Let’s just get this out there:
Saddles can be confusing.
Buying a horse is a task in itself but buying a saddle for your horse; boy oh, boy!
So, let’s move on to the age-old question:
Which Western saddle should you get?
There are three primary factors to look into when buying a western saddle. The objective of riding is the most crucial factor in picking the right saddle for your horse.
For example: If you are going for trail riding, you’ll need a specific type of saddle called the Trail Saddle.
On the other hand, if you want to use your horse for reining, you’ll be requiring a Reining Saddle.
The next important factor in choosing Western saddles is the right fitting of the saddle for the rider and the horse.
To make an informed decision, let’s go through the features and uses of the most common types of Western Saddles.
Types of Western Saddles Or Western Saddle Styles
The different types of western saddles may have various:
- Materials used in manufacturing
- Structures & designs
Let’s go through the uses and features of every kind of western saddle.
1. Trail Saddles Or Pleasure Saddles
Trail riding is used for outdoor horse riding on trails, bridle paths, and forest roads away from roads with motorized traffic.
If you want to ride your horse on a trail, then this type is ideal for you.
If you’re interested in buying a trail saddle, I’d recommend buying this one. It’s crazy how cheap it is!
The main features of Trail or Pleasure Saddles which make them different from other Western saddles are:
Trail riding can be a long event encompassing many hours.
Therefore, most trail saddles are lightweight.
Some trail saddles also made by using synthetic materials, which further reduces the weight.
Thus, they help the horse feel comfortable.
But if you’re looking for even more comfort, then use one of our favorite horse saddle pads along with a comfortable Western saddle.
The round skirts of trail saddles help the horse move freely and make all the necessary movements without being constrained by the saddle.
The double rigging keeps the saddle secure in its place.
It especially helps in the rugged mountainous trails.
Cantle of Medium Height
This cantle (the raised curved part at the back of the saddle) gives the rider support, especially on uphill rides.
Secondly, it helps the rider in mounting and dismounting.
Wider stirrups are there to give the rider a comfortable base.
Seats are usually padded, giving a comfortable ride to the rider
The rider can easily hold on to the horn while riding if required.
Some riders also like to use breast collars for added comfort.
2. Youth Saddles
These saddles are used for kids.
If you plan to let your kids ride, then you’ll be needing one of these for their safety.
The different seat sizes used for youth saddles are:
- 7-8 inches for under three years old
- 10 inches for kids between 3-6 years
- 13 inches for average-sized kids over ten years old or a younger kid with a healthier build.
Do you want a beautiful Arabian for your kid? Here’s an article on Arabians for beginners.
The main features which distinguish youth saddles from normal western saddles are:
Smaller seat size
The youth saddles have smaller seat sizes to cater to the needs of smaller bodies of kids.
Fun and attractive designs
Keeping kids in mind different fun and catchy designs are introduced in youth saddles.
3. Pony saddles
Ponies are smaller in size as compared to horses.
Therefore, a horse size saddle doesn’t fit a pony’s back.
The Western saddles which are made particularly for ponies are called pony saddles.
The only difference between regular and pony saddles is their weight and size.
The main features of pony saddles are:
Smaller seat size
The pony saddles are made for children or small-statured adults.
Therefore, pony saddles have smaller seat sizes.
Shorter skirt size
The shorter skirt size of a pony saddle helps make a good fit for the pony. It also reduces the weight of the saddle.
The weight of a traditional western saddle is too much for ponies
Due to the variation in size, the weight of a pony saddle is considerably light, making it manageable for the pony.
4. Ranch Saddles
These saddles are used for horses working on ranches.
With horses that work for long hours, you need a saddle that’s comfortable for both you and the horse.
My go-to choice in cheap ranch saddles is the Royal King Ranch Saddle. However, if you’re willing to pay the big bucks, check out this fantastic Young Ranch Saddle by NRS.
The main features which make ranch saddles appropriate for ranch work are:
Heavy duty structure
Ranch horses work for long hours on the ranches.
Therefore, ranch saddles have a substantial, sturdy, and durable structure.
Hard and deep seat
They have hard and deep seats to give the rider necessary comfort and security while working on the ranch.
Tall and thick horns
The horns of these Western saddles are also equipped with horn wraps.
These horns help in roping and dallying.
The double rigging keeps the saddle securely fixed to the horse during long hours of heavy ranch work.
The heavy-duty structure of these saddles makes them heavier in weight.
Saddle string is available to attach additional equipment or items if required.
The high cantle gives the necessary support to the rider during heavy work on the ranch.
It also helps to mount and dismount quickly.
5. Reining Saddles
Reining is a competitive riding event in the West.
In reining, the rider guides the horse to make a pre-determined set of moves in quick succession.
If you intend to participate in reining events, then this saddle should be your go-to saddle.
The prominent features of reining saddles are:
Medium Height fork & horn
The fork and horn of this saddle are of medium length, so they do not interrupt the rider’s hands and reins during the event.
These skirts give maximum body contact to the rider and the horse.
This way, the rider can communicate effectively with the horse.
Low cantles & Flatter Seats
Reining requires the horse to be more mobile for executing different moves.
Low cantles and flatter seats provide them with that required mobility.
Like shorter skirts, narrow fenders also provide better contact with the horse by minimizing the interface between the rider and the horse.
Usually, the Reining saddles are manufactured with double rigging by default, but most professionals do not use double rigging.
Therefore, rigging is generally dropped to minimize the bulk beneath the legs of the rider.
This saddle is at times used as a training saddle.
American Quarter Horses are great at reining. Here’s an article on more uses of the mighty Quarter Horse.
6. Roping Saddles
These saddles are used in roping events.
In roping, the riders need strong and sturdy saddles which can withstand the weight of a cow and simultaneously keep the horse comfortable.
Check out this excellent roping saddle if you’re interested in buying one.
The main features of roping saddles consist of:
The strong trees of roping saddles give them the strength required to rope heavy animals like cows.
Generally, trees for roping saddles are made with durable wood.
The cow is dallied against the horn.
Only strong horns can withstand the required force of dallying a cow.
The deep seats give comfort, support, and balance during a physically exerting roping event.
Usually, the seats are covered with roughout leather to provide with extra grip.
The cantle in a roping saddle is lower, so that, the rider can quickly dismount after roping and dallying the cow.
Double rigging keeps the saddle securely attached with the horse during the event demanding heavy strength from the saddle.
The required strength and sturdiness of these saddles make their weight heavy.
Due to their heaviness and sturdy and robust structure, roping saddles should not be used for long hours of riding.
7. Cutting Saddles
Cutting saddles are mainly used for cutting events.
This event involves cutting a cow, calf, or a steer from a herd.
Cutting requires good cow sense and quick maneuvering by the horse to tackle the animal.
In addition to cutting, these saddles can also be used for sorting stock on ranches, reining, and for training purposes.
Their main features which distinguish cutting saddles from other western saddles are:
These saddles are larger than other saddles.
The rider has the room to move around and react according to the movements of the horse.
Flat seats with Lower Cantle
Cutting saddles have flatter seats and lower cantles.
This design keeps the rider safe during quick movements.
Tall and thin horn
This feature of the horn makes it easy to hold the horn if required.
Horses make many quick movements during cutting events, so cutting saddles require extra support to stay in place.
Double rigging provides this extra support to the saddle.
8. Flexible Tree Saddles
These types of saddles have adjustable dual bars, one on each side of the saddle.
These bars provide flexibility to the horse.
The features which make these saddles good are:
The most important feature of these saddles is their ability to stretch with the horse’s movements.
Rigid fork & cantle
The rigid fork and cantle provide the support and stability for a smooth ride.
Fits Different Sizes of Horses
The flex bars make these saddles to fit a broader range of horses.
Generally, these saddles are made with synthetic materials, which makes them lightweight.
These types of saddles cannot be used for heavy riders and very long durations.
The flexible bars may flatten or break if heavy riders use them for long hours.
9. Barrel Racing Saddles
These saddles are used for barrel racing, gymkhana events, mounted games, and training the horses.
In barrel racing, horses need to bend down and make sharp turns quickly.
The barrel saddles support these excellent and quick movements of the horse.
Here are some of the main features of these saddles
The Smallest in Size & The Lightest in Weight
Of all the types of Western saddles, barrel racing saddles are the lightest and the smallest.
This feature gives the horse freedom of movement during the event.
A higher cantle gives support to the rider during fast & sharp turns.
Tall and thin horns
The rider can hold on to tall and thin horn when turning.
These fenders give more space to the legs of the rider for a balanced and centered ride.
Single rigging & Short skirts
While bending or turning around the barrels, the horse needs minimum equipment in its way.
A single rigging with short skirts design gives a barrel racing horse precisely that.
A roughout seat gives extra grip during the event.
10. Endurance Saddles
Endurance racing requires the use of endurance saddles.
These events consist of 50-100 miles per day of horse racing.
The features which make endurance saddles perfect for such long events are:
Endurance saddles are made lightweight to minimize the pressure on horses.
Comfortable padded seats
As endurance racing involves miles and miles of racing, the saddle seats are made comfortable with extra padding.
Strings & D-rings
Extra strings and D-rings are available with these saddles to attach extra gear.
Hornless Or Very Short Horn
In endurance racing, a regular horn may pound against the stomach of the rider.
To minimize the impact of the horn, endurance saddles either have a very short horn, or they are entirely hornless.
A centerfire rigging is used in endurance saddles.
During the ride, this type of rigging helps the saddle from tipping forward.
Skirts are kept short in endurance saddles to keep them lightweight.
Stirrup with a wider platform
The joints of the rider face a lot of shock during endurance riding.
This shock to the back and ankle and knee joints is reduced with deep, wider, and padded stirrups.
11. Show Saddles
These types of Western saddles are decorated saddles used in horse shows to beautify the horses.
Show saddles are made only to be used during horse shows and are generally not used in everyday riding.
Their main features of show saddles are:
To make this saddle eye-catching, silver trim is used on various parts of the saddle like the fork, cantle, skirt, etc
A lower cantle helps in easy mounting and dismounting.
The deeper skirts give extra room for additional tooling or silver accents.
Embellished eye-catching design
Different embellishments are available in these saddles according to different coat colors of the horses.
12. Mounted-Shooting Saddles
Mounted-shooting is a growing sport which is gaining immense popularity among people.
The rider has to shoot while riding a horse in this event.
Apart from shooting from a running horse, quick stops, sharp turns, and sudden stops are a part of the game.
The mounted-shooting saddles provide the right balance, flexibility, and security to the rider to perform at peak level in this sport.
The main features which make these Western saddles worthy are:
Deep and secure seats
The seats of mounted-shooting saddles are deep and secure, to help the rider during a quick change of movements.
Shorter skirts provide little interference between the horse and the rider.
In addition to better communication between the horse and the rider, these shorter skirts help to keep the saddle lightweight.
The free-swinging fenders of these saddles help the rider in making sharp turns.
13. Gaited Western Saddles
Horses can be selectively bred for smooth, four-beat gaits. A gaited horse often has a shorter back, therefore, it needs a specific saddle to fit it’s back and help it to perform effectively.
Gaited saddles allow gaited horses to move freely.
If you’re looking for a gaited Western saddle, I’d recommend this one. It’s quite sleek and has fine quality.
Gaited saddles are used in almost all the western discipline horse ridings.
The main features of gaited saddles which distinguish them from the regular western saddles are:
- Shorter skirts
- Steeper panels
- Shorter bars
Now, let’s discuss:
Which Saddle Should You Get?
We have gone through the different types of Western saddles.
But the question remains:
Which type of saddle should you buy?
Identifying the purpose of riding or your riding style will eliminate all the irrelevant options of Western saddles available in the market.
The next step would be:
Choosing The Correct Size of The Saddle
When it comes to choosing the size of the saddle, the two main things to ensure are:
- The size of the seat fits you.
- Secondly, the tree of the saddle fits the horse.
Size of the Seat
In Western saddles, different seat sizes are available.
These seat sizes are:
- Youth saddles offer seat sizes up to 13 inches.
- 14 inches for a small adult.
- 15 inches for an average adult.
- 16 inches for a large adult.
- 17 inches for an extra large adult.
As a general rule:
While your back is easily placed against the back of the saddle seat, you should have at least a four-inch space between you and the saddle fork.
Size of the Tree
The size of the tree can be checked by placing the saddle on the horse and checking for the gullet clearance.
The right fit would have a two to three finger space between the withers of the horse and the gullet.
Taking care of your horse is fairly important. Here’s an article on how you can take care of your horse.
What types of saddles are there? Mainly, there are two types of saddles. The stock saddles and the English saddles.
The two most popular types of stock saddles are the Western saddles and the Australian stock saddles.
How do I know what size saddle to buy? As a general rule, while your back is easily placed against the back of the saddle seat, you should have at least four inches space between you and the saddle fork.
What are the different types of English saddles? The different types of English Saddles are:
The all-purpose saddle, polo saddle, jumping saddle, racing saddle, Dressage saddle, sidesaddle, the
saddle seat saddle, The English show saddle, and the endurance saddle.