Choosing the right western saddle for your horse is key to success in the show ring or out on the trail. A well-fitted western saddle provides optimal connection and comfort for both you and your horse, so it is important that you find the right one, no matter your discipline. While it might feel overwhelming to choose from many different types of saddles, we created this guide to help you determine which style is best for you and your horse.

Different Types of Western Saddles and Their Purpose

show saddle

Whether you are looking to barrel race, trail ride, or everything in between, there is a western saddle designed for each specific purpose. Different types of saddles have distinctive seats, horns, fenders, and more, depending on the discipline, to help riders position themselves properly and keep their horses comfortable.

Barrel Saddles

barrel saddle

Barrel saddles are mainly used for barrel racing, but their unique design allows them to be used for other kinds of mounted games. Trick riders will sometimes use barrel saddles as they are designed for security, especially at high speeds while making quick turns. Since a barrel saddle is meant for speed, it is lightweight and small with a deep seat, high cantle, tall and thin horn, and short skirt.

Western Trail Saddles

Trail Saddle

Western trail saddles are designed for pleasure and trail riding as they keep riders in the correct position while traveling long distances. These saddles are extra comfortable since they offer cushioning, and they are usually much lighter than other types of Western saddles. Many trail-riding saddles have leather strings attached to hold saddle bags during long rides.

Western Show Saddles

Show Saddle

Western show saddles typically feature more bling than other saddles and have an equitation-style seat with a short and thick horn. The main goal of a show saddle is to be eye-catching in the ring and provide a balanced seat for the rider. These saddles are often heavier as well, weighing about 40-60 pounds.

Western Work Saddles

Work Saddle

A western work saddle is designed for long days working on the ranch. It offers a comfortable and deep seat, high cantle, thick horn, square skirt, and long swells. The fenders are usually hung directly below the rider and you will find that double rigging is common. The work saddle is great for those who ride their horse for work all day or enjoy going on long trail rides as well.

Ranch Saddles

Ranch Saddle

Ranch saddles are heavyweight with deep seats and high cantles for comfort, perfect for working cattle. The seat is usually rough out style, which provides greater traction for the rider's seat and keeps them secure in the saddle. Basic ranch horse saddles usually have low swells and double rigging. Ranch-cutting saddles tend to have fenders hung slightly forward in front of the seat, allowing riders to sit deep into their pockets. Ranch roping saddles are more likely to feature a shorter, thicker horn that can be wrapped and used to throw a rope from horseback while still maintaining a balanced seat.

Reining Saddles

Reining Saddle

Western reining saddles are designed for competitive reining events. Most reining saddles also have forward-hung stirrups to help keep the rider sitting back during quick stops and close contact seats to help the rider's aids. Reining saddles often have a medium-height fork and horn, dropped rigging, and slender stirrups. Similar to a cutting saddle, one meant for reining has a seat designed for big stops and quick maneuvers, but cutting saddles usually have larger horns and swells.

Different Parts of a Western Saddle

western saddle

There are various parts of a western saddle that you should be able to identify, which will help you with choosing between styles and finding the best fit. Here is a list of the different parts of a western saddle:

  1. Horn
  2. Seat Rise
  3. Seat
  4. Cantle
  5. Back Housing
  6. Concho
  7. Rear Rigging Dee
  8. Skirt
  9. Seat Jockey
  10. Fender
  11. Stirrup
  12. Tread Cover
  13. Hobble Strap
  14. Belvin
  15. Front Rigging Dee
  16. Tie Stap Holder
  17. Gullet
  18. Pommel/Swell

saddle parts

Which Western Saddle Should You Get

Due to conformation or comfort levels, some horses are harder to fit a saddle to than others, so it is best to consult a professional saddle fitter, who will help you measure out and find a saddle that will not pinch or slip off your horse. You can also ask a trainer or trusted friend which type and brand of saddle they prefer or what the current trends are, which may help you decide what will work best for your and your horse’s individual needs.

Ultimately, the type of saddle you purchase comes down to your personal preference and what fits you and your horse, but if you plan to show or day work on a ranch, you will likely want a saddle specifically designed for your goal. For example, a barrel saddle might not be the most comfortable saddle for reining, while a comfortable trail saddle does not necessarily need the heavy silver embellishments of a show saddle.

Saddle Fit and Size


Buying the correct western saddle that best fits both you and your horse is a challenging task. The wrong saddle could lead to discomfort, sores, and significant pain along your horse’s back, withers, or shoulders, not to mention that poorly fitted saddles can impair your balance. That’s why it is so crucial that your saddle is measured properly and is an appropriate weight that your horse can carry.

How to measure a western saddle?

Before you embark on the search for your perfect saddle, you should know how they are measured to help you understand the way a saddle is fitted, especially if you are interested in a used saddle. If you know how to measure a saddle, you will be less likely to rely on the expertise of a store owner or other rider, who might not know as much about saddle fitting.

How much does a western saddle weigh?

Depending on the material and type, most Western saddles weigh between 20-75 pounds.

Which Materials Are Commonly Used in Western Saddles?

Synthetic Saddle

Leather and synthetic materials are most commonly used in Western saddles. The former is generally used for more competitive disciplines, but you can find synthetic saddles for all-purpose riding. Additionally, a leather saddle is often heavier and more expensive. Many riders prefer leather for looks, quality, and comfort, but it does need frequent cleaning and conditioning. Leather saddles hold longer than synthetic, though, when properly cared for.

Synthetic saddles are a popular choice for trail riding since they tend to be waterproof and scratch resistant. Plus, they are lightweight (usually no more than 20 pounds), so children or riders unable to lift bulky, heavy saddles can easily tack up their horses. Some riders prefer the less expensive price tag, too. Ultimately, there is no right or wrong answer when deciding between leather or synthetic, as it is a personal preference regarding looks, comfort, and the amount of maintenance you wish to do.

How to Care for Your Western Saddle

To preserve the quality of your saddle and ensure its longevity, you should follow a regular cleaning routine. You simply need some saddle soap, conditioner, oil, a metal polisher, a few rags, and a sponge for thorough cleaning. Follow this step-by-step guide for a closer look into saddle maintenance.

Another critical part of caring for your western saddle is to inspect it for any repairs. Before every ride, you should quickly check that your latigo and hardware are intact, your stirrups are still fastened, and none of the leather has cracked. If the tree breaks or you have other weaknesses in the leather, you should take your saddle to a professional repair shop as soon as possible. A broken saddle or even a broken Latigo strap can cause major riding accidents.

How should you store your western saddle?

To keep your western saddle clean from dust, scratches, and mold, store it in a case or use a cover. Many cases come with a convenient handle as well for easier carrying between the barn and trailer. By properly storing your saddle away in the tack room, trailer, or house, the life of your investment is substantially increased.

We understand buying a western saddle is a big commitment, whether you want to purchase a new or used one. A saddle that comfortably fits you and your horse is often worth it. Purchasing a saddle is an investment in your riding career that you will have for years to come, especially if you properly clean and store it. When in doubt, remember the decision is about what feels best for you while allowing your horse pain-free movement during rides. There are many styles and designs for almost every type of saddle, so you are bound to find something you love!