Horse Tack Western Horse Saddle Parts Explained

September 29, 2022

Horse tack western horse saddle parts are popular among riders because of their historic and current usability, cultural significance and attractive aesthetic. There are over ten different varieties of western saddles, each tailored to a specific riding discipline. In addition, the design of western saddles makes them comfortable and durable. However, western saddles consist of various parts in the three main areas of the saddles.

A western horse saddle has many essential parts, and you must maintain them for everything to work correctly. Ensure that you look after the seat, horn, and cantle. All straps and reins should be in good condition, but no part of the western saddle should be overlooked when looking for damage.

Every part of the western saddle is essential as each is for a for a specific purpose and function. Therefore, it is crucial to understand where you can locate each component and what each piece does. Understanding the parts of western horse saddles will help you properly secure the saddles and ride your horse safely and efficiently. 

parts of a western saddle identified

Western Horse Saddle: Top


The frame of the saddle, also known as the tree, primarily determines the quality and design of the saddle. Additionally, the tree’s construction affects how the saddle fits on the horse and the impact of the saddle on the horse’s health. Further, it also contributes to the overall balance of the rider.


The seat is the rider’s position and the lowest part of the top part of the saddle. It’s larger than the pommel, sits behind the horn, and a Western horse saddle seat is deep and frequently includes foam underneath for added comfort. However, the size and slope of the saddle will also influence the rider’s level of comfort. Further, the seat rise slopes slightly before the cantle to help center your balance when riding.


Every western saddle has a horn, one of the most distinguishing features of western saddles from English saddles. The horn has several functions, including assisting the rider in getting on and off the horse. When roping a cow or other animal, it also serves as a spot for the rider to connect a rope. In addition, it is an excellent tool for beginners to help them feel safe and secure in the saddle.


Pommel is the arched portion of the front part of the saddle that provides clearance for the horse’s wither. It prevents the tree from putting harmful pressure on the horse’s spine, stops the rider from sliding forward, and gives him the needed place to grip when needed.


Gullet is the v-shaped opening beneath the pommel and ride above a horse’s withers. An adequately fitted gullet fits above the horse’s withers but does not touch them. If it does not fit right, it will cause discomfort to the horse. It also ensures that neither the saddle nor the rider puts pressure on the horse’s spine.


The Cantle is the back section of the saddle that extends beyond the seat. It functions as the saddle seat’s back piece and gives the rider additional support. It can be taller or lower depending on the saddle’s form and function. The cantle, like the swell, aids in keeping the rider in the saddle. Some riders utilize the cantle to help them balance while riding.


The skirt is made of leather and natural sheepskin and lies beneath the saddle tree. It protects the horse from the bars and distributes the rider’s weight over a larger surface. The seat size and slope will affect each rider’s level of comfort. The saddle seat consists of layers of materials that promote rider comfort while keeping them close to the horse.

Western Horse Saddle: Sides


Fenders are multifunctional wide leather pieces that connect the saddle tree at the top and hold the stirrups at the bottom. They restrict the rider’s legs from making contact with the horse’s sides, keeping both the rider and the horse comfortable and protecting the rider from the horse’s sweat. They can also be adjusted to fit the length of the rider’s legs.


Stirrups are where the riders place their feet while riding to get on/off the horse and provide the rider with more security and control. They come in many widths and styles to accommodate the various riders and tasks they are attached to each end of the fenders. The stirrups play a massive role in the rider’s stability, safety and balance.


Strings are strips of long narrow leather hanging by the side of the saddle. Historically strings functions were to tie objects to the saddle like bags and ropes. Strings are still used extensively by ranchers and trail riders, with many uses, such as: tying sliickers, saddle bags to hold lunch or a variety of other uses.

Kneepad Rolls

Kneepad rolls are hard and formed padded pieces of material that blocks would go under to help with leg position stability. They are half-moon shaped and come in different leather and color than the rest of the saddle. You can find knee rolls on a jumping saddle for a better grip with the legs and a better comfort level.


Conchos are metal disks with two slits to allow saddle strings to slide through and fasten the saddle’s skirts to the saddle tree. The concho is generally coupled with a slightly bigger leather rosette (also with two slits) that sits behind the concho to make the attachment snug. Today, only high-end saddles have these strings that secure the skirt to the bars. Instead, most saddles’ strings are connected to a little dee ring or passed through the conchos on the saddle’s exterior.


The Jockey also called the housing on a western saddle, are pieces of leather that flare out both sides of the seat. The jockeys protect the rigging from the rider’s legs and clothing and provide a barrier to protect exposed areas of the saddle tree. In addition, the D-ring to which the cinch is attached sits partially under the jockey, preventing it from tangling in the rider’s legs.

Western Horse Saddle: Straps


A western saddle’s “rigging” refers to the D-rings on both sides that are used to secure the saddle to the horse. A western saddle has three primary styles: complete rigging, seven-eighths, and three-quarters. In addition, some western saddles will feature a trail rigging, often known as a Y rigging. Finally, some western saddles have numerous rigging choices, providing additional flexibility for saddle fit and making the harness effective on many horses.


Girth also called the cinch, sometimes is used to keep the saddle in place on the horse. However, the saddle is of little use without it. A girth is a broad strap of material such as webbing, leather, synthetic or cotton that wraps around the horse’s belly to secure the saddle. A Girth must never consist of a material that can easily break as it takes much strain.


Billet straps are attached to the top of the rigging dee ring and the cinch ring at the bottom. The belt has little holes along the length for loosening or tightening the cinch. On a Western saddle, there is typically just one of these straps. It’s made of nylon and leather and either wraps around the D-ring and ties, or buckles to the cinch.

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Different Types Of Western Saddles

A western saddle comes in a variety of styles and disciplines. Each rider prefers a particular saddle above others; specific saddles fit their riding style better. However, the riding you want to do with that saddle should also be considered since each discipline has various needs for the type of saddle to use.

All-Round Saddle

An all-around saddle can be used in about every discipline and is very versatile and designed for everything and equipped with a sturdy tree to handle the pressure of roping, a close contact skirt for leg cues. In addition, the saddle has a taller horn for a tight and firm hold. Perfect for riders doing multiple riding styles at once.

horse tack western horse saddle parts

Barrel Saddle

The saddles are used for barrel racing as indicated in the name. They have a deep seat to grip the rider when taking sharp, fast turns. In addition, they have a tall horn and a taller pommel for good grip. The saddles are lighter and compact. In addition, the skirts are much shorter and rounded.

horse tack western horse saddle parts

Mounted Shooting Saddle

They are similar to barrel saddles, lightweight, and close contact skirts to promote leg cues. The harness also has a low horn and swell that is tilted forward. The reason is so the riders can change their guns much easier. In addition, they have free-swinging fenders for more movement. The saddle can also not rope out anything.

horse tack western horse saddle parts

Cutting Saddle

This saddle’s purpose is to keep the rider balanced, all while staying out of the horse’s way. The saddles allow a lot of movement, so the rider can let the horse do its job. They have a low cantle and high pommel. The high pommel is to allow the rider to hang on, letting the horse do its job without interference. The flat seat allows the rider to have full mobility, and the low cantle ensures the seat doesn’t dig into the horse’s back.

Reining Saddle

These saddles ensure that the rider’s movements are efficient cues for the horse. Close contact skirts allow for enhanced leg cues. Reining saddles have a lower horn and pommel for easy rein movements. These saddles frequently feature longer skirts and ones in the silver show style. They situate the rider in a pocket to sit firmly on the saddle during movements.

horse tack western horse saddle parts

Trail And Pleasure Saddle

These saddles are lightweight and commonly have short rounded skirts. The saddles also feature padded seats for comfort on long trials. A higher cantle for protection or sometimes a low one for comfort often comes with saddle strings, or you can install them so you can tie equipment to your trail ride. They are not as tall as barrel saddles but resemble them in some ways.

Ranch Saddle

Ranch saddles are usually big and heavy and feature a lot of leather. Sturdy horns and trees are included for rigorous ranch work, horns are stout for roping or dragging objects, such as calves, and they are functional and serve their purpose well. Hard and slick rough-out seats and, depending on the saddle, they always have saddle strings to allow the rider to carry equipment with them.

horse tack western horse saddle parts

Roping Saddle

A roping saddles can handle pressure well and are built on sturdy trees; reinforcing prevents rigging from ripping or breaking. They have a low cantle for easy dismount and a thicker horn. They do tend to be on the hefty side. These saddles allow riders to move around while roping without interfering with any aspects of their run.

horse tack western horse saddle parts

Show Saddle

These saddles have an equestrian-style seat and detailed tooling. Close contact skirts to enhance leg cues and lots of silver ensure an eye-catching and balanced seat. The saddles are specifically made to be flashy and stand out. Riders strive to be in the best possible position when riding. These saddles are heavy and made of a lot of leather. They are more pricey with all the extra parts.

Durability Of Western Saddles

There is no guarantee regarding how long a Western horse saddle will endure, as much depends on how well it is maintained. A high-quality western horse saddle can easily last at least 25 years. I have seen well cared for quality saddles handed down for several generations. A cheap one will be lucky to last five years. The saddles will start to show signs of aging and can be uncomfortable for the horses and the rider when not properly taken care of and treated.

Each western horse saddle has different materials and configurations, so if the materials are durable, the saddle will last longer. The saddle is the most crucial piece of horse riding equipment. When you feel the saddle is no longer fitting, keep an eye on your horse’s behavior. If you detect any unusual behavior, you should get the saddle evaluated by a skilled saddle fitter.

Suppose you compete, ride frequently, and want the most satisfactory performance from your horse. In that case, you should replace your saddle every two years since the padding and texture deteriorate, and the saddle fit will be less than optimal. When utilizing a western saddle, always use a properly fitting saddle pad.


A western horse saddle is a highly complex piece of equipment for someone who does not know all the parts. When you learn all aspects like the reins, horn, tree, and straps, and you know where it all has to go, it’s not all that complicated or complex. However, you must look after the saddle and fasten all the parts correctly and in the right place.


I'm Bo, the owner of Smarter Horse. Helping horses be smarter by educating their people.  To find out more about me, click here

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