Tell me all about Western saddles

I am interested in getting a western saddle for my 15.2 hand TB, but I have only ridden western for a week at a dude ranch 10 years ago. All other riding experience is English. I just want something to ride around comfortably on at home; I’m not interested in competition.

What kind of western saddle would you recommend and why, and what about fitting my horse? I don’t really want to spend a lot, but I don’t want a cheap piece of crap either. What about accessories - saddle pad, cinch? What else do I need to know? Thanks in advance for the advice!

If I were in your shoes (boots?) I’d try to sit in as many western saddles as possible so you can determine what feels best. Some western saddles designed primarily for trail riding come with a deep seat and high cantle. As someone who, like you, comes from riding huntseat for decades, I found that I couldn’t tolerate that position. I felt too confined and locked in. Instead, I tend to prefer riding in one made for reining (my work saddle) or what’s called an “all around” saddle (my show saddle).

Since you’re mostly cruising around at home, you might want to investigate synthetic saddles, or ones that are a combo of synthetic and leather. The better brands seem to last a long time and are lightweight. They’re not my thing, but one of my friends rides almost daily in one and swears by hers.

Western saddle trees and gullets can be confusing. I am still confused by them and their measurements because they aren’t standardized. I would imagine that your TB would not need “full quarter horse bars”.

My one word of caution when buying a used saddle: Always check the tree for cracks and breaks before paying. There’s a way to upend the saddle/turn it over, flip back the stirrup fenders, and look at the tree in the most likely area for breaks. I really had no idea how often trees can crack or outright snap, more often in some brands than others. But now I know. Through experience. Ugly, stressful, experience.

As for pads and cinches… Each one of those topics could be an entire thread.

I’m sure you’ll get plenty of advice and tips, because the western riders on COTH have a variety of backgrounds, which is great! :laughing:

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There is a lot to find out by ‘googling’ and checking out YouTube.

My English saddles need repairs, and I recently bought an ‘old-fashioned’ Morgan mare (14.3 hands and WIDE). I HAD a synthetic western saddle, but it didn’t fit her, and she Let Me Know It Didn’t. I read (online) and watched numerous videos to figure out how to measure her and get her what she needed.

That said, I ended up buying a 1979 TexTan Hereford saddle (has serial numbers showing model on the stirrup–made in December of that year), full Quarter Horse bars size. It is heavy but one of those older, well-made leather saddles. My mare loves the fit. That being said, even with a (possibly tall/taller) TB, you might need something narrower.

There are lots of western saddle styles available—cutting, roping, etc. I think you need to find something that you feel comfortable in. Mine is more of a trail saddle/all around type but there is no requirement to buy one. Just buy one that feels good to you and fits your horse.

I found my saddle on craigslist (local) for $400. Its sellers used to own and show Paint horses, so the fit worked for my mare. I sacrificed 1/2" for my butt, but it works. (Again, YouTube videos help.) My mare is short-backed, so it was important to get the right length in the skirt (see videos, again).

You may prefer a newer, synthetic saddle, but the good ones/brands ARE expensive. I lucked out by buying a quality made, OLDER saddle in GREAT condition. Saddle pads are what you want–I have a mid-range one that my cousin gave me. I opted to buy a second billet girth/cinch (usually needed if you do Actual cow work) simply because my mare bucked me off once, and I want to be sure my saddle stays put (paranoid me, she is much MUCH better). The main girth/cinch is what you want—to my inexperienced eye, I see very little difference in them, but someone else may have a more informed opinion on them. I have a simple western bridle/western snaffle that I bought at Tractor Supply. I use no tie downs, no breast collars, etc. I would not hesitate to use my English bridle, either, if I was just ‘putzing’ around, but the western bit was on major markdown/clearance at the time I was looking, so…

There are a heck of a lot more people more knowledgeable than I that may be able to help you here. I had not ridden western in 45 years. I still prefer trail riding in an English saddle, but this older, quality western saddle has been a surprisingly good substitute.

The Different Types of Western Saddles and their Purpose - saddleupcolorado

Good luck!

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Thank you @Paint_Party and @RHdobes563 - very helpful information from both of you! I did some googling before I posted and it was all so overwhelming I thought I would come here for some advice before going back to google.

I am sure that the full quarter horse bars won’t work for my horse, and it’s confusing to me how to figure out from some saddle listings what Island quarter horse bars and what is not.

Anyway, you’ve both given me good information that I will use to continue my search, and I will check back to see if I get any more responses. Thanks again to both of you!

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Traditional leather western saddles are heavy. Then you have the leather/ cordura combo which are lighter and then full synthetic which are pretty light.

Fitting poses the same issues as with an english saddle. You may get the width right but it may not fit correctly along the spine it just takes trial and error and using the templates/ tracing helps can make it easier.

I currently have a Lady Fabtron Trail saddle. It is a leather/ cordura combo and I bought it used on eBay and it fits my horse well and I find it puts me in a good position. I like it much better than the Abetta I had previously.

Sometimes we get lucky.

When I was first looking for a western saddle I was overwhelmed by what was online. I ended up making an appointment with their saddle expert and hauling my horse to the local tack store. They brought out a large array of saddles to try on him. Fit varied widely between different manufacturers. Once I found one that fit my horse (a Martin all leather saddle that weighs a ton but is so comfortable) we took it back inside and I sat on it on one of their saddle stands.

Over the years I’ve learned which makers fit my horses best, and have successfully bought a few sight unseen. But last year I took my new horse back to the tack store and went through the exercise again since he doesn’t have much in the withers department and I didn’t feel like my saddles fit him well.

I’ve tried synthetic saddles in the past but never liked them. I guess I’m too traditional to go that route.

Something not mentioned are the ways western seats are built! Men’s saddles may not suit women with the wider, flatter seat of roping or cutting saddles. Men can be VERY unhappy riding “ladies” saddles with a narrow twist where the stirrups hang from. And I am going to say neither will be something “you wIll get used to” after riding in it for (days or months) awhile.

Something else to consider, is the style of cantle (seat back) behind your rump. Many new saddles are built with high cantles. This style is very popular with barrel racers to hold them in place with their explosive takeoffs. Some folks feel more secure with the high back. I do see people wanting bigger seat saddles when they have high backs. I don’t think people can move as much to be comfortable on long rides, with the high cantle holding them in.

The lower cantles with the Cheyenne roll, are my preferred style on a saddle. You do not have to swing leg as high to clear the cantle getting on or off. The lower cantle height seems to allow you easier shifting, movement during a ride, to stay comfortable. I do move around while riding, eases me and the horse, while still riding in balance, especially on long all day rides. I don’t ride a big seat, still not bulging up over the cantle edges. So in my experience, you can go with a smallet seat size when using the lower cantle. I am totally amazed at the slender people who ride in 16" seats! They insist that a 15" is much too small, not comfortable. I see them behind their feet, not in alignment, leaning forward. Sure LOOKS uncomfortable!

A point worth mentioning, is the synthetic saddle trees do break much easier than the heavier, wooden tres on older saddles. My saddle repair person replaces a LOT of the broken synthetic trees in ALL brands of saddles, cheap and expensive. Does not recommend any purchase of synthetic trees. Yes they are lighter, but will not take abuse, fracture with little stress on them.

Semi Quarter Horse bars are nice for the less muscular, non-QH types of western stock horse bodies. Were very common in older saddles. Do watch for enough wither clearance on modern horses. Older breeding often had lower withers on western horses then.

I do use a breast collar with my Western saddles, every ride. Helps saddle stay in place better. This is both for roping, uphill riding, performance takoffs, if the cinch comes loose! Saddle can only slide sideways a little, before the Y-shape breast collar stops slide with tight strap to the girth. So while you look like a rookie hanging sideways, saddle and you are not down between horses hooves! Horse may still react with you sideways, but you are more likely to get out of saddle, then off the horse, without much trouble.

54 pounds is the leather western saddle we had made to fit our wide body Morgan mare, her Wintec synthetic saddle that was used for competitive trail weighted just under 17 pounds

She preferred the Wintec but knew her job when the leather saddle was used

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I’m a dressage rider gone to the “dark side”. Save your money and get a good one. There is a huge difference. You are better off getting a handmade western saddle used then then something new. I would suggest googling Rod and Denise Nichols saddle blogs and looking through them. They’ll tell you how to fit you and your horse. Also, there are several good groups on Facebook. One is the Truth about Western Saddle Fit. You can post some questions there. There are a lot of manufactured saddles out there that look pretty but won’t do your horses back or your butt any justice. It really depends if you’re going to just play around or if you really want to ride. Plus, different types of saddles are made for different types of riding. I ride a wade saddle which puts me in more of a dressage position. It’s a hard seat with a small padded patch but it’s more comfortable to me than any dressage saddle I’ve ever sat in. If you want to go production you can try looking at the McCalls. They make a semi quarter horse wade lite and wade trail that with the right pad would probably fit your thoroughbred.

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I used to have a Lady Fabron Trail saddle. Overall, it was a nice saddle for the price, but it had three problems. First, it was too tight across my horse’s withers and made a white spot where it pinched. Second, my knees always hurt after riding for more than an hour or so. And last, the felt cinch that came with the saddle galled my horse. I sold the Fabtron saddle when I bought my custom saddle.

Now I have a Steele trail saddle that fits my horse perfectly, and my knees never, never, never hurt, even after riding for hours. Steele will send a demo saddle to ride for a couple of weeks. And if you decide to buy, they have you send pictures so they can get the fit right for both horse and rider.

As for accessories–I use a mohair/alpaca blend cinch and the saddle pad that came with the saddle. The pad has a fleece back and it’s comfortable for my horse, but when it wears out I’ll most likely buy a 5 Star felt pad.

If you’re just riding around at home you may not need a back cinch or breast collar, and those can always be added later.

The gullet width and it pinching is not a unique problem but sadly an issue with any saddle brand that doesn’t fit the horse. Many of us have to search for the girth that our horses do best with. Thankfully I keep most every girth I have ever bought so I had many styles, kinds and sizes to get it right.

I added stirrup turners as I do to all my non english saddles. My knees are fine but cannot take the pressure on western fenders. No matter if it is leather or synthetic.

I am glad you found a saddle that works. I am just glad I got lucky on this try.

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I think finding a good saddle is similar to finding good shoes–what works for one person won’t necessarily work for someone else. And a good saddle needs to fit not only the horse but also the rider, which makes finding the perfect saddle more difficult. I think the Fabtron Lady Trail is a very good economical saddle for most people and most horses. It certainly sold in a hurry when I advertised it.


I appreciate everyone’s input - I am slowly working my way through the posts!

I had the same experience with my Abetta. Nothing at all wrong with it in any way but it was not the best match for my 2. It sold quickly. My daughter has one and both she and her horse are 100% happy.

As it should be!!

I don’t know what your budget is but Continental Saddlery (made here in the US by hand) will do free trials - you fill out a questionnaire, they follow up with more specifics on the phone to determine which demo you might like, and send you a saddle to try. We did this and ordered my daughter’s show saddle from them, and she liked the demo so much we sold her work saddle and purchased the demo. Beautifully made and very comfortable.

I love my Bobs saddle. It fits my narrow Arabian very well and is very comfortable for me. They are expensive new however much more reasonable used.

If you have a tack shop nearby take a cardboard wither tracing and see what type of saddles might work.