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Western Saddles: A Guide for Beginners

Updated on August 30, 2013

The right horse supplies

If you’re searching for Western saddles and are a novice horseman, the choices can be daunting. There are so many different types of Western saddles on the market that unless you know what you need, you’ll be completely overwhelmed. Of course, you need a saddle if you have a horse – unless you plan to spend all your riding hours bareback. The saddle is perhaps the most important choice you’ll make in the area of horse supplies, so you need to be informed before making a final selection.

Parts of a Western saddle

To fully understand the saddle descriptions below, you’ll need at least a nodding acquaintance with the parts of Western saddles before purchasing horse supplies. The three parts that are the most important, especially for beginning riders, are the fork, the cantle, and the horn.

Fork – The fork, also called the swell, is the part of the saddle that rises in front of the seat. If you were sitting in the saddle, the fork is the part that’s right in front of your upper thighs that helps keep you in the saddle. Some Western saddles have high, wide forks that provide more stability for the rider, while others, like roping saddles, have lower, rounded forks that make it easier for the rider to slide out of the saddle quickly.

Cantle – The cantle is the back part of the seat. If you were sitting in the saddle, the cantle would be directly behind your butt. It keeps the rider from sliding backwards. The higher the cantle, the more stability and security a rider has in the saddle seat.

Horn – The horn is the “knob” that rises from the center of the fork. It’s the “handle” for the rider. Different types of Western saddles have different types of horns.

Seat – The seat is where your bottom meets the saddle, and it might be quilted, padded, leather, or suede. Suede isn’t as slick as leather, so it provides more stability. Padded seats provide more comfort for the equestrian. Saddle seats range from shallow to deep, with deeper seats having a more “cradling” effect.

Stirrup – The stirrups are where you place your feet. Stirrups might be wooden, leather, or metal. They can also have a flat bottom or an oxbow shape. Pony saddles often have a cover across the front of the stirrup that prevents the rider’s foot from sliding too far forward.

Fender – The fender is the leather flap on Western saddles that attaches the stirrup to the rest of the saddle. If you were in a Western saddle, the fender would be the part beneath your inner calf.

Skirt – The skirt is the outer edge of Western saddles that rests on the horse’s back. The skirt might be square or rounded.

Cinch – The cinch or girth is what holds the saddle on the horse. It’s like a belt and is loosened or tightened to adjust to the individual equine.

Flank cinch – The flank cinch is the rear cinch or girth that goes around the horse’s flank. This extra “belt” helps to keep the saddle in place, but not all Western saddles have a flank cinch.

Barrel racing saddle

These Western saddles are specifically designed for barrel racing, which involves sharp turns and high speeds. As a result, the rider needs a saddle that helps her remain seated, so the barrel saddle has a deep seat with a high fork and a high cantle. The seat itself is usually covered in suede. Suede isn’t as slick as leather, so it helps prevent the rider from sliding in the seat. A typical barrel racing saddle also has a tall, narrow horn that’s easy for the rider to grip. Barrel racing saddles are often lightweight so that they won’t slow the horse down.

Roping saddle

The roping saddle is designed specifically for roping, and as a result, these saddles are extremely durable and are usually heavy. The swells are low and rounded, making it easy for the roper to slide out of the saddle quickly in order to tie the calf. The seat of these Western saddles is usually deep and covered in rough suede, providing the rider with more stability. The horn of a roping saddle is usually short and thick.

Cutting saddle

A cutting saddle is used with cutting horses and cutting. Cutting is the activity of removing a cow from the herd, which might be done in an actual work situation or in a competition. During cutting, the horse makes sudden stops, lunges, and hairpin turns, so the rider needs a saddle to help him stay in the seat. These Western saddles have very high swells for this purpose, along with a high horn that’s usually relatively small in diameter. The saddle seat has a low rise that helps the rider stay balanced and centered, along with narrow stirrups.

All event saddle

These Western saddles can be used for team penning or roping and are sort of a cross between a roping saddle and a cutting saddle. The swells on an all-event saddle are higher than those of a roping saddle but lower than those found on a cutting saddle, and they often have a fairly high cantle. These saddles are strong and tough and are usually heavy.

Reining saddle

These Western saddles are used for reining – an event that requires the horse to perform hairpin turns, rollovers, spins, and sliding stops on cue from the equestrian. Because the rider needs close contact with the horse in order to cue the mount, the skirts of a reining saddle are shorter. The seat is somewhat flat to allow the rider to roll his hips, and the horn is short so that it won’t get in the way of the reins.

Equitation saddle

These Western saddles are used specifically for equitation events in horse shows. The seat is designed to provide the equestrian with a balanced center. The fenders and stirrups are perpendicular to the horse’s belly to help the rider keep his feet in the proper position. Many equitation saddles are embellished with flashy silver plating on the skirt, swells, cantle, and/or horn.

All-around work saddle

Sometimes called “ranch saddles,” these Western saddles are designed for long hours in the saddle, so the seat is usually padded. The seat is somewhat flat, and the horn is placed high. The skirts of a work saddle are usually short to enable the equestrian to use leg cues with the mount.

Show saddle

These Western saddles have a balanced seat, a low horn, and extended skirts. The leather is almost always tooled with intricate designs, and silver accents usually adorn show saddles. Because of these extra embellishments, these are not cheap saddles.

Pleasure saddle

Pleasure saddles are designed for trail riding or general riding for pleasure. These Western saddles are usually lighter in weight than working saddles. The swells are often squared off, and the horn is of average height and width. Several latigo ties might be included for attaching trail gear. Since pleasure saddles aren’t designed for the rigors of cutting or roping, these Western saddles are usually not as durable or as expensive as working saddles.

Buying the right size saddle

After deciding on a type of saddle, you’ll need to decide on the size saddle you need. Western saddles come in different seat sizes, according to the size you’ll need for your bottom. If you’re an average size adult, a 15-inch saddle will work. If you’re small, you might prefer a youth saddle with a 14-inch seat. If you’re larger than average, say up to 180 or 185 pounds, try a saddle with a 16-inch seat. And there’s no delicate way to say this: if you have an extra large butt, you might need a 17-inch saddle. For those weighing more than 250 pounds, saddles with 18-inch seats are available.

Make the best choice for you!

The above descriptions are just the major types of Western saddles, and each type might have several sub-types. Before purchasing horse supplies like saddles, decide what type of riding you’ll be doing most of the time. For example, if you’re going to be spending your hours in the saddle trail riding, there’s no need to invest the money in a roping saddle.

Where to buy a saddle

Good saddles aren't usually cheap, but sometimes you can luck up on cheap saddles. If you're on a budget, consider buying a used saddle. These can often be found at horse and tack auctions, in tack stores, and in the classified ads. Cheap saddles can sometimes be found at estate auctions, too.

If you can afford to buy a new saddle, you'll be able to choose one that fits you and that matches the riding activities in which you'll be involved. You'll find saddles in tack shops, horse supplies stores, and in some farm and ranch stores.

For the best deals and the largest selection of Western saddles, search online. Several saddles below are at discounted prices, and Amazon is a great place to buy discount saddles and even cheap saddles. Underneath the saddles offered below, you'll find information about really cheap saddles!

Cheap saddles - synthetic saddles

The main reason that most saddles are expensive is because they're made with leather. Generally speaking, the more leather a saddle has in it, the more expensive it is. One way to reduce costs in the production of saddles is to use synthetic materials instead of leather, resulting in cheap saddles.

These cheap saddles are a good option for equestrians on a tight budget, especially for those who don't engage in cutting, reining, or roping. With synthetic saddles, parts of the saddle, especially the cantle and the pommel, are made of real leather, while other parts are made of synthetic leather or nylon. Such cheap saddles have the added benefit of being lightweight, and most are durable. Check out the selection of cheap saddles for sale below!

There are numerous types of Western saddles.
There are numerous types of Western saddles.


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    • profile image

      joe 4 years ago

      The horn on a saddle is not a handle it is for a rope and inexperienced rider grabs the horn

    • profile image

      grizzly592 6 years ago

      i am not a rider at all (yet) but i would like to get into trail riding with a few friends and i would like to know all i can to make an educated decision on saddles and a horse where could i find some more info on such? i just want to trail ride and my friend told me i would need like a 20 inch saddle because im a big guy (don't even know what that mean) so i need the crash course

    • profile image

      baker987 6 years ago

      Very comprehensive! I have to say, my favorite saddles have always been the vintage saddles from the 1940s or 1950s. The quality of the material and the craftsmanship is unmatched by a lot of modern brands.

    • Centerlinemassage profile image

      Centerlinemassage 6 years ago from Atlanta, Ga

      This is a great hub and really makes it easy to understand western saddles!

    • thisspice profile image

      thisspice 6 years ago from Asheville, NC

      Great information! Ebay is a great tool to find well-made, name brand, used saddles for sale at very discounted prices. I would recommend a name-brand, well-made, used saddle over a brand new, cheaply made, non-brand name saddle any day of the week! Synthetic saddles are a great, cheaper alternative to all leather saddles, and are also great for those who aren't able to lift a standard, leather saddle onto a horse's back. A typical leather saddle can weigh up to 45-50 lbs. whereas a synthetic can be less than half that weight. Overall, a saddle is an investment, a tool that will help you ride your horse and you should spend the most money that your budget will allow. This piece of equipment needs to fit your horse properly, otherwise it can cause severe damage to your horse's back overtime, and it also needs to be comfortable for you as a rider. That's why a saddle can be a costly investment, almost as important as choosing the right horse.

    • profile image

      Helengi 6 years ago

      Habee, you are a wealth of information! I could just sit and read your hubs all day long. Thank you for making me a little bit smarter today!

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Howdy, HH! Is it cold there?

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 7 years ago from London, UK

      A very comprehensive hub and I learned a lot from it. Thank you Holle.

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Daho, you might enjoy riding!

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Why, thank you, Fix!

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      You are too kind, Katie!

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      De Greek, it would be hard to jump a fence in a Western saddle because you couldn't get in the right position for jumping. I've ridden English some, but the Western saddle is a must for barrel racing, cutting, reining, etc. I've also done A LOT of bareback riding!

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Thanks a bunch, Andy!

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Ghome, Circle Y makes great saddles!

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Hi, Lizzy! Most of the horses I've owned would blow out their bellies as the girth was being tightened. If you walk them around for a moment, you can tighten the cinch again.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Much here that I didn't know about saddles. I don't expect to take up riding but it is good to know as a writer.

    • profile image

      the fix 7 years ago

      Fascinating hub! I really learned a lot!

    • katiem2 profile image

      katiem2 7 years ago from I'm outta here

      Well done habee, the saddle is so important and yet there is much to know about choosing the right saddle. This is a great resource for western saddles and beginners should def have this info. Rate up and will share. Thanks :)

    • De Greek profile image

      De Greek 7 years ago from UK

      Now this is something that is of interest to me. I have always wanted to try a western saddle but never had the chance. I am told that they are more comfortable, but taht you cannot jump fences with them. Do you know if this is true?

    • Ign Andy profile image

      Ign Andy 7 years ago from Green Home Office

      Wow thorough information about saddles. I only rode horses few times and really enjoy it. I don't know there are so many things to understand about horseback riding. Great hub Habee and vote up.

    • ghomefitness profile image

      ghomefitness 7 years ago from Chicago,IL

      Thanks for the hub Habee. I grew up on a horse farm and my parents still have it and a Tack Shop. Nothing beats the smell of leather in their shop. They sold the circle Y brand in your last picture. My mom is closing out so she can retire, that will be sad. :( You did a great job of educating in this hub. up and useful

    • DzyMsLizzy profile image

      Liz Elias 7 years ago from Oakley, CA

      Wow--what an interesting hub! I've always loved horses, and bemoaned that I could not and cannot afford to keep a horse, (zoning regulations where I grew up notwithstanding)! Now, I live where the zoning allows it, but my budget still does not.

      Nonetheless, I love everything 'horsey' and read whatever I can get my hands on. This was a very interesting dissertation. I did know there were different types of saddles for different purposes, but not their names or specifics. (Except the very general difference between Western and English saddles.)

      I am reminded of my father telling about one particularly clever horse that lived on a ranch where he spent some of his childhood years. This horse had learned somehow to hold her breath and puff out her belly as the cinch was being tightened, and if you did not know her or her trick, you were liable to fall off, as once the cinch was tightened, she'd resume normal breathing, and the saddle would be loose!

      Thanks for this fascinating post.

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Charlie, I had a neat old saddle a while back. I dunno what happened to it, but I wish I could find it. It would make a great conversation piece!

    • profile image

      ralwus 7 years ago

      I'd like a vintage saddle some day just to look at and enjoy.

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Thanks for reading, drbj!

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 7 years ago from south Florida

      What an education, Holle. I always thought a saddle is a saddle is a saddle. Despite the fact that I was fortunate enough to go horseback riding almost every week while growing up.

      Thanks for this complete and encyclopedic article.