What are different saddle types?
Differences between saddles
The first time Gene Autry twanged out “Back in the Saddle Again” was 1939; it turned out to be one of his signature songs in a long and storied radio, television, movie and live performance career.
As it happens, “back in the saddle” was woefully inadequate; I mean, what type of saddle are we talking about here? As cowgirls, equestrians and ranchers know it seems there are more different saddle types than there are riders to use them. With so many uses for horses, it only stands to reason there are different saddles for each. So let’s take a look at some of the more popular saddle types and the purposes of each.
Though there are variations on the themes, the more popular saddles can be broken up into two types; English and Western. Within each of these broader categories there are idiosyncrasies, but we’ll stick with the more common for simplicity’s sake.
Unlike their western brethren, these saddle types are usually flat with little or no saddle horn and long flaps. As a result, English saddles use a lighter pad in lieu of the bigger, bulkier pads or blankets of other saddles.
More often than not, English saddles are used for eventing purposes such as jumping fences or during stepping competitions. For jumpers, riders will often add a bit padding under the long side flaps, making them more comfortable for both horse and rider. For stepping and other uses that require a great deal of control and communication between horse and rider, dressage saddles are often the saddle type of choice. These are very thin to maximize contact, as opposed to an English racing saddle that is a bit thicker, and also extremely small. For racing, the less weight the better and the minimal size accomplishes this.
There are also cutback and polo saddles in this category. The cutback situates the rider further back on the horse; you see these in shows or competitions featuring gaited breeds. The polo saddle is, as you’d expect, used by your friendly neighborhood polo player and support the maneuverability and speed required to play the sport of kings; and a few multi-gazillionaires with too much time on their hands.
Back to our friend Gene, these are the saddle types most of us are familiar with that watch old westerns or drop by the nearest rodeo. These are generally characterized by a broader seat, high saddle horn and big stirrups.
The most popular Western saddle type is the ranch saddle; sometimes referred to as a pleasure saddle. A couple of variations to the traditional ranch saddle are the roping and barrel racing Western saddles. The roping saddle has a higher saddle horn and provides the rider extra support. If you’ve ever seen a roper in action, you know that once the calf is secured the horse stops dead in its tracks to allow the rider to jump off and finish the tying off. This requires a rock solid saddle to anchor the spirited calf, or there’s going to be some serious trouble.
The saddle type used for barrel racing is similar to the roping saddle, in that the rider needs to stay secure as the horse tears around the course. The slightest movement or sliding of the saddle will not only lose the race, it can be extremely dangerous for both horse and rider.
A few of variations you may run into are police, Australian, military and pack saddles; all intended for very specific uses, horses and riders.
As you can see, “back in the saddle” can an does mean all sorts of different things. Taking a good inventory of your horse and intended uses will determine which is most appropriate for you and your equine buddy.