Different Types of Horse Saddles

Different Types of Horse Saddles—Everything You Need to Know

The connection between a horse and a rider has been unbreakable for centuries. One of the main elements of this bond is the mighty saddle. 

This piece of horse riding equipment keeps horses and riders comfortable and connected. Whether it’s long-distance trail riding or speed machines at the rodeo, each saddle has its purpose. 

We’re learning about the various types of horse saddles and everything you need to know. From what each one features to who benefits from a specific one the most. 

English Saddles  

Jumping saddle

Jumping Saddle

Jumping right into it, the English jumping saddle features a flat seat and square cantle (piece at the back of the saddle). This allows you to ride as one with your horse, so you may also hear a jumping saddle referred to as a close contact saddle. 

The flat seat is also easier to get out of, giving your horse the space it needs when jumping. 

The saddle flaps are shorter than other saddles, meaning you can use shorter stirrups. You can also access the side of your horse which is essential for communicating when jumping. The flaps have knee blocks allowing you to grip tightly. 

Dressage saddle  

Dressage Saddle

The wonderful world of dressage awaits; with impeccable talent and training, the right saddle for communicating is essential. 

The dressage saddle has a high cantle, and the seat is much deeper than other English saddles. This allows you to fit more snugly into the saddle during eventing. 

Long billets (straps under the saddle flaps) on the dressage saddle allow riders to attach the girth (long belt underneath the horse to attach the saddle) closer to the horse’s elbow. This gives you much closer contact through the flaps. 

Dressage saddles may also have various knee and thigh blocks depending on the event and how much grip you require. 

The placement of the trees on the dressage saddle allows your horse to have freer shoulder movement, which is required in dressage. 

Eventing saddle

Similar to the English jumping saddle, the eventing saddle has a deep seat compared to other English saddles. This is to give you better control and grip while your horse navigates various fencing. 

However, you still have the ability to get out of the saddle when your horse needs more space to get through the course. 

Eventing saddles have larger knee blocks to give you something to grip onto throughout the event. 

Racing saddle

Racing Saddle

The racing saddle is light, small, and made exclusively for jockeys that need to go quickly. For this to happen, the riding tack needs to be as light as possible to give the horse the best chance of getting across the finish line at record speed. 

There is a flatter seat, allowing the jockey to hover over the horse rather than sitting deep in the saddle. Using the short stirrups, the jockey glides on top of the horse, using their legs to stay balanced while the horse guns it. 

Weights in the jockey world are essential, with each category having strict limits, so keeping an eye on the racing saddle weight is important. 

The size and shape of racing saddles also varies. Jump racing requires larger flaps to keep the legs in place, while smaller flaps are good for flat racing. 

Trust us, once you learn how fast a horse can run, you’ll be glad you had a flatter seat!

General-purpose saddle

The general-purpose saddle is the perfect starting point for new riders. It doesn’t have the dimensions and regulatory features of the above riding saddles, but it allows you to get the hang of riding. 

You can still try your hand at eventing, jumping, and trail riding with a general-purpose saddle, but the more experience you get, the more you will require a specialised saddle for your chosen discipline. 

A general-purpose saddle is not as upright or deep as some of the saddles above. The standard flap features a medium knee roll to help you find your preferred stirrup length. 

The general-purpose saddle is great for most English riding needs. It’s comfortable and flexible, allowing riders to find positions that suit their riding style. 

Beginners, you might also benefit from learning how to tack up a horse!

Hunting saddle

The hunting saddle sits further back than a general-purpose saddle and features more of a curve. The design is meant to push the rider back into the saddle when performing jumps. 

Big jumps will often see riders lifting off the saddle as the horse descends. The hunting saddle keeps the rider firm in the seat, preventing potential accidents. 

The hunting saddle also has a lower set pommel (front area of the saddle) and cantle. 

Side saddle

Clydesdale side saddle
Strathorn Jake being ridden side saddle at the Royal Highland Show by Sam Weir

The side saddle was originally made using a two-pommel design to give women the opportunity to ride. Rather than having one leg on each side of the horse, women would sit with both legs on one side. 

The side saddle works by placing the right leg around the top pommel. The left leg then goes on the lower pommel as it would for regular horseriding. The body remains square in the saddle; it doesn’t go sideways, as the name would suggest. 

Both legs still face forwards on the side saddle; the only difference is that rather than the right leg going over to the other side, it remains higher up, sitting ahead of the left leg. 

The side saddle provides a lot of grip, keeping the rider safe during jumping and galloping. 

If you want to understand your horse better, check out the ultimate guide to British horse breeds to get you started.

Western Saddles 

Barrel racing saddle

Western Saddle

You’re up! The crowds are going wild, and it’s time to keep your rear in the saddle for the ride of your life. 

The barrel racing saddle is a Western saddle specifically used for rodeo events where riders hold on tight as their riding companion quickly manoeuvers around barrels. 

As quickly as it starts, it’s over! Barrel races generally take less than 40 seconds, so keeping the rider in the saddle seat is vital. 

To do this, the barrel racing saddle has a deep seat and tall pommels to hold the rider in place. The barrel saddle is also generally made with rougher materials – giving you something to grip your legs onto while riding like the wind. 

Like the English racing saddle, weight is a factor. So the barrel racing saddle is generally lighter and smaller than eventing saddles. 

Barrel racing saddles also have thick pommels (swells), allowing riders to grip on tight with their knees underneath. 

Roping Saddle 

Roping Saddle

The roping saddle is used for roping cattle by securing the lasso around the horn of the saddle; you can dismount your horse with free hands. 

Roping saddles are large and in charge, but that’s no surprise considering riders use them as tools when herding massive cattle. They are heavyweight to withstand the force of a fully grown bull or cow!

The roping saddle features a lower cantle to help with dismounting easily, while the sturdy horn allows you to ride alongside cattle when they need moving.  

Stability is important with the roping saddle because riders may need to chase cattle before roping. The roping saddle offers more than enough space for free movement, while the deep stirrups give you something to brace with. 

Reining Saddle 

This is one of the most popular types of Western saddles. Reining is another rodeo event where riders command horses and perform various manoeuvres. Doing this requires a lot of skill, trust, and communication with your trusty steed. 

The reining saddle features front-hung stirrups that allow riders to remain balanced and in control of any fast stop-start motions. 

The low seat and medium height keep riders in the ideal position for maintaining control of the horse throughout the event. 

Cutting Saddle

The cutting saddle is one of the most versatile Western saddles. While originally used for cutting events (horse athleticism and reining abilities) only, the cutting saddle can also be used for training and reining. 

This saddle allows riders to remain flexible. You need to be out of the way when the horse is making sudden movements to prevent injury to yourself or your companion. 

The tall horn provides the hand grip you need to keep balanced while you have a range of motion thanks to the flat elevated seat. The lower cantle also prevents the seat from digging into your back. 

Endurance Saddle 

Endurance competitions can see riders covering over 50 miles of tough terrain that can take a serious toll on your legs and back. 

Luckily, the endurance saddle is specifically designed for long-distance horse riding, offering a comfortable and strong seat. You don’t want a thin endurance saddle; it’s going to hurt you and your horse in the long run. 

These Western saddles have a super padded seat made from luxury leather to keep your rear protected. There are also a variety of rings to store all the necessary gear for your long-distance ride. 

You can get single rigging options too, which keep the endurance saddle lightweight so your horse can remain comfortable. 

Trail saddle  (pleasure saddle)

Horse saddle for trail riding

The trail saddle (also known as a pleasure saddle) is generally lightweight and designed for comfort. The aim is for the padded seat to keep you comfortable while trail riding. 

Some trail riding will have you on steep slopes or rocky terrain, which can get uncomfortable and even painful after a while. 

Trail saddles feature a shorter pommel, thinner horn, and higher cantle. The thinner horn is to prevent pressure injuries during a steep ride, but you may opt for no horn at all. 

You can add quite a bit more gear to the pleasure saddle than on other types of Western saddles. If you’re heading out for a long trek, you’ll need to carry everything from shelter to food and water. 

Ranch saddle 

The ranch saddle is one of the most heavy-duty Western saddles. They are made for all-day riding around the ranch while enabling you to work comfortably. 

A ranch saddle is strong and durable, with the horn and saddle tree offering serious stability when carrying out ranch work. 

The deep seat of the ranch saddle keeps you snug and comfortable throughout the day. The saddle strings also come in handy to keep your tools nearby while working. 


What type of saddle is best for beginners?

The general-purpose saddle is the best option for new riders. It is flexible and can help beginners get a good feel for what a saddle is meant to do. It’s also beginner-friendly for various riding disciplines such as eventing and jumping, which makes it a good option before investing in more discipline-based saddles. 

How do I know if I have the right saddle fit for my horse? 

Unless you’re a professional, it’s very hard to tell when a saddle is the right fit. Based on the riding discipline, you should consult with a saddle fitter to ensure you and your horse fit the saddle perfectly. These professionals know the regulations for events and what to look out for during fittings. Saddles are expensive, so fitting a saddle professionally is well worth it.  

What is the difference between a Western saddle and an English saddle?

The main difference between English and Western saddles is their weight and size. Western saddles are quite a bit bigger and heavier than English saddles because of the style of riding. Western saddles are made for long-distance and more aggressive riding styles like roping and reining, which require serious durability and strength.

Similar Posts