A Saddle Is A Saddle Is A Saddle – Not!
There are many types of saddles. Why? They all are designed and manufactured to do specific things and are matched for specific riding activities.
There are also two main categories of saddles – English Style and Western Style. The English style has many different forms and is used all over the world. Western Style riding came from necessity and evolved from the ranching and herding professions. The two styles differ in the type of horse, equipment, gait, and attire.
These two categories have tons of sub categories that vary pretty wildly depending on their intended use. Some of these I hadn’t even known about before doing some research for this article!
Quickly gaining in popularity across the united states. Riding English is a much more elegant style of ride over its western counterpart.
- General Purpose: This is the most common type of saddle primarily used by beginners and intermediate riders. This is a great choice for first-time horse owners because it is forgiving and fits most types of riding and horses. There are flaps cut forward to accommodate all riding, jumping, dressage, or hunting purposes.
- Youth: These saddles are exactly as the name suggests – for young, lighter-weight riders. The saddles are made from pieces of cotton or synthetics and shaped for smaller frames. These give the rider better balance and sometimes have handles to steady unsure riders.
- Jumping: The jumping saddle pushes the rider slightly forward into the two-point jumping position. This is achieved by having a flatter seat, which appears more like a mellow “C-shaped” curve when viewed from the side. The saddle flaps have padding in the front of the flaps. Their purpose is to provide more protection when jumping fences or other obstacles.
- Hunting: As the name suggests, this saddle is primarily for hunters who track their prey on horseback. The most common species sought after are foxes – most popular in England. Most of the time, these hunts require jumping fences or hedges and have deep inclines after the obstacle.
For that reason, the saddle is shaped to push the rider’s weight back in the saddle and their feet forwards in the stirrups. This puts the rider in a safer position being farther forward for better control, balance, and comfort. These are primarily made of leather and strong metal fasteners.
- Dressage: This saddle is for an experienced rider. Dressage saddles main use is for competing in flat-work competitions. They have a deeper seat for greater balance resulting from a U-shaped curve. A big giveaway to this saddle is that it has straight flaps made from lightweight, thin materials for closer leg contact to the rider to perform precision moves better.
- Side Saddle: While most think this is more a form of riding, there is actually a side-saddle. Women began riding horses in Europe during the middle ages and wore long skirts. It was deemed not proper for a woman of that time to straddle horses – forget the fact the long skirts would make it almost impossible.
The side saddle protects attire and ensures the rider stays on the horse. There are two horns to hold the rider’s legs in place – on one side of the horse with the right leg resting on top of the top pommel with the left thigh placed under the lower pommel. Surprisingly this saddle is stable enough to make small jumps.
- Racing: As the name quantifies, these are small saddles used for racing. They are small (as are the jockeys) and little more than small blankets for the rider. Lightweight is the key benefit of racing saddles. The goal is to put the least amount of resistance for the horse running at top speed.
Since a jockey spends most of his time hovering over the saddle, there is little material and no metal harnesses or a horn to ensure its lightweight.
- Australian Stock: Made for comfort on long rides, the Australian Stock saddle is very popular in many parts of the world whose residents depend on horses for work and pleasure. Its history comes from the English saddle but differs because the main seat is much deeper with extra padding around the knees.
For most Americans, this is the most commonly known and recognized saddle because it was the staple of the American cowboy. Because of its heritage, the western saddles are made from thick leather and normally have intricate but ornamental designs on them.
A large leather handle or “horn” is at the front of the saddle, which aids the rider with balance since he/she is holding reins to steer the horse with the other hand. Because of the long hours in the saddle going up and down hillsides, this type of saddle has wide sides and padding for extra comfort. There are ten basic styles of western saddles.
- Roping: Roping saddles are designed specifically to support the weight of a full-grown cow tugging at the saddle. They feature a very large pommel and horn to provide massive strength. The saddle tree has been wrapped with leather or metal to provide enough strength so that the entire saddle does not break in half. They are generally quite a bit heavier than any other western saddles due to their oversized construction.
Primarily, a roping saddle is used during a show or rodeo when lassoing both adult cows and calves. These animals have tremendous strength and it’s no surprise that they do not in fact want to be tied up like a pig at a luau.
- Ranching: A ranching saddle is quite similar to its slightly heavier roping counterpart. The ranching saddle also features a wrapped tree for strength and a larger than average pommel and horn. This is because the ranching saddle is designed for just that, Ranching. This often includes lassoing cattle! Unlike its counterpart, the ranching saddle has a few more creature comforts built-in for the rider.
The seat on these is relatively flat with a slight rise towards the cantle. This is to provide some added comfort for a long day in the saddle. Typically these will have what is known as a roughout seat. which means that they use the rough side of the leather. This gives some added grip to your seat when traversing hills or roping cattle.
Additionally, ranching saddles often have leather strings. The untrained eye may simply view these as decorative adornments. However, these are actually used as straps to tie down gear such as a canvas tent and sleeping bag for long cattle drives of old.
- Trail/pleasure: Trail/pleasure saddles are designed to provide the rider with a light and comfortable ride. These are going to be one of the lighter styles of western saddles. This is not only for the sake of the horse, traversing all kinds of nasty terrain; but for the rider as well. The lighter weight makes tacking up and travels that much easier.
These saddles almost always include a back cinch. This cinch helps to keep the saddle on the horse while traveling around steep terrain.
Additionally, these often include d-rings for hooking up saddlebags to carry drinks and even your lunch.
- Barrel Racing: Barrel Racing saddles are easily one of the lightest styles of western saddle available. This is to help reduce weight allowing increased speeds in the arena. Additionally, they have a very deep seat designed to help hold the rider in place.
As you ride barrels you experience huge amounts of movement, not only your own butt in the saddle but the horse as well. Because of this riders have that deep seat but the saddle also is designed on the underside to allow the horse to move as freely as possible.
- Endurance: These saddles are designed to provide the rider with the best comfort possible. They are often used by trail riders and endurance racers alike.
Aside from tons of padding for the rider, these saddles also include plenty of saddle stings and rigging so that saddlebags can be affixed for these long rides. During some endurance events, riders will travel up to 100 miles in a single day!
Since there is no real need for it these saddles also have no horn. This seems quite odd to me as I’ve only ever seen horn-less saddles in the English saddle space.
- Show: Show saddles are beautiful works of art. Designed to take to specific events and perhaps even distract the judges away from your mistakes so that you can take home the gold!
There are not generally any special features of these saddles. In fact, many of these saddles will look quite different depending on the popular style of when it was made.
You can tell these apart from other saddles because of their “over the top” adornments.
- Youth: Much like their bigger counterparts, youth saddles come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. Youth saddles can be found made to look like any of the other saddles in this list, only smaller. Most often these are found in the 10″ to 14″ sizes. However, the most common I found for sale was 13″. Often times when buying these they will come with a matching bridle as a set. Make sure this bridle will fit your horse!
- Reining: Reining is by far one of my favorite horseback activity to watch. Like many of the other saddles in this list, a reining saddle is designed specifically for that activity. Given the quick starts, stops, and spins that often occur in reining, the seat is set low and the stirrups are set a little bit forward to help the rider stay in the saddle.
With these same activities, your horse will be asked to perform quick, drastic movements. Because of this the skirts on reining saddles are often short to allow for better movement.
- Cutting: Full disclosure, before writing this article I had no idea what cutting was but I did some research and found out. Cutting is a sport in which you are asked to split, or cut, a herd of cattle. Given this the saddle is mostly designed so that the horse has the most possible movement. They will need to be able to move quickly so some changes are made such as a roughout seat to help the rider maintain their seat in the saddle.
- Treeless: Usually made with leather and a small horn, the treeless saddle is a cross between riding bareback and a full western saddle. In fact, this saddle looks like a smaller version of the western saddle with half the seat and smaller stirrups. This size and balance put the rider in much more contact with the horse with great freedom but much less balance and stability.
There are tons of different styles of saddles. Some of which I may not even know about! These, however, should be at least the majority of available saddles on the market. Hopefully this will help make your purchasing decision pass with ease.