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These saddles are designed for lighter use as compared to work saddles. Trail and pleasure saddles are much plainer, with less tooling, than either show and working saddles. They are built with a lightweight tree and some models use in-skirt rigging, all of which can reduce the overall cost of the saddle. Most trail saddles have several leather ties and d-rings for holding equipment. The forks,horn and cantle heights of these saddles can vary, with some models focusing on rider security and others on comfort.


In-skirt rigging attaches the cinch ring to the saddle skirt, not the tree.

Also called an all-around work saddle, the ranch saddle is designed for all-day, everyday use by the working cowboy. Although saddle models vary according to manufacturer, most offer either full or 7/8, ring or flat plate rigging with a sturdy tree and strong horn. Since ranch saddles must balance the need for comfort with the requirements of work, some models feature padded suede seats with higher, straighter cantles while others offer a slick leather seat with a shorter, more angled cantle. Ranch saddles are built tough to last long and often have a price tag that matches their quality. 

Walk into any tack shop and you're likely to see a lot of saddles. If you are shopping for an English saddle, you basically have three choices: Jumping, dressage or all-purpose. Seems pretty easy. If you want to jump or do dressage, you can purchase a specialized saddle. And if you aren't sure or you want a saddle that is suited for more than one discipline, opt for the all-purpose.

However, if you are looking to purchase a western saddle you may find saddle selection a bit more confusing. There seems to be a specialized type of saddle for every western discipline. So what's a person to do if they want to dabble in several western events, but can't afford a tack room full of saddles?

The logical solution is to purchase a saddle that best meets your needs. You might opt for the saddle designed for your favorite discipline. This type of saddle would be ideal for the event you participate in the most, but may not work as well for other activities. A better solution is to investigate the differences between the various types of western saddles and then choose the one that is the best fit for all the events you wish to do. So let's take a look at the features and amenities of the modern western saddle and see how they compare in these specialty saddles.

Which Western Saddle is Right for You?

The cheyenne roll cantle  provides riders with an easy place to grasp when mounting or during fast-paced activities. The pencil roll style of cantle is harder to grip.

Reining saddles are similar to show saddles, but often have shorter skirts with a little less emphasis on tooling and silver. Like show saddles, reining models also have lower forks and a shorter horn as well as the close contact design for improved communication. They differ, however, in that reining saddles have flatter seats to allow the rider more hip movement.

These specialty saddles have a high cantle and suede-covered seat for added security. They differ from most other competition saddles in that the fork and horn are often tilted forward to provide more room for drawing a gun.

Often ornately decorated with silver and detailed tooling, show saddles tend to have longer skirts to showcase their beauty. Most models offer a suede seat that has a pocket to keep the rider in the correct position and in balance with the horse. Show saddles usually have a close contact design in which the skirts underneath the fender have been cut back to enable the rider to use more subtle movements when cueing the horse. They also have a shorter horn and flatter forks for less interference with the reins.

Like a cutting saddle, barrel racing saddles are constructed to maximize rider security. Features of a barrel saddle include a deep suede-covered seat surrounded by high forks, horn and cantle. These saddles often have shorter skirts and are lightweight.


In cutting, the horse and rider team separates or removes a cow, calf or steer from the herd. This event requires the horse to make quick changes in direction and speed. As such, cutting saddles are designed for rider security. They feature large forks with a tall, thin horn accompanied by a flatter seat with a low rise to help the rider stay secure and balanced. The seat is suede covered and the fenders and jockeys feature rougher leather for added security.


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Like ranch saddles, roping saddles are built tough. They offer double reinforced rigging in both full and 7/8 positions. Most roping saddles have suede seats to keep the rider from slipping during quick stops and a low cantle and horn for speedy dismounts.



Rigging is just one option to consider when choosing a western saddle. While the material from which the saddle tree is made can influence the saddle's price and durability, it's the shape, height and angle of the cantle, forks and horn that dictates a saddle's suitability for various western disciplines.

The cantle of a saddle provides both a backrest and support for the rider. A taller, straighter cantle with a deeper seat provides more security to the rider than a lower, angled one. Likewise, higher forks allow the rider to brace themselves against the saddle for fast-paced, quick turning events like barrel racing and cutting. Taller, thinner saddle horns are often seen in combination with higher forks, as this horn design gives the rider an easy handhold for extra support. Some riders also prefer the cheyenne roll style of cantle over the pencil roll as the former provides an edge or shelf that can be grabbed for added security.


The last design, called in-skirt rigging, is the least bulky method of attachment, but is also considered the weakest. With in-skirt rigging, the ring is riveted directly onto the skirt using several layers of leather. This method does not attach the rigging to the saddle tree. 


This saddle illustrates the full rigging position using ring plating, the strongest method for attaching the cinch.

In contrast, a lower cantle, forks and horn allows the rider the greatest range of motion. Lower, more angled cantles are seen on saddles designed for events that require precise control of the horse. In reining, for instance, the lower cantle allows the rider to shift their weight back to cue the horse for sliding stops. Likewise, lower forks are a necessity for calf-roping and other events that require the rider to make quick dismounts. Roping saddles generally have a shorter, broader horn as this design is stronger and less likely to break off when tying a steer. Shorter horns are also associated with events that dictate a lower head set, such as reining, pleasure and equitation classes. A shorter horn is less likely to interfere with the rider's hand placement and use of the reins.

Amenities such as a padded or suede-covered seat and the shape of the skirts may seem to be solely a matter of personal preference, but these features can also be influenced by discipline. Saddles that are designed for activities like ranching, where the rider spends many hours in the saddle, often offer models with padded seats to enhance the rider's comfort. Likewise, suede is much less slippery than leather, so suede seats are the standard for saddles designed for events such as equitation, roping, and barrel racing.

A more rounded skirt shape is often seen on barrel, endurance and Arabian saddles, but for slightly different reasons. In barrel racing, the horse must make fast, tight turns at high speeds. On some horses, a square skirt can dig into the horse's flank or interfere with his hip action as he bends to go around the barrel. Likewise, a similar problem can occur with short-backed horses such as Arabians. In the case of endurance saddles, a rounded skirt requires less leather. This reduces the total weight of the saddle, which helps reduce the horse's level of fatigue in competitive and endurance trail riding.

So let's take a look at the common attributes of various types of western saddles:

While the double-rigged design puts the rider slightly behind the horse's center of gravity, it does provide greater security. Likewise, the farther forward the girth sits, the more pressure is applied over the horse's withers and shoulders where the horse is better able to support weight down through his shoulders and withers to his front legs. The farther back the girth sits, the greater the pressure that is applied to the horse's back. Today, some models of western saddles offer 3-way rigging which allows the rider to switch between the full, 7/8 and 5/8 positions.

Cinch position is not the only rigging option offered. In modern western saddles, the front rigging can be attached to the saddle in different ways depending upon the purpose for which the saddle is intended. Ring plating, the strongest method of attachment, uses large metal rings that are fastened onto the saddle tree with leather straps. This is the strongest method for attaching the rigging, but it creates more bulk under the saddle fender.

The flat plate method of rigging is less bulky than the ring design, although it is not considered quite as strong. In this type of attachment, leather is riveted around a flat metal plate which is then attached directly to the saddle tree.



Rigging refers to where and how the cinch strap is attached to the saddle. The earliest of western saddles only had one cinch located directly under the forks. This proved problematic as the saddle was prone to tip up when working with cattle or navigating the rough terrain of the untamed west.

During the 1800's, some saddle makers began placing the rigging halfway between the cantle and the forks. This center-fire position placed the rider directly over the horse's center of gravity. This design also allowed the horse a greater range of motion in the shoulder area. However, center-fire rigging enabled the saddle to slide forward from the stress placed upon the saddle when roping cattle.

Today, most western saddles are double-rigged, meaning they have accommodations for both a cinch and a flank strap. The addition of the flank strap greatly increased the saddle's stability and allowed the cinch to again be placed under the forks for greater security. This saddle design became known as full double-rigged.

In addition to full rigging, western saddles can also be manufactured in three intermediate rigging positions referred to as 7/8, 3/4 and 5/8. These fractions indication the position of girth attachment as measured from the cantle to the forks. Therefore, 3/4 rigging places the girth at three-quarters of the distance from the cantle to the fork, while 7/8 rigging is seven-eighths of the distance.

Endurance saddles are built to be lightweight and comfortable. They have small rounded skirts with a multitude of tie-straps and d-rings for securing gear. Most models don't have horns and some offer center-fire rigging options.