Help me understand western saddle types

This seems like such a ridiculous question but bear with me :laughing: can you help me understand the differences between the types of saddles out there? For example, I understand what reining and cutting, etc is but what are the trademark differences between those types of saddles?

I’m a huntseat re-rider who is considering purchasing a western saddle that would allow for an all-around type ride, but which kind might make for the most comfortable transition for me? I’m overwhelmed by all of the options and looking for some pointers on how to narrow down my search. Thanks!

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Here is some info that might be helpful.


Wow that’s a great link! Thanks for the tip :blush:

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Those are some good basic differences, but not all agree on some, like in reining and training a very low front?

Especially reining, you can use a more substantial front when stopping at the higher performance levels.
Some have been known to almost sail right over the horse’s neck riding some horses that really slide to a stop.
A bit more swells and built up seat in front helps keep you in the middle.

There is an old discipline taking off lately, working cow horse, that definitely requires that bit higher front and horn, although not as much as straight cutting does.

A new western event today are versatility ranch classes, where you may use any saddle, but preferences are for more plain, workmanlike, less show type ones.
For that some of the more finished ranch saddles are working well.

For a newbie learning any western disciplines, as in any other we do with horses, is best to find a suitable trainer and let them show you the basics.
There we can try different saddles before buying one, best not knowing what will fit us, for what we want to accomplish.

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Thank you Bluey! Appreciate the info.

A western saddle doesn’t always have to be bulky. I rode this M1917 skeleton rigged packer saddle several times and it’s ridiculously comfortable. I didn’t really trust the 100+ year old quarter straps and rusty rings so I recently did some restoration. It will be my go-to for trail riding.

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@Bombproof that saddle is completely unsuitable for what the OP is talking about. Cool saddle, though.

@SkipHiLad4me you probably want a fairly flat reining saddle. You need to be able to stay flat and out of the way of the horse - especially as an English rider moving into all around territory. (Welcome, we’re a pretty nice crowd. :wink: ) Essentially, you’re looking for a western saddle that doesn’t throw you too far off from how you sit and move in your English saddle - my only caveat is if you’re going to be showing the pleasure; then you’ll want a work saddle that matches your western show saddle. It’s a little bizarre but - like different english saddles have slightly different twists and saddles of the same size can feel very different underneath you, the same is true with western saddles. The two big show saddle makers - Harris and Blue Ribbon - feel VERY different. I won’t ride in a BR, but I love my Harris. I know plenty of people with the same opinion and plenty with the opposite. :rofl:

Obviously no barrel saddles, as that will put you way too deep in your seat. I’d stay away from general trail saddles. Cutting saddles CAN be okay if they’re not too deep, but I hate the high horn on them personally. “Training” saddles are basically just reining saddles with more D rings to attach training tools (side reins, etc) to.

If you can find a used Bob’s those tend to be very nice saddles. You may be able to find a deal on a used Miguel Aguilar - his saddles are very comparable to BR/Harris. BR/Harris are ridiculously expensive, even used. I do recommend getting a nice used saddle over a cheaper new saddle (for example, I bought a used Pards for $850 last year… I could’ve gotten a new training saddle for roughly $650)… because western saddles are a PAIN to break in. They squeak, they’re stiff, and they definitely don’t come ready to use like some of the nicer leather used in English saddles.

As a last tip, I recommend trying to sit in whatever you do go buy, because for whatever reason - some sit bulkier in the seat than others. For me anyway, it’s super uncomfortable to have such a wide base on my seat bones when I’m used to an equitation saddle with a very thin twist. It may not bother others, but it’s my recommendation.

Good luck!

Thank you so much for that explanation! It definitely helps to know what types of saddle I should steer away from to get the type of ride I’m looking for. I definitely want something that gives me more of a close contact feel without all the bulk between me and my horse.

I have 2 western saddles that I have no clue what type of saddles they are. I should get pics to post to see if y’all can help me figure it out. One is a 15.5” seat I think (brand escapes me at the moment) but it’s just too big for me (and omg heavy!) although it seems to fit my horse. The other is an early 90s model Simco that I’ve had since I was a kid. It’s a 15” and it’s always been so comfortable for me! I actually had not tried it on my beefy QH because I assumed it did not fit him…but I tried it last week and amazingly it appears that it does, as long as I stick with a 3/4in type pad and avoid the thicker pads. I was prepared to search for a new saddle (and I still may need to) which prompted my original post. I’m sort of starting over on riding this horse, as he and I both have taken a long break from riding, so I want us to get off on the right foot with tack we both feel good in and not feel like we’re struggling to be comfortable in hand-me-down clothes.

McClellan saddle with added horn. Interesting.
Kinda like adding a horn and fenders to an Australian saddle.

Find a saddle shop local to you and sit in a BUNCH of saddles. Find what feels comfortable to you before deciding what to go with if you don’t have a discipline in mind. I do ranch versatility and could show in anything. I use a ranch roper with a Will James style tree because I like the deep pocket and the ability to rope and drag just about anything I would ever need to. A ranch cutter on the same tree (just not as beefed up with rawhide and a slightly narrower bar) would suit my body shape just as well, but wouldn’t offer as much on the roping side of things. I do not find the shape of a reining seat comfortable, while they are deep, the rise at the front doesn’t agree with me. I find cutters too flat and too narrow for my hips. Barrel saddles come in many different seat shapes and some fit me fine, while some place my leg too far forward and I’m constantly fighting to keep them underneath me. Additionally, I find the tall horn gets in the way while I’m riding. Roping saddles are hit or miss, I prefer a higher cantle and most don’t offer that, I’m not particular about swells. Sit in both hard and padded seats. Don’t knock the hard seat until you try it. Most think it’s uncomfortable and won’t ever give it a shot, but I’m several years in to hard seat saddles and padding is actually less comfortable. Do everything from team sorting to hours and hours of trails in my hard seat saddles and I do not get sore. I’ll get sore in a padded seat after an hour or so. Give the hard seats a chance even if you think you won’t like it.

Sit in everything you can, it should be comfortable before you even consider buying it. Don’t fall for the ‘it’ll feel better once I get it broken in’ that doesn’t work. If it pinches or puts pressure somewhere you don’t like, that won’t change. Take your horse with you to be fitted if you can, western saddles are a little tougher to fit on your own. I work for a saddlery and try to sit in EVERY single saddle that comes through our doors, new or used. The more you sit in, the better your feel will get and you’ll know pretty quick what fits you and what doesn’t. After you consider disciplines, consider what you might grow in to and get a saddle to accommodate. If you think you’ll throw a rope at some point, don’t get a barrel saddle or cutter, they can’t handle roping. Trail saddles are a great all around saddle, some may be able to handle a rope or two, some can’t.

As for differences in type -
Ropers - will be stouter built, heavier, and made to take a beating. Any seat shape can be found. You’ll see all sorts of horns on them, but the bigger the stronger they tend to be. Swells differ on these as well. There are many types of roping and a saddle for each type. Sub type Wade trees or slick fork saddles (big horn, no swell. Popular buckaroo saddle, often used by working cowboys) They’ll come in hard or padded seats, slick or roughout leather, the latter being more common.

Cutters - High swells, tall and thin horn, and flat seat. Bars will have a sharper twist to them to help the rider grip better through quick changes in direction, feels narrower to the rider, not great for those with wide hips. Most tend to have a lower cantle and be a hard, slick seat. You will find padded seats and roughout cutters too though.

Barrel - High swell, tall and thin horn, deep seat, forward hung rigging, and a tall cantle. These are meant to hold you in and will typically have a padded seat and be roughout. There are, or course, exceptions.

Trail - Heavily padded, slick typically, taller horn (but thicker than barrel or cutting), mid height cantle, swells vary from average to slick fork. These will almost always have strings or d rings all over the place for tying on saddle bags and whatever else you need to pack. Popular choice among pleasure riders/weekend warriors.

Pleasure/Show - BLING. All the silver. They come in just about any shape, not typically used as an all around type.

Plantation - These aren’t necessarily ‘western’ but have horns so let’s roll with it. They are typically advertised for the gaited horses and have an extra flair on the bars at the shoulder for ‘enhanced’ gaiting and shoulder movement. They will often look like stripped down (minimal leather, skirts, etc.) trail saddles. Padded and slick typically.

There are many more, but go check out a store with a ton of saddles. Sit in stuff. Nobody else can tell you what will fit you. Let your butt decide.