Saddle Types

How do I choose a saddle, the right saddle, that I need?

Hello Friends, 

I wish I had all day to write. There have been so many questions concerning which type of saddle is best. I am attempting to give you a quality synopsis. At the rate of writing I have available, it may take a while to finish. I usually like to have my grammar checked and words correct, before they hit the Internet, but, perhaps I can answer some of your questions  now, rather than waiting for the entire article. Come often for updates. Thanks and God Bless, Chuck

Why so many Saddle Types?

No matter which type, better saddles allow better riding. Better riding is achieved by the higher quality of the materials, and by the more time-consuming craftsmanship that are used to make your riding accomplishments workable. For instance, an experienced rider knows that by shifting the bones of your seat, and using slight leg aids, your horse can be signaled to turn, or slow, or speed before applying pressures from the bit. A more supple leather, or a thinner leather will allow closer contact to enable a better “feel” for your horse. But, it helps if the stirrups are hung properly, the rigging is made for your particular sport, the seat is ground properly, and a hundred other details are done right. Just because a saddler is good in one area of horsemanship, does not mean they are good at every saddle type. 

Just because a saddle works well for one riding discipline does not mean it is best for others. So just like I use one color lure for murky waters and another in clear waters, to catch the same type Bass fish, you can diversify your saddle portfolio, and experience so much more fun. I have learned that with horses that are cross trained, often, the change of bit and saddle will signal to them, what they should be doing. I hear a lot of bragging among Arabs, Appys and Paints, about what all classes they can compete within. This is true for all versatility horses. Expand your horizons! Riding different saddles in different riding persuasions will better your balance, and your relationship with your horse. (Once you get the hang of what you're supposed to do.)

More supple leathers or thinner leathers do not necessarily mean weaker leathers, or they might. Know your saddle expectations, and buy accordingly. Light weight, close contact saddles are not designed to save on the costs of wood and leather.  Nor are they designed to impress a beginning instructor who sees advanced riders using them in an arena. The fibers should be the best, to hold under stress, while allowing you to better feel your horse. As you continue riding, and develop more skills of balance and method, this contact becomes more important. You and your horse become more fine tuned into each other. (Rides are better.) Sometimes, a beginner finds it advantageous to use equipment that will not signal a well-trained horse so easily. All kinds of contact, while learning to balance in the seat, is confusing to the advanced horse. 

The strongest leathers, (smaller proportion of a hide and costing more) are cut from the prime areas of the shoulders. As a saddler, you can make any leather more supple by lots of labor in hand rubbing PH balanced conditioners, (adds life to the leather, but costs more) into the fibers of those leathers. Or you can use a select thinner leather from that shoulder area that will actually have more strength than thicker leathers from the side. Or, you can use less expensive, stretchy, belly leathers (the more you oil these, the further they stretch out of shape, but they are soft). Or you can chemically wash out the life of the leather, just like acid washing jeans. Supple, or close contact designs can be desired for easier riding. Still, close contact is only one important aspect of choosing a saddle. The advantages and disadvantages of this one feature is why it is good to read and compare articles like this one! Review thought: whether or not, and how much contact you need with your steed.

When determining the saddle that is best for you, or your student, or your new spouse, remember that as skill levels increase, and desires to try new riding styles increase, the needs of the equipment may change. Keep this in mind and with this in mind, know that better saddles hold their values longer. 

Changes may mean that you need more than one type of saddle for the same horse. A golf enthusiast certainly uses more than one club. You will enjoy the art and the entertainment of horsemanship more fully, with the proper equipment. Make choices on immediate needs. Buy the best that you can afford. It seems like more riders tend to collect saddles, rather than trade them. Even so, the trade in allowances of better saddles are much more than cheaper ones. As dealers, the percentage of profit built into the sales price lessens as the price of the saddle increases, (unless you account for special peculiarities, such as paying extra for pink leather with purple polky-dots). When well cared for, over time, this profit margin is often the only depreciation a saddle receives. Certain handmade saddles have a tendency to become more valuable than the initial cost, between the ages of five to twelve years down the road. Or, when a famous saddler dies. Handmade saddles and chaps are an art form. Proper care and maintenance will ensure your investment. And so will insurance. Normally you need a “rider” for specialized cameras, electronics, and horse equipment. Use your camera and take pictures of your tack & saddles. You will need them for proof of insurance liability by your carrier. 

(I was asked for more detail on this subject:    For you, this means the resale price will be more in better saddles. Still, just like a car, once used, you lose the "profit" that the dealer made. And the warrantee on most saddles is to the original purchaser only. (The dealer made a profit for making sure you got a bargain anyway, on the right saddle for you, at the right timing for you. And, used many years of their experience, and hours of work behind the scenes, to get your saddle right. And people see a value with a warrantee.) The better saddles, as said before, have less profit margin % than cheaper saddles. Still, if you are buying a moderate saddle for $ 750.00, (from Cultured Cowboy), if in good shape at trade in 2 or years, it will return about $450.00 in 5 years about $375.00. If you are buying a better saddle for $1700.00 (CC Price), you can expect it to return about $1200.00 in 2 years, in 5 years about $1000.00.  None of these amounts are going to break your bank. But it is interesting to know. And, a well tooled piece of art kind of saddle will usually start appreciating back upward after 3 years. Often more than the original price after 5 years. So balance your needs with the costs associated.) 

Saddles as Decorum: If you invest in a saddle that has artistic value, such as rarity, handtooling that is outstanding, silversmith work, or has sentimental value, like your grandfather's McClellan, get a really nice, furniture grade stand and put your saddle on display in your den or office. This is done all the time with expensive saddles, boots, holsters, and chaps. Using gear, used for decoration will force you to keep it cleaner and conditioned. This will keep mice, mites, and moths from "eating your lunch". This will create great conversation among visitors. (My Mother-in-Law once asked my wife, before we married, and divorced, if she thought she was going to get rid of all that "Cowboy" in every corner of my living space!)

 ...And now, some of the saddle types:

Barrel Racers make good lightweight saddles for short pleasure rides, as well as for eventing in a variety of games. A rather high back and deep seat are two of the more prominent features of this saddle type. This seat is developed to keep a rider in the pocket on take-off and sudden stops. Staying in the pocket means to remain secure in the deepest part of the saddle seat. A deeper seat helps you to maintain control of your balance and therefore helping the horse to move fluently. This seat design can provide comfort in supporting the lower back of the rider. For many women and men who have a back issue, a deep seat is more comfortable.

The stirrup leathers and fenders are usually thinned and strong in order to allow a rider much freedom in the motion of the legs. Whereas a track racing saddle is designed for the ultimate speed, the rider sits on top of the back of his mount, these Western games have twists and turns. Many times the race is won on those tricky movements. So a secure seat can be as important as ultimate speed.

Barrel racers have been known to lean into the prominent horn to keep from being jostled on a stop or start. Even good riders sometimes find a horse that has a lot of power. Younger and beginning gymkhana riders will appreciate having a saddle designed to help them stabilize their arm. A rawhide braided horn is used to help grip as well as for good looks. (Yes, we should all be discouraged from depending on a horn for hanging onto the horse. – That's another article.)

If you prefer a more than a modicum of security, you can choose a model that has suede covered jockeys and seat, or a fully rough-out one-piece seat and jockey. In either of the suede or rough-out finishes, your pants tend to stick to the knappy fibers of the leather for grip. Suede-covered almost always means padded. The one-piece rough-out design will not be padded, allowing you to have an excellent feel of the horse. You sit closer to your horse. One piece “hard” seats are made to allow your weight to be distributed over the entire saddle block area of your body. This is from the inside of one knee, through the entire crotch, and continuing on to the other knee. No seams at the jockeys and the security of rough-side-out top grain leathers allow some fancy staying power. (Then again, some saddlers will install a bicycle seat for padding just under your seat bones, and so that there is no seam or padding in the forward way of your seat.)

Padded jockeys that are covered with suede gained popularity in the late 60’s and early seventies. Lead was often used to help tan saddle leathers at that time. The leather was like "iron" and padding kept your thighs from chaffing. As rider’s skills got better in general, the rider would progress to a saddle without the extra padding in the jockey. This padding works like knee rolls on an English saddle. It is comfortable to hold into. But, as the need for being closer to the feel of the horse develops, most riders will forgo that padding. Today, one of the most popular designs is to have a padded suede seat with rough-out fenders and jockeys. For “tender tushes”, this combination combines grip with contact. There are varieties of advanced seat foams from squishy, to firm, to NASA - mold to your form foams.

Barrel racers often have a swept-back front end. This design is to give you some security into which you can sink the front of your thigh (Southerners would say “sink your thigh into”, but this is a hanging preposition and an embarrassment to “cultured” cowboys). When turning close to barrels or poles, and if you need to “lift” an inside leg, the outside swept fork is handy for stabilizing your body.  In pleasure riding, the swept-back forks can support against the decline of a steep hill. This alleviates the need to grab the saddle with your hand. As rider skills develop, most racers prefer to have a front end that is more straight. As balance is acquired, there is less need for the supports to help hold you.  However, as I have gotten some older, I think about reusing some of these features. That ground seems to have gotten harder in the past ten years.

The skirts of a game saddle may be rounded or squared. It can be argued that a squared skirt is somewhat more stable than the rounded skirt models. However, the rounded skirts are designed for the least interference with the movement of your horse. On a short-coupled animal, rounding the skirts can prevent some interference in the flank area. Most barrel racers are cut shorter in the skirts width, than other pleasure saddle types. Seldom will either the round or square skirt interfere with the movement of your equine.

Skirts can be lined with wool felt, synthetic fleece, or real sheepskin. Wool felt wicks and is most dense, but will shift some, allowing some self adjustment in fitting your horse. Felt linings work best when you ride one saddle on one horse. The saddle breaks into that horse. Yes, you still need at least a woven blanket type padding with it! The blanket will absorb much of the moisture and keep your skirts from early rotting out, or stinking. Synthetic fleece comes in many varieties. The lower the price of the saddle, the lower the quality of that fleece. It can cost a saddler anywhere from $5.00 to $45.00 to line with synthetic fleece, depending on the grade. Fleece is judged more on density and the material used to produce it. Less satisfactory fleece will be made of acrylic carpet type materials, and the fibers short, and/or sparsely populated. Better fleece can be of Kodel type materials, or of Marino wool, and will have more density. This density allows better fit and function of your saddle. Fleece works by trapping air, like a good coat will do. Kind of like riding on a cushion of air, the sponginess of it works like a shock absorber for your horse's back. Good fleece is not "slick-as-glass" when you ride it. Wools even have a "holding" property to them. They stick better. (don't slip around as much) And sheepskin is fleece on the sheep leather. This gives another layer of leather for stability in the skirting, too. Some saddlers are getting upwards of $200 to line with quality sheepskin.   

Popular placement of the rigging can be either in-skirt, or ring connected to the tree by a yoke around the pommel. In-Skirt can be a single or double type piece of hardware. The barrel saddle will usually position the rigging in a 7/8 position. The 3-way, or double sectioned rigging hardware allows you to set at 7/8 in the forward position; or 3/4 in the rearward position, or to use both sections and be halfway between. This 3-way rigging is handy when you are riding several differently built horses. It allows you to better position your saddle to the build of the horse at hand. Or, if on a long ride and you want to change the girth position on your horse. 

Ring rigging is arguably stronger in the long term. Much easier to repair, if needed. And barrel saddles may have front and rear rings, or may have a front ring with a slot on the rear skirt for a flank set. Barrel saddles do not typically come with a flank set, but they are a nice addition, as your riding becomes more fine tuned. The rear flank does not take the pressures that the front cinch must take, so a slot is usually fine.

Cultured Cowboy has been placing a drop Bork rigging, like on the ranch saddles, or Wade saddles, on some of the Pro- Racers we build. This gives a close contact in-skirt plate type of rigging, hanging lower around the side of the horse for security. And can be done with a Bork plate, or a double position, 3-way hardware rig. This saves your skirts and stays out of the way of your leg movement too. 

Breast collar attachments on a barrel saddle are much advised. And dees under the conchos allow you to add or remove saddle strings as you prefer, according to the ride at hand. Taking them off for racing and putting them on for trails is often done. Some riders like a pommel dee and loop, like on a roping saddle, to easily hang a riding crop, or spare rope if used for breakaway roping, or a canteen/cell phone holder when trail riding. 

WE covered a lot of ground on the barrel saddle category. If you have all that memorized, you can breath a sigh of relief. Much of that discussion applies to all other saddles too. Saddles are like people we all have muscles, and bones, and tempers, but what we do with them varies with the surroundings.  

Trail Saddles. There is a category of saddle now referred as trail saddles. It is because with so many people enjoying the wilderness areas of our land, and using horses more for relaxation, than for sport, that these saddles have developed as a class. Within that class, are the racing type endurance saddles, the pleasure riding endurance saddles, (And often these two crossover.), the Australian type saddles and those saddles crossing the Aussie and American features. Perhaps others that have evolved, such as the Sil-Cush by BigHorn and others should be in their own category, but I'll put 'em inside one of the others. 

Endurance racing saddles have been designed for long races of 50 to 100 miles. These events take years of conditioning for both horse and rider. The "starters" are 25 miles. The saddles are built lightweight. There is no horn because it adds weight and bother. There will be a hole at the pommel that is easy to grip while mounting and dismounting. This is done a lot on the endurance course. The most competitive endurance saddles are designed much like the old McClellan military saddles. Lots of function, and not necessarily rider comfort.  Endurance racers are built to sit on top of the horse for the least possible interference. All materials are carefully selected to cut weight, and still be strong. No waste!     But endurance type pleasure trail saddles can come with all the creature comforts of other saddles if you like.

A center-fire rigging allows the girth to be positioned in many ways. This allows it to be moved to prevent soreness. Girths that began as braided horse tails for the 1800's army, (waste not-want not), are now blends of mohair, or neoprene.  Although many riders use a straight girth, a roper type wide center girth will distribute pressures better. This wider girth does weigh ounces more. Standard rigging may be placed at 3/4 or 7/8 position. And, some of the newer models allow either standard or center-fire strapping. The rear rings are angled. Nice touch. 

You can find a YouTube video with a couple ways to tie Center fire rigging. Closest contact is to place the tie onto the rear ring, out of your leg's way.  

[SIDEBAR: I have a mountain biking friend. He went with me to get a new bike. As I showed the model I thought best for me, and that I could afford, and that looked versatile, he began to explain why I might want one that ($1800.00 start) "bends" in the middle for going fast downhill curves without falling off the side of a mountain. The frame weighs just a mere few pounds. He showed me how the $300.00 gear set weighed 6.5 oz. less than my choice.  He showed the weight advantage, and muddy ride advantage of $400.00 disk brakes vs my rubber "squeeze-me" type. Clip into petals, rather than those "baskets" for your feet ($another $300.00 for special shoes and petals). And he taught me more than the shop guys. Boy - $3500.00 for a bicycle was starting to make sense for somebody riding almost every weekend. Then he asked how many times I would be racing this bike. I told him that I'd probably go out 2 to 4 times a year with him. Maybe a couple times with my dentist, Tommy. Then mostly just a short trip around town, in good weather, to save some gas, and get exercise. He looked me dead in the eyes. He said, "You picked the perfect bike for you, just like it is."  

I told him I just didn't want him getting to the top of a hill and having to wait on me to catch up all day. He told me that I'd be doing that no matter what I picked out, and laughed! Moral of the story - Pick your pony, and ride, according to the needs you deem important at this time. You can always trade up, down, or sideways. And, you cannot keep up with somebody who is conditioning all the time, (nor do you necessarily need to, to have a great time). - Enjoy!

PS: I did get the mountain bike I chose. ($395.00) I put a $20.00 shock on the seat. I put a $40.00 set of shocks on the frame for the tires. I put a $10.00 extension on the handlebars so I don't have to lean over so far. I bought a gas powered tire inflation kit for flats. I got a water bottle holder and rear frame for saddlebags. Then for $100.00 I got a second set of wheels with different gears ratios for street riding. In 10 minutes I can go from street bike to trail bike. So, I got a pair of saddle bags from Cultured Cowboy for the rack on the rear, and a motorcycle tool pouch for the front. Then I bought extra lights and flashers all over the place, for riding on the road. I ride this "motorcycle looking mountain bike" with my Troxel equestrian protective helmet. Have not been on a competitive mountain trail yet, but I sure use it to advertise the store! It garners a lot of attention. Spent over $1000.00 on my project. Can keep up with 35 MPH traffic easily. Wooded trails feel like I'm flying with the wind. It weighs way too much, but sure is nice to have my bags full of First Aid, snacks, emergency tool kit, extra tube, swim trunks, insect repellant, or whatever else I might want. (Can you tell I'm used to riding horses with large Cashel Bags?) 

So, buy your saddles like I did my bike. Get all the help and info that you can, and all the things you need to ride like you want to ride for your time off from work. The little extras can make a lot of creature comforts that keep you on those trails.

Pro endurance riders know what they want. But, for the rest of us, the newer endurance saddles made for some human comforts, are some of the best experiences in our woodlands. On these, the seats are made deeper. The cantles and pommels are higher. And some weight is added in the form of more cushion in the seat, and next to the back of your horse. 

A variety of different trees, from full QH bars to Gaited horse bars, to Arab, to semiQH bars, are available. Translation? You can fit your horses. 

As more of us, that ride, age, seat cushioning and stirrup adjustment becomes more important. I have always liked a hard seat saddle. But now, I realize the need for a bicycle seat on that hardseat. I can get the advantage of grip and contact, without breaking the buttocks. Cushions can be "glued piece" carpet padding type foam in those "bargain saddles". Most saddlers use a good quality foam made for seats. Some use neoprene. If you have ever had a lower back injury, or some such other broken coccyx bone, the newer NASA type, often called Double Cushion Comfort seats are excellent. They really do not just double the pad. (That's only done in the cheap stuff.) These NASA foam seats are slightly thicker than a regular seat, tapered and fitted for your thighs to have a nice transition. The saddler will take care to make the seam feel seamless in jeans. 

Deeper seats, from higher cantles and close contact fitting, are almost a given in most newer trail saddles. Deeper reach on the skirts are typical too. The skirts and rigging drop down to allow your leg to lie closer to the horse. This keeps riders that ride occasionally from getting so sore, after those rides. How much they drop depends on your preferences. Most trail saddles are rounded in the rear for more weight reduction. 

Stirrup leathers are made to adjust. If your true inseam is less than 30 or more than 36, be sure you let your supplier know. On many models, jockeys and fenders can be pre-punched to adjusted for more comfort to you.  The fender is the wider part attached to the stirrup leather, to protect your leg. English saddles and most Australian saddles do not have a fender. The stirrup leather hangs freely. Western type saddles will have a fender. The fenders of trail saddles are sometimes "teardrop". This means the bottom has a higher rise toward the stirrup leather side and dips at the other side. I saw a lot of this in the 60's for style, and now it seems to be coming back for practicality. (Maybe it was practical then too.) This construction, combined with good leather conditioning, makes the stirrup leather turn easily around your leg; puts less bulk under your thigh on shorter inseams, allows more swinging movement, and reduces some ounces. 

Stirrup leather position should be such that you can comfortably stand in your stirrups to let some air around your butt. (I should have said, "to stand in the stirrups to better see the terrain ahead.") But, knees do not meet elbows except on a race track. How long your legs ride is a lot of rider preference. I usually like about 4 fingers standing sideways between crotch and the saddle seat. Depends some on the type terrain, and weather, and the stirrups on that saddle. On long rides, I can easily adjust the stirrups up or down a notch to change-up my riding position. (older I get, the more often I adjust. My lower body gets a little stiff now.) Cutters often like more of a sitting position. 

Stirrups may be metal, or wood, or metal bound wood, or Ralide. Many trail riders like a wider bottom in the stirrups for security, and to rest. The newest "endurance" stirrups have a wide bottom with a piece of slip resistant, cushioning material for a footpad. (Popularized by EZ Care, now there are a few suppliers.) Bell bottom stirrups are wider at the bottom and slope in at the top. Usually a leather tread, but rubber, or non-slip materials can easily be added. Some riders like aluminum contest stirrups. They are lightweight, sturdy, and look cool.  

Extra rings and dees are available to tie on anything you might need. (Extra EZ boots, lightweight raingear) If you don't care to drill and attach all these, (you have a trail saddle made for speed), Cashel makes a strapping system called "Tie-One-On" that allows you to hang stuff when you want, and take it off for more serious competition. (Kind of like my 2 sets of wheels on that bike.) When trail riding, I like a lot of rings and strings to secure my stuff. I'll use saddle strings, add shoe strings, add rings in my saddle string ties, tie the bottoms of my saddle bags to my flank set so they don't flop much. Ditto bottoms of front bags.   

Breast collars and sometimes cruppers are handy attachments. Trail saddles may have in-skirt rigging, or ring rigging. I like breast collar rings added, either way. Never hurts to "double tug", (use two BC straps on each side, like when I'm roping). Often, trail riders will use a combo halter / bridle, for versatility. I live in an area with lots of rocks that like to hang in horseshoes, or in soles of hooves, So a hoofpick holder on the flank set is a good idea. Though, most riders might put a knife in that holder, rather than a hoofpick. Hey, hey, Cultured cowboy now has a twin blade, pick & knife, that fits into this pocket. 


Roping saddles are a favorite of Cultured Cowboy customers. The seat is usually narrowed a little, especially toward the front of the seat, so that standing is easy. This lets you ride without having your legs feel so wide apart too. Stirrup leathers and fenders are usually thicker, to help stabilize the rider while standing. The tree is strong. That horn is called a post horn, because it must hold a lot of jerk from whatever may become attached by both ends of a rope. It stands more straight to ease dally maneuvers. Horns are not as tall as they were twenty years ago. (Riders have more skill.) The rigging must be as strong as the horn. No fun to have a saddle jerked off the horse while you ride!

First, the seat can be a one-piece "hardseat". This means one chunk of leather from jockey to jockey. No seams to bother you, or tear/wear loose. (Yes, I have ridden saddles so much that I wore out the seat edge seam. I'd blame it on starched Wrangler jeans, except, I mostly prefer softer finish, light starch, riding jeans, and often rode in cut offs. Must be these "thighs like iron"! They match my washtub tummy. Well, it used to be a washboard stomach.) The hardseat can be offered in rough-out or smooth side out finish. Roughout is the same leather, flipped upside down, so the flesh side is up. This side gives some more grip. When you oil it and ride it, it will wear smooth. A light sanding with fine grit sandpaper will raise the knap again. This is not suede. Smooth side out is as favored as the rough side out. Smooth leather has less grip when not tooled, and can grip more when hand tooled in an oak leaf or floral pattern. Today, there are also sanded seats. Grain side is up, and it is buffed for just a touch of grip. Circle Y made this popular.

Or, the seat can be padded. (A bicycle seat, or partial padded seat, is often placed on the top of a hardseat, just for the seat bones.) Padded seats are usually two pieces of leather sewn down the center of the seat, then covered with padding and either a suede or top grain upholstery leather. So, each jockey runs halfway under the seat. On the better saddles, hand-popping, or hand stitching with glued edges, is preferred, but labor intensive.  Machine stitching is more common. A couple rows, or single row stitching, depending on the maker's liking. Fancy saddles may have a scalloped or custom cut seat edge. Better saddles will be cut close at the cantle, so there is no need to oversize a leather rosette to hide a hole. Better saddles will have the seat leather and foam skived for a nice transition into the jockey. Translation: no saddle sores for you. 

The Roping saddle tree is understood to be strong. Even our BigHorn nylon series roper saddles will catch a medium sized cow, drag a limb, and hold. Some of the best custom saddles are better than riding in a Lariat Truck with leather seats & air! The horn is attached, often bolted through the pommel. Put a huge horn on it and it's called a Wade tree. (There's more structure than just the big horn added too. In fact, with more tree, and tighter fitting build, whether it has a Wade horn or not, it is called a Ranch Roper, or Rancher saddle. The thicker wood allows sturdier attachments of all the hanging parts that rig the girths, holds the breast collar, supports the skirts, and the rider.) The pommel of better roper saddles will be laminated layers of opposing grain directions. This plywood construction is stronger than a single piece of wood. The bars of the better wooden saddle tree will have some flex in them. The cantle attaches favorably into the back end of those bars, to stabilize. The whole thing is wrapped to hold in the moisture content of the wood. Rawhide leather is used, fiberglass is used, and can even be double wrapped. (They call that double wrap, a "lifetime" tree.) The fiberglass is more rigid and less money than the rawhide. I can argue both sides of which is best. Rawhide restricts the flex less. But fiberglass will hold the moisture better over time.  Most of the less expensive saddles will now use full QH bars with a 7 inch gullet width. This is a current standard. Most of the better saddles will also use the 7 inch width, but can have special trees made in a variety of widths if needed.   

Rigging is almost always double rings. Exception is the hanging, drop plate rig. Rigging rings are attached by a yoke that goes on both sides of the pommel. Conventional ring rigging has a smaller yoke. Drop rigging has a longer yoke. The Bork Rigging has a large drop yoke. Rider preference determines which is best. All are well liked. Closer contact plate in-skirt rigging is usually not used on ropers. (Exception being breakaway ropers, calf ropers, or youth ropers, where larger animals are not roped.) Most saddles have the rigging sewn. Some of the old timers prefer hand laced attachment. If you are gone fencing, for a month, you can repair the hand laced rig by campfire, with needle nose pliers. Hard to have that harness stitching machine at the next stop along your way. Sewn rigging can sometimes be re-enforced with a wide piece of nylon to stop tearing and stretch as much as possible. Double ring rigging has a strip of leather connecting the two rings to be used like a washer, to keep the stirrup leathers from rubbing your skirts, and allowing your stirrup leathers to glide as you move, not catch on the rings. The front ring can be positioned full, 7/8 or 3/4. Beware imported "ropers" with weak attachments, lots of staples, thin tree bars, and lots of thin leather layers glued together for a skirt.

Ropers will ride with a tighter rear flank strap than other sports. Reinsman began, and others are following, with a left side tie strap that can be tightened like the front. TexTan was the first saddle company I found, that made a "Ramrod" rear flank attachment. This is extra leather that covers the rear housing and has reinforcement for best possible hold power. Often, there is a y shaped extra brace from under that rear housing to the flank billets, so the flank will not swing so freely. The flank bottom is almost standard at 3 inches. Ropers often use a wider, 6 to 10 inch bottom flank center to ease pressures when tightened.

Skirts are sometimes rounded, mostly square, sometimes pointed corner square for looks. You will have enough skirt to help keep the saddle from twisting easily. The skirts are usually thicker and stiffer than pleasure saddles. A rear housing covers the rear ring rig attachments, and the top of the rear of the skirts. Skirts should be lined with a durable, thick pile fleece. This will make fitting easier, cushion your horse properly, and allow your saddle skirts to last a lot longer than a thin or sparse fleece. 

Breast collar dees are nice. Stainless steel or solid brass are preferred. Double tug to the rings and the front rigging ring when possible. Dees with clips attaching under conchos allow you to add or remove saddle strings when and where you want them. Saddle strings strung through the tree attach the skirt all the way through the tree and top leather for holding it all together with some flexibility for horse comfort. Some argue that the screws used on the conchos for saddle strings pull out too easy for the work they do in their saddles. Some argue that strung through saddle strings need to be taken off in the arena competitions. You choose! A rope holder strap, (a dee clip on the pommel, right, left or both sides, with a strap of leather slotted to go over the horn.) can be added for your convenience. 

Do Not Panic if your saddle does not have all the Ranch Roper features. These saddles are made for the most strenuous of working cowboy details. Most saddles do not need this much "umph". Most riders do not need this much weight in their saddle. Heavy ranch ropers can weigh well over 45lbs, (even 60 lbs) when outfitted. But, without double covered bullhide trees, Wade horns, and so much leather, they can weigh as little as 38lbs, still rope, and make great trail, or pleasure saddles too. 

Cutting saddles are real saddles too. Kind of a nice opposing complement to the roper style saddle. You sit in a flatter plain, some more forward in the leg position. The horn is made to hold onto, so you don't get left behind your cutting horse. More freedom in the stirrup leathers and fenders, yet rigged very strong and full skirted too. 

The horn and front end are made to hold your weight during the ride. The horn is upright and often braided for extra grip. Better saddles have this horn well attached to take the pressures necessary for cutting. This horn is NOT made for dragging trees, roping calves, or other of this type pulling work. The tall horn is made for your hand. The extra height will give leverage to break out of the pommel if used for heavy work. 

Seats, fenders and jockeys are almost always rough side out. Often Hard seat.  If your cutter has a padded seat, it's almost always suede covered. This rougher texture holds better against your chaps. It can help keep you centered while your horse is trying to dart out from under you. Better seats are ground seats that keep you closer to your horse. You sit in more of a "chair" position in the cutter saddles than as sitting on the ropers. 

Cutter stirrup leathers come 2.5 and 3 inch widths. Usually, they are made of strong, thinner leathers. The key is to build a stirrup system that will travel with your legs as you move, and signal, your horse.

Skirts are full and rigging is usually a dropped front dee on a double ring rigging. Skirts run the gamut of all roughout, to all smooth. Basket stamping and border tooling are most popular. The cutting saddles are almost always heavy oiled.  

Penning saddles began with a bunch of cutting saddles. Then, the point men figured it was easier to stand in a roping saddle, (to see the numbers), so you had a point guy in a roper and turnback men in cutters. As the sport evolved, two riders would pull cows from herd and one would turn them in a pen. Then some teams would all three get a cow and do whatever was needed to get them all in the pen...So the saddle had to evolve.

Penning saddles are still divided between cutting and roping saddle enthusiasts. You can pen in either type. But, I will tell you some of the properties that some of our best penners have in common:

Most do use a tree that is either roper, rancher without a Wade horn, or one of the "combo" trees labeled as Penning saddles. Although top grain padded seats are popular, we probably sell more of the one-piece hardseat, rough side out. There is some grip, easy to keep balance while standing in the ride. (Bicycle seats on top of the hardseat will alleviate any tired buttock pain. Swept back forks are common because they give a little something to throw your thigh into for balance while standing. The more balanced you become, the less this swept back fork is used. Higher cantles seem to be favored over 3.5 inch cantles.

Rigging is usually double ring because people are doing more than one thing in their saddles, but a drop plate, or an in-skirt rig will keep you in closer contact with your horse. Cutaway skirts are another close contact option. 

Sometimes, a rider will want their stirrups tied, or locked for more standing firmness. Dakota will do this at the factory. The saddle is made with almost a Y type stirrup leather, so the fenders and stirrups have very little movement. Re-enforced flank billets are nice, so the flank strap does not swing into the front of the hocks on fast starts. 

Saddle strings look flashy while you run, and don't really get in the way too badly. Breast collars are recommended. BC dees allow double tugs. Most penners like a little class in their tack. Handbraided rawhide trim, Herman Oak leathers, maybe a fancy concho with saddle ties, on the accessories. Saddles are usually well oiled and look like clean, but well ridden, working ranch saddles.


Pleasure saddles. What is a pleasure saddle? Should be a saddle that is a pleasure to ride in! This category of saddle is often a well made saddle, lighter in weight, comfortable for rider and horse. Might call this the forerunner of the "trail" saddles. The famous "Little Wonder" tree, or something similar is usually used.

Pleasure saddles can be made in any saddle tree category. These saddles are just good all around riding saddles. They usually have a padded seat, but not always. They are usually suede seats on smooth saddle leathers, but not always. They usually have a smaller horn on a thinner pommel, but not always. They usually have a 4 inch cantle, where they usually had a 3 inch cantle 25 years ago. The seats usually have some lift in the front, but may have a lot to help balance a beginner. 

They are usually easily adaptable to most any type pleasure riding. You can add straps, re-enforcements, strings, bags, or leave them stripped down to bare minimums. You can order your inseams and seat sizes. They come both rounded and square skirts. Though they have almost always been all leather in the past, most are hybrids today. Lower costs of manufacture and easy to break-in are the chief reasons for this. 

Swept back forks and suede jockeys help a beginning rider. Close contact and less bulk are made for the more advanced riders.  

Tooling styles often depend upon the crowd you ride with. However, it's smart to have at least a border tool if the smooth side is out. Border tooling keeps the edges from turning upward so much. Tooling good leather helps keep the leather packed for strength and less stretch. Basket patterns and other geometrics are easy to clean. Floral & oak leaf usually need a used toothbrush to help! But they are beautiful. Combinations show the artistry of the maker and are marvelous to help distinguish your saddle from the "crowd". (Easy to ID if needed!) Shouldn't a pleasure saddle be a pleasure to see?


Show saddles. This is a category encompassing all levels of Western showing. To get the right saddle here, you really need to know where you might be heading. From Fun Days, to AQHA Congress, the requirements differ from region to region, according to the competition. 

There are Equitation classes where rider and tack are extremely important in the winnings. There are the other Pleasure Classes, where tack is supposed to be 25% of the final point system. Remember this: The classes are so competitive, and the riders are so good, that judges have to get real picky to choose the placement of the class. 

NO-Nos.  No grime! Tack and horse must always be neat and clean. It might be old, but it must shine. Even the silver. If you have a used show saddle, figure some way for that silver to shine, even if you have to remove it and have it re-plated. 

Judges can see the whole saddle. They see a lot of competitors. They talk with guys like us and know what is available. You cannot hide cheap construction. Buy the best you probably cannot afford. It is crazy to buy a $40,000.00 truck and $15,000.00 trailer, spending over $500.00 a weekend to travel and stay at a showground, wear $100.00 to $300.00 show blouses, and expect a show saddle to be much under $2500.00. (But, Dakota Saddles and Cultured Cowboy can make a good stab at what you really need to start at better shows, or really compete at the smaller shows with a good Montana Silver package on Headstall and saddle well under that $2500.00 mark. It is not unusual for your competition to have as much as $4000.00 to $12,000.00 in their saddle & tack.

I don't want to insult anyone, but you must realize what you are competing against. The big key in show arenas is "class". Fully tooled saddles do not show scratches and discolorations as much when they are conditioned. You can try all you want, but the lightest of saddles will darken with conditioner, and with UV light. (Funny, but darker colors will fade in that same light.) Smooth leather will show these scratches and discolorations. SO, the fully tooled are more popular. The lightest saddles are actually "bleached" then sealed. (yes, this takes some time off the life, but many people trade show saddles every few years.  - so, here is a market where you can get a good saddle that was top of the line a few years ago, that might get you started now, because people don't beat up their show saddles!) . 

The better show saddles have custom silver packages. Alpaca Silver is a nickel and has a wrong sheen. Ditto German silver. Montana Silver is a heavy silver overlay on steel base. It has that white look and is covered with a protective lacquer. For Sterling Silver, we need to co-ordinate the silversmith with the saddler. I find that Kathy's Tack can do a great job with Sterling and light saddlery for shows. Dale Chavez an others are good too. Though Dale's maybe not as easy to get picky on stirrup adjustment and some other minor details. Most show saddle makers want to make it their way and let you choose from among their offering.  If it is a better saddle, they are in the business of getting their product in that arena and will do an excellent design job for you.

Show saddles are not worn as long as trail saddles and almost all show horses are pretty muscularly fit. Almost always - Semi QH bars, or full QH bars, or Arab Bars. Oversized skirts and oversized blankets are used on these larger sized horses!  Rigging is usually close contact and in skirt. 

In Fun Day shows, you are expected just to show up in your best tack.  Clean, repaired and matching. The judging understands it is a more relaxed atmosphere, and the guys with the most expensive show tack will probably be gone to a rated, pointed, show. Maybe, one day, shows will take on a judging system similar to NBHA, where the class is judged on two or three levels, with the class divided at the obvious center line of ability and affordability. But for now... 

Then, there are the shows, mostly regional or state, that organize to be a level beneath the top shows, but above the Fun Day. Most of the competitors and judges end up knowing each other. They compete in a friendly way. I've seen them share tack. This is a good entry for those who want the discipline of showing, without all the stress and quite so much expense. Most of these competitors are competing in models of top show saddles that are 3 to 7 years old, and in good shape, or in those Dakota show saddles with price tags of under $2500.00. (No Nylon skirts or fenders here, please.)


Cowboy Action Saddles - What we have found in this category is: quality counts. Horns have been conventional and Wade. Pommels have been A fork with Bucking rolls or have a swell. Seats can have 3.5 to 4.5 inch cantles, mostly 4, but almost always hollow ground. Almost always, rigging is closer contact of some sort. Skirts are rounded or rounded square, most are undercut at the rigging. Some with flank sets, some with flanks removed. Because of the "action" we want something that will hold us in place when we need it, and allow us to move as we need to bend through patterns & obstacles. The key seems to be an "Old West" flavor in a quality piece of leather goods. Both fully tooled and roughout fenders & jockeys have been used. Almost always the stirrup leathers are tied, and real sheepskin fleece is highly preferred. Average prices have been from $1800.00 to 4800.00, depending on detailing. Darker leathers, oiled well.  Our Weaver wider cheek fuller browband tack seems highly favored for this event. Reinsman's best wool pads round out the look.    


Parade models, or Grande Entry Saddles can deviate. These show saddles can be any color, often black with black stitching. They are ring rigged as often as plate, because the double skirt in the rear of the saddle looks good. More texture. They are sometimes rounded a little in the back. Often intricately hand tooled. Here, the silver is often a less expensive plating, because there is so much of it. We have found that Flitz Metal Polish, Semi-Chrome, and other motorcycle pipe polishes work as well as anything to shine this metal on your saddles. Parade saddles almost always have matching breast collars and bridles, where most show ring saddles are forgoing the breast collar these days. And use bright colorfull blankets under your saddle. Parade groups often coordinate matching blankets, leggings, chaps, and such.  If you are interested in coordinating sets, the larger the group, the more time we need to have it all woven and made for you. Mayatex is excellent with lots of yarn colors. Legings are getting more basic in the market than they were a few years ago.  How about new white leggings, white ribbons braided into the forelock & main & tail? with Royal Blue or another main color blanket having white as a secondary color. - looks pretty special! (The white leggings covered whether these dark horses had matching socks, or stockings, and made their patterns great for the crowds!) Polish the hooves!


Nylon/Leather Combos vs Leather saddles. The advantages of these hybrid leather saddles are dependant on who is making them. Many saddle production companies have figured out that the nylon part can be mass produced easily. Each company decides what they want to do with this knowledge. For the most part, it is an inexpensive category that has been used for higher profits for the saddle maker. But, Cultured Cowboy has found a couple companies that have made this category a blessing.

BigHorn started these saddles by discussions in board meetings of how can we make a strong, lightweight, easy on the ankles and knees, saddle for the older riders, and the kids riding today. They developed their saddles made on the same trees as the leather saddles, and used a Cordura 1000 denier material for lighter weight. Leather, and real seat cushions are next to the rider, and the Cordura is used on fenders and skirts. The leather reinforced nylon stirrups with Cordura fenders turn easily for the rider comfort. Stainless steel blevins buckle adjustments. These saddles have been the dream-come-true for many riders. Kids can lift them. Arthritis is somewhat conquered. NASA seat cushions in the saddle seat are available too. These saddles are built on a lot of optional trees. Cultured Cowboy has them all on our site.  And Jack has been great in making deep heartgirth area type trail saddles in these crossovers. He last year made an extremely soft chap leather with nylon reinforcement next to the rider. This thing feels great.  

Fabtron has followed suit. Both companies make a good pleasure saddle. Good for trails, too. The Fabtron "Lady Trail" is a sort of narrow twist fit that keeps your legs closer together. Seems to be a favorite trail saddle. The owner was smart enough to call something "Lady Trail". This was great marketing! 

Nylon has come from girth tie straps, to all kinds of straps, to a great saddle component. I must say that the first synthetic saddles were probably by Ulster, or Bates. (and  first, English in design) But these were totally synthetic and somewhat "hot" in the crotch in Summertime. The early synthetics were also a little stretchy. Not so of better materials used today. Beware the brands though. Most companies use these saddles to get lower income $$$. And they cut corners terribly. If you must digress from the Fabtron or BigHorn synthetic hybrids, I might recommend a JT International Soft Saddle. 

The JT saddle uses neoprene foams in adjustable layers to cushion horse and rider from the pains of bareback riding. Fairly close contact. But knee rolls velcro in & out as you like. A natural feel, but without sharp pressures on spine or crotch. There is not a hard tree in this Soft Saddle, but the neoprenes are shaped so that the saddle will better stay in place much better than a simple bareback pad. Highly adjustable, and there is a Western based and English based model. Two seat sizes, Med & lg for now. It weighs almost nothing. Less than $300.00    (Cultured Cowboy has  a variety of bareback pads too.) 

(You want More to come soon? Oh My! Give me some hints, on what your other questions are. Email the address below. )

This is a typical discussion of some options:

Do the 325C if you like more silver. Base price $908.99  ( 310 if you like the handtooling. base $733.99) (325C with the handtooling instead of basket stamp, add $225.00 for the top side. The stirrup fenders & jockeys are not tooled. Full tooled all they can add $350.00) Choose real sheepwool bottom. ($200.00)  Pink Ostrich adds $850.00 to the saddle cost, and I have to get all kinds of Import permissions that I'd rather not do. ($1500.00 exotic import annual fee to your country, and $500.00 per shipment. All this passed on to you.)  Pink Suede has more grip and will not have that added cost. Baby pink is do-able. We have to order a top grain whole hide. The extra cost is only about $160.00 for that smooth pink cowhide. The seat can use regular saddle foam, (NC) or a very nice NASA foam that contours to your body.($50.00 NASA) Rough side out on fenders and jockeys will give the grip you want. Semi QH bars with a flex tree 10 yr warrantee. ($45.00)  (Arab flex bars are available. That Arab tree costs an extra $225.00, but if your horses are narrow as you said, the Arab bars have a wider angle and the Semi QH should work better.)  Plan on correct saddle padding to buffer the individual horses so the saddle works with them all. That sheepskin bottom will help a lot with fit and shock absorption too. The real sheep also adds another layer of leather to the whole skirt.  Some extra rings and dees on pommel (20.00 rt side), rear of cantle ($20.00), under 6 conchos ($20.00), and a crupper ring ($25.00), if you like, can be added.  What is your true inseam? Do you want the saddle pre oiled and conditioned? ($120.00)  Breast collar dees are nice. ($30.00 Stainless) and a matching contoured Breast collar ($79.99)  Rigging can be re-enforced leather with nylon, for $30.00, if you need to eliminate stretch. Stirrup fenders can be standard as shown in the 325 pic, or teardrop like on the 214 trail saddle. ($20.00). Get the bell stirrups. $25.00 more than the standard contest, but twice the foot surface for comfort on long rides. A rear flank set with hoofpick/knife holder on the flank billet is available to match if you like. $110.00 for all.  15 or 16 inch seat comes as priced.
Hope this is enough of the options to get you started. I thought about what I would want if I were half this world away, and riding a lot.  If you choose all these, you will have a really fine saddle. Also, the saddle leather can be light oil, golden brown, mahogany, chocolate, black, or dark golden. No extra cost for any color.   Along with the ten yr warrantee, instead of a 5 yr warrantee, the flex tree helps fit, adds shock absorption, and reduces weight by about 9 lbs too.
Credit cards or a check in US funds can work for payment. We will do a deposit of about half. (Overseas International orders just cost us more to process, we really low-balled the price, and the saddler wants to be sure you really want it, once it is handcrafted for you. Pink seat cost and all overseas shipping are nonrefundable.) Then the other half as it gets ready to ship. Time to build is about 7 to 10 weeks, depending on the tree size and pink leather seat arrival. Should be good, cause I think you guys are just approaching your cold season. Shipping time about 10 days average to get to you through most carriers, as long as not held up in customs.
God Bless, & let me know your thoughts.
PS: In case you just wandered onto our site , You have contacted somebody who rides, and builds a lot of saddles for people. Can you tell?   Just take the base price and add your options you like. That'll give a price.  Last saddle we sent to Australia was about $350.00 S&H through either Global Priority, or DHL.  UPS or FedX was more than that cost then.  We will check them all for you as we ready to ship.  

(This is given for an example. Options, saddler's times, and costs vary from saddler to saddler, and are sometimes seasonally adjusted.) 


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