Horse Saddles Explained

If you read my first blog, you’d know that horse saddles have been used since BC times, and that the materials they’ve been made of have changed over the centuries.  Today’s topic of choice differs slightly and covers what horse saddles are made of, why horse saddles are so hard and some other “need to know” basics of saddles.

Horse saddles have adapted over the years, and the vast majority of them are made with a “saddle tree” which consists of some type of wood or synthetic wood.  Synthetic wood consists of wood fiber mixed with some type of plastic and then a binding agent that keeps them together.  The tree provides the rigidity where the rider sits, and is the entire frame or skeleton of the saddle.  This is why Western saddles are so hard and why they are so heavy.  The 25+ pounds that has to be slung over the horse’s back is why some horse enthusiasts are switching to synthetic wood in their Western saddles.  The lighter weight of the synthetic wood is less taxing on the horse, but also may not last as long as a real wood tree saddle.   Now, some animal rights activists out there may protest that saddles are terrible for horses and that all horses should be roaming free from the destruction of humanity…however, saddles are not bad for horses.  Saddles are tailored to fit each horse with comfort and ease.  This is especially seen in English saddles, which are a lot more flexible in order to compensate for what the rider is asking the horse to do (which can include jumping, dressage or hunter jumper type events).  These saddles are made of trees as well, but they are thinner and lighter.  In addition to the wood, the English saddles typically include fiberglass and plastic.  Most saddles are very hard, and the only bit of cushion between the seat and tree is the leather layers itself, but Western pleasure saddles have some sort of cushion to them.  They have more cushion than other types of saddles because they are meant to be more comfortable for the rider rather than the performance of the horse.  If you are looking to go on long rides and not have your rear end all numb, the western pleasure saddles are the way to go.  Most of the other types of saddles (English and Western) are meant to boost the performance of the horse for the job that the rider is asking them to do.

Now that the skeleton of the saddle has been discussed, let’s look at the supporting features of Western and English saddles.  The Western saddle has a horn (for rider stability and or rope attachment), seat (for the rider to sit on), cantle (higher on western saddles for greater support and lower on English to provide more rider movement), pommel, fender or skirt (where the stirrups attach and can be adjusted for height), D rings (where the cinches are connected), concho (to tie leather straps for saddle bags or ropes), front and/or back cinches (to go under the horse and keep the saddle stable and tight on the horse) and stirrups (for the rider’s feet as a platform to stand on).  English saddles lack a horn, and only have a front cinch, but the other parts are roughly the same with the same purposes.  They just have lower cantles and pommels so the rider can move more with the horse, and have higher stirrups to get higher up on the horse when jumping.  

Now, the burning question I’m sure y’all are thinking is “Okay, but can my saddle get wet because Texas weather changes on a dime,” and you’d be right.  The answer is if you have any type of leather on that saddle, do NOT get it wet…unless you condition it and take really good care of it.  A wet saddle wears down, ages and can cause the leather to crack.  Many saddles have metal pieces in and on them, which can cause rust formation and corrosion and eventually breakage.  Assuming you take good care of your saddle, how do you know which one you need?  Well, what event are you partaking in?  Are you an English jumper, dressage rider or hunter jumper, or are you a Western roper, cutter or pleasure rider?  The possibilities of what you can do with a saddle are endless, but you need to be within the saddle type ballpark based on the general things you are wanting to do.

1 comment

  • Thanks you so much for the most comprehensive and most “helpfully” labeled descriptions and name of saddle parts. I buy old leather saddles etc and make scabbards etc for WW1 and Civil War era blades. Old leather from these saddles is gold to me.

    Richard Turman

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