent ride!

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