Western saddles, like their English saddle counterparts, come in a variety of sizes and styles. Which one should you use? Read on to find out.

western saddle diagram
Diagram of a Western Saddle.
Photo from www.holsmanstables.com

If you’ve ever been to a horse show in northern Virginia horse country, then you’ve probably seen riders dressed in tan jodhpurs, jackets, and hard hats. Even the saddles they use are different. Riding horses with an English saddle is a different discipline than riding with a Western saddle. Fellow writer and horse lover Ellie Phant and I can attest to that. We both ride with English saddles.

When I lived in England as a kid, I learned how to ride horseback. My first experience was riding with an English saddle. It was only in my late teens that I started riding Western saddle. Now that I live in Texas, it’s hard to find a place that offers anything but Western. These saddles differ from English saddles, with the most notable difference being the horn that sits above the pommel.

But like English saddles, Western saddles come in a variety of sizes and styles. Let’s look at six of the most common Western saddles.

The All-Around Western Saddle

all-around western saddle
The All-Around Western saddle is the most versatile.
Photo from State Line Tack.

Probably the most basic Western saddle out there, the All-Around saddle is the most versatile. You can use it for pretty much everything you plan to do with your horse, from ranching to roping, barrel racing to trail riding, and everything in between. The strong horn on the front of the saddle is taller, giving you a good handhold while letting you rope whatever you need – cattle, trees, etc. – while the saddle’s tree is sturdy and can handle the strain. The close contact skirt helps protect your legs while still letting the horse feel your leg cues as you ride. The flat seat has a nice shape to help you during speed events, and the reinforced rigging is perfect for roping and dragging.

The Barrel Racing Saddle

barrel racing western saddle
The Barrel Racing Saddle is perfect for tight turns and speed.
Photo by State Line Tack.

Lighter and more compact than an All-Around Western saddle, the Barrel Racing saddle is designed to keep the rider in the seat during sharp, fast turns. It has a higher cantle and taller pommel with shorter, rounded skirts and in-skirt rigging. The less weight on the horse during the race, the faster the horse can go. Plus, the deep seat makes the saddle comfortable for trail rides, although you can’t use them for roping. The horn simply is not designed for it.

The Cutting Saddle

cutting western saddle
Stay balanced in the seat with a cutting saddle.
Photo by State Line Tack.

Cutting saddles are designed specifically to keep the rider balanced while still having a lot of movement in the saddle and out of the way of a working horse. You can tell these saddles from others by their tall, thin horn, low cantle, and high pommel. There is also a rise in the seat close to the pommel before it flattens out. The skirts are typically longer and square with some cutting saddles having a double skirt. While you cannot rope with a cutting saddle, they are perfect for sorting, cutting, and penning cattle in competition.

The Ranch Cutting Saddle

ranch cutting western saddle
Designed for long periods of riding and ranch work, the Ranch Cutting saddle is also good for trail rides.
Photo by State Line Tack.

A Ranch Cutting Saddle is similar to the Cutting saddle, except the horn is designed to allow roping. It has a narrow seat and a skirt that is long and square. This is a heavier saddle designed for comfort and ranch work. The rider is expected to be in it for long periods of time while performing ranch jobs such as cutting and roping. This Western saddle is also good for trail riding and competition.

The Mounted Shooting Saddle

mounted shooting western saddle
The Mounted Shooting saddle is for competition only.
Photo by Mounted Shooting Supplies.

Designed specifically for competition, the Mounted Shooting saddle is very similar to a barrel racing saddle. However, the Mounted Shooting saddle has a low horn and swell that is tilted forward toward the horse’s head. It is designed this way, so riders don’t hit the horn as they are changing guns during the competitions. Lightweight with a close contact skirt, it also has a deep seat, so the rider sits firmly in the saddle and free-swinging fenders, giving the rider more movement during competition. Mounted shooting competitions are really the only thing this saddle is used for.

The Ranch Saddle

ranch western saddle
The Ranch saddle is great for riding the range.
Photo by State Line Tack.

Big, heavy, and featuring a lot of leather, the Ranch saddle, like the All-Around, is the most common Western saddle on the market. It has sturdy trees and horns for heavy-duty ranch work and a high cantle, so the rider is secure and comfortable. The seat tends to be hard and slick. Saddle strings are common to see on these saddles, allowing the rider to attach their equipment for the workday. This is the saddle of choice for ranchers and cowboys.


What kind of saddle do you ride with? Drop us a note in the comments below and tell us about your favorite saddle.