When shopping for a Western Saddle you will first need to decide what type of Western riding you’re planning to do. Western saddles are categorized by their intended use, the materials from which they are made, the technique used to construct the saddle, tree types, and more. There are additional choices you can make regarding tooling or stamping, color choices, types of leather, rigging position, cantle height and horn styles.
Flexible Tree Saddles
Also, growing awareness and concern for the comfort of horses has lead to a continued number of flexible tree saddles becoming available on the market. Flexible tree saddles are designed with a rigid fork and cantle, but with bars made of a flexible material that will allow the tree to move with your horse. They will also fit a wider range of horses. Flexible tree saddles are usually lightweight and provide a closer contact with your horse, making them a nice trail or pleasure saddle choice.
A Ranch saddle is a heavyweight, sturdy saddle designed to provide comfort and functionality for long hours of riding and working cattle. They are designed to be true working saddles. Some features that may be found on a Ranch Saddle include a deep seat with a high cantle for comfort, low swells and tall, thick horns with a horn wrap The fenders on Ranch saddles are hung directly below the rider, double rigging is used for strength and a front cinch and a flank cinch are both used.
Trail or Pleasure Saddles
Trail, or Pleasure, saddles are generally much more lightweight and will customarily come with a padded seat for your riding comfort. The fenders on pleasure saddles are positioned to keep you in a proper riding position, which is important for long rides. Trail saddles are often used in conjunction with a breast collar to keep the saddle from sliding back on steep inclines and will come with saddle strings for tying on your trail gear. They are offered in a wide variety of styles and colors because of their popularity; many different trees, horns, swells, seats, and skirt styles are offered, as well.
Roping saddles are specifically designed for use in roping events. A well-designed roper saddle will offer you maximum freedom of movement so you can easily chase, rope, and dally a cow to the horn. For this last reason it must have a particularly strong tree and a well-anchored horn, which makes them much heavier than pleasure or trail saddles. Roping saddles usually have rough out or suede seats to prevent sliding, other typical features include low, rounded forks, tall, thick horns, full double riggings, roper stirrups, which are hung more forward than on pleasure saddles, and rope straps.
If you plan to participate in cutting events, you will be in the market for a Cutting saddle. Designed to keep you balanced and out of your horse’s way, it can be used for penning, reining and training, making it a versatile choice for your saddle investment. Features usually include tall, thin horns, slim stirrups, high, wide swells, flat, long seats, rough out jockeys and fenders that are free swinging and forward hung, low cantles, and double riggings.
Reining saddles are designed for competition in reining events. With forward hung stirrups that are designed to seat you back and deep for fast starts and stops, this design also helps keep you in a properly balanced position while allowing close contact to communicate moves to your horse. Because of this close contact, some riders prefer to use a Reining saddle for training purposes. Common features include medium height horn and fork, a seat that sits low on your horse’s back, cutout skirts, free swinging fenders, dropped rigging, slim stirrups and many models come with silver trim for show.
Barrel Racing Saddles
Barrel Racing saddles are generally small, lightweight, and designed to allow maximum maneuverability, while securing you in the seat during fast turns and sprints. These features make them suitable for other gaming events, as well. Features on a good Barrel saddle would include a deep seat with a higher cantle, thin, tall horn, higher fork with wide swells you can hook your knees under, rough-out seat, free-swinging fenders and side jockeys, narrow stirrups, in-skirt rigging and short skirts.
Endurance competitions can cover up to100 miles a day and will generally include rough and steep terrain. A comfortable, sturdy, and lightweight saddle is a necessity to compete in these highly demanding events. Due to their design, Endurance saddles are also popular for trail riding. Most Endurance saddles have padded seats for comfort, no horn, short round skirts, deep stirrups, single rigging, several saddle strings and rigging dees to secure your saddle bags, and are lightweight, as well.
Show saddles are highly embellished saddles designed for looking good in the show ring. They are available in a number of different designs and distinct looks, but, like the fashion industry, particular styles and features can go in and out of fashion. Show saddles usually have ornate tooling patterns, silver trim on the skirts, cantle, horn, and sometimes even the forks and stirrups. They also feature short horns and forks, deep skirts, padded or suede seats and turned stirrups.
Pony saddles usually have 12" seats and are designed to fit Shetland and Welsh ponies. Note that pony saddles usually do not supply a good fit on full sized horses, so a different saddle will be needed as the child outgrows his or her pony.
Youth saddles usually have 13" seats and are designed to fit larger children on full sized horses.