The Different Types of Western Saddles and their Purpose

Posted by Lynnsy Johnson - Saddle Up on Jan 16th 2020

The horse world is filled with many different types of saddles, disciplines, and riding styles. Each person rides differently and finds certain saddles more comfortable than others. You also have to take into consideration what type of riding you are participating in. Are you roping, ranching, barrel racing, or just trail riding? Each discipline has specific needs for what saddle to use. Let's discuss the different types of western saddles and their purpose!

1. All Around Saddles 

All-around saddles live up to their name. They are one of the most versatile saddles out there and can be used in just about every discipline. They are designed for anything! You can use an all-around saddle for ranching, roping, barrel racing, trail riding, and more. These saddles have a strong and stout horn so you are able to rope out of them or even drag cows with it. It is also equipped with a sturdy tree, which allows it to handle the pressure of roping. It has a close contact skirt, which promotes/helps leg cues. They also tend to have a flat seat, but with a nice pocket to grip you in during speed events. It typically has a reinforced rigging to hold up while roping or dragging. The horn is taller to allow a nice hand hold, however it is a bit thicker because of the roping factor. This a popular choice for people doing multiple things on their horse. 

2. Barrel Saddles 

Barrel saddles are used for the event of Barrel Racing. They have a deep seat to grip the rider in during those sharp, fast turns. They also have a tall horn for a good grip and a taller pommel to secure the rider. A barrel saddle also has a higher cantle to allow more security while going around a turn. Barrel saddles are made to be lighter and more compact so that it doesn't add a whole bunch of weight onto the horse. The less weight, the faster you can go is the idea. With that being said, the skirts are generally much shorter and most of the time they are rounded. They also typically have an in skirt rigging. The main job of a barrel saddle is to be light weight and keep the rider snug in the saddle. You can also trail ride out of barrel saddles, but you can not rope out of them. The horn is not sturdy enough and will break if you tried roping or dragging out of it. 

3. Cutting Saddles 

The purpose of a cutting saddle is to keep the rider balanced all while staying out of the horse's way. These saddles allow for a lot of movement so that the rider can really let the horse do its job. They have a low cantle, high pommel, and a thin, tall horn. There is a slight rise in the seat, closer to the pommel, but overall it is a flat seat. Cutting saddles typically have longer, square skirts. Sometimes they even have a double skirt. The tall, thin horn aids in balancing the rider and gives a good hand grip. The flat seat allows the rider full mobility and the low cantle's purpose is so the seat isn't digging into the rider's back. You can use a cutting saddle for team penning, sorting, and cutting competitions. You can not rope out of a cutting saddle. 

4. Mounted Shooting Saddles 

Mounted shooting saddles are similar to barrel racing saddles. They are lightweight and have a close contact skirt to promote leg cues. They also have a low horn and swell that are tilted forward. The reason for the tilt is so that the riders can change their guns easier. If the horn and swell are not tilted and placed lower, they could hit the horn when switching guns during a competition. This can cause damage to the horn over time, however a lot of mounted shooters choose to use barrel saddles. Mounted shooting saddles also feature free swinging fenders to allow more movement. They also have a deep seat and sit the rider snug in the saddles. You can't rope out a mounted shooting saddle. 

5. Ranch Cutting Saddles 

These saddles are designed for versatility in the ranching world. You can use them for trail riding, arena work, or ranch work. They feature a strong horn for roping and a narrow seat for all day comfort. The ranch cutting saddles aid in comfort and allows a rider to do multiple jobs. You can use these saddles for cutting competitions or other events. They tend to be heavier saddles and still have the longer, square skirts. They are made more durable so that you can do some roping out of them. They have a taller horn and pommel, similar to the cutting saddles. The horn is a bit thicker to rope with. The cantle is still lower and the seat if flat with a slight rise near the pommel. 

6. Ranch Saddles 

Ranch saddles are typically big, heavy, and feature lots of leather. They have sturdy horns and trees for rigorous, everyday ranch work. They have a high cantle for comfort and security. The horn is stout for roping or dragging. Ranch saddles are very functional and serve their purpose well. Most of the ranch saddles have a hard slick or rough out seat. Depending on the saddle, they can also have saddle strings attached to allow the rider to carry equipment or essentials with them during a work day. They can also be in a wade style. A wade saddle has a short, thick horn and no swells. It is a very popular choice among cowboys and ranchers. 

7. Reining Saddles 

Reining saddles work in easing the rider's movements for success in maneuvers. They have close contact skirts to enhance leg cues. Reining saddles also have a lower horn and pommel for easy rein movement. They also have a flatter seat for hip movement. Typically the skirts are longer on these saddles and they have show type silver on them to impress judges. They sit the rider in a pocket so that during maneuvers, you can get your legs in front of you and be able to sit deep in the saddle. You can not rope out of a reining saddle. 

8. Roping Saddles

These saddles are designed to handle pressure. They are built on sturdy trees and typically have reinforced rigging to prevent any breaks/rips. Roping saddles have a nice pocket seat for good positioning, but a lower cantle to allow easy dismount. They also have a thicker horn to dally off of. These saddles typically have a longer skirt or a double skirt. They do tend to be on the heavy side. These saddles give riders the freedom to move while roping so that it does not interfere with any aspects of their run. These saddles are very durable and have deep stirrups to allow the rider to brace against them. 

9. Show Saddles 

Show saddles are equipped with an equitation style seat. They have detailed tooling, lots of silver, and close contact skirts to enhance leg cues. These saddles are made to be flashy and stand out. They have a very short and thick horn. They also have very long skirts and most of the time have a double skirt. The purpose is to be eye-catching and to have a balanced seat. The riders aim to be in perfect position while riding. The seats have a nice pocket which helps them achieve this.  They have a lower pommel and horn for better cues and rein movement. These saddles are on the heavier side and have a lot of leather. They are more expensive with all the details included. You can not rope out of a show saddle. 

10. Trail/Pleasure Saddle 

Trail saddles are made to be lightweight. They most commonly have round, short skirts. Trail saddles also have padded seats or sometimes even gel seats for comfort. They are not designed for roping or heavy ranch work. They have a higher cantle for protection or sometimes they have a low cantle for more comfort. There are many different options and variations for trail saddles. Trail saddles often come with saddle strings or the ability to install them so that you can tie equipment on for your trail ride. They have thinner horns with a shorter pommel. They aren't quite as tall as a barrel saddle, but they do resemble them in ways. A lot of trail saddles like the shorter horn or even prefer no horn to avoid getting hit in the stomach when going up and down trails. 

Thank you so much for checking out this weeks blog! We hope it gives you some insight to picking your perfect saddle. If you have any questions give us a call or stop by the shop! Have a great week and we will "rope you in" you next time! 

(all pictures are saddles that we have in our shop)