Parts of a saddle

What Are Horse Saddles Made Of?

Behind the art of horse riding lies a very important tool. Not only does it provides the rider with comfort and stability, but ensures your trusted steed is comfortable. This tool is: The horse saddle.

But have you ever wondered what they’re made of?

Of course you have, that’s why you’ve landed on this article!

Join me as I delve into the intricacies and craftsmanship that make up these fine equine seats. Be it a leather saddle, a synthetic saddle or the elements that form a saddle – I cover them all!

What Makes A Saddle?

When it comes to horse saddles, whether an English or Western saddle, they are not just an accessory. They’re an intricate piece of riding equipment that’s been carefully crafted to ensure the safety of both rider and horse. Understanding the key components that make up your riding saddle is really important. It serves as a foundation for appreciating its function and purpose – and the workmanship that went into making it.

Saddle tree

A typical saddle includes a base frame or “tree” – known as the saddle tree. Just like the backbone gives structure and stability to our bodies, saddle trees are the backbone of a saddle!

They are made from high-quality wood, fibreglass, steel, iron or synthetic materials and are the base on which the whole saddle is built. Usually, saddle trees should be built to fit the horse for which it is intended, to ensure the proper fit and comfort are taken into consideration. However, saddles nowadays are more of a “generic” fit; fitting horses close or equal to the designed style and size.

Saddle trees are designed to distribute the rider’s weight evenly across the horse’s spine, preventing any pain to the pressure points.

Saddle trees come in three different width fittings;

  • Narrow,
  • Medium and
  • Broad.

And four different length fittings;

  • 15-inch (38.1 cm)
  • 16-inch (40.64 cm)
  • 16.5 inch (41.9 cm)
  • 17.5 inch (44.45 cm)

The shape of the saddle tree has two variations;

  1. Flat-race tree
  2. Dip-seated spring tree

As mentioned earlier, saddle trees are the foundation of a saddle and therefore it determines the saddle’s shape.


The gullet of a saddle is the space or channel that runs on the underside of the saddle tree. It’s an open area of sorts that leaves space for the horse’s spine to fit comfortably. The gullet’s job is to make sure there is no direct pressure on the horse’s back; which is full of sensitive nerve endings!

The width, depth and shape of the gullet can vary depending on the types of riding saddles. A wider gullet is usually preferred for horses with broader backs; while narrower gullets are used for horses with a more refined back.

A gullet alone does not determine the fit of a saddle. All elements of a saddle need to be taken into consideration when choosing the right saddle for your trusted steed.

Panels and padding

Two panels come into contact with a horse’s back. Commonly called “saddle pads or panels”, these two panels are on either side of the gullet.

For extra comfort, padding is added to the saddle pad design. These are like comfy pillows that cushion the horse’s back and help absorb the impact of the rider’s movements. The padding is usually made from foam, rubber, wool or synthetic fibres. Padding is very important for our equine pals; protecting the horse’s spine and muscles during long riding sessions or outrides.


Saddle seat

Saddle seats are much like the seat of your car; it needs to be comfortable and functional. Seats allow riders to maintain balance, evenly distribute their weight and control while riding. Many equestrians tend to overlook the importance of a good quality seat. Seats are not just for looks; they’re a very important element of the saddle which can ultimately affect your riding.

Think of it this way: If you’re planning to spend a lot of time in the saddle; you’re going to need something comfy for your rear end!

The correct saddle fitting depends on the type of horse you have and which disciplines you enjoy doing, as the design of the seat can vary. For example, deeper seats are mainly used in dressage events, while flatter seats allow more movement for jumping and trail-riding activities.

Seats can be made from various materials, such as;

  • Canvas
  • Leather
  • Felt
  • Wool

Outer parts on a horse saddle

While saddle trees, gullets, panels and seats are the basic components of a saddle; there are outer elements on it that you should know. These are;

  1. Pommel: This is the rounded knob or raised front of a horse saddle that the rider can grip with one hand. Western saddles often have a metal pommel (knob), sometimes referred to as a “horn”.
  2. Cantle: This is found at the back end of a saddle; it’s upturned-shaped and gives support to the rider.
  3. Twist: This is the narrowest part of a horse saddle, found between the pommel and the seat. It illustrates how the saddle fits between the rider’s legs.
  4. Skirt: These are usuallyleather flaps that attach to the side of the saddle seat. The purpose of skirts is to protect the rider’s legs from the sweat of the horse and to cover the girth and girth straps.
  5. Flap: This is a big piece of material that hangs down from the saddle seat. It is found underneath the skirt, stirrup bar, and stirrup leathers.
  6. Knee rolls: These are additional features available on modern saddles. Knee rolls are a padded section found at the front of the flap; showing the rider where to position their knees (hence the name!)
  7. Stirrup bar: These are covered by the skirt. It is a metal bar that connects the stirrup leathers to the saddle.
  8. Stirrup leathers: These are leather (or synthetic) straps that join the stirrups and stirrup bar.
  9. Stirrup leather keeper: This is usually found in ‘slits’ in the flap; it holds the excess slack of the stirrups leathers to prevent them from flapping around.
  10. Stirrup: These are the metal ‘foot holders’ that riders use to mount and dismount the horse; they are also a place for riders to rest their feet while riding and steer the horse with their feet.

This handy video lists the parts of a western and an English saddle.

What Materials Are Used For Saddles?

Leather saddle

When it comes to horse saddles, a leather saddle usually comes to mind first. This material has stood the test of time and oozes a sense of tradition, craftsmanship and regality. While they are more expensive when compared to their synthetic horse saddle counterparts; they’re well worth the price tag (which isn’t as bad as you may think!)

Leather is durable and flexible; making it an ideal choice for the construction of leather saddles. It moulds to the shape of the horse’s back (over time), creating the perfect fit. Leather horse saddles have excellent breathability which allows better air circulation.

Leather is a timeless material to use, as it naturally ages over time. However, these leather saddles do require more care to ensure their longevity. Easy to clean, with a damp cloth and leather care products – they will definitely last longer in the long run.

It is worth mentioning, that not all leather saddles are made the same. Different types of leather can affect the quality and performance of the saddle. The two main types of leather variations are;

  • Full-grain leather: This is the highest quality leather, from the top layer (or top side) of the hide and is the most durable.
  • Top-grain leather: This is of lower quality leather, as the layer is ‘buffed’ (processed) to remove imperfections from the hide.

Here’s a quick summary of leather saddles:

  • More expensive than synthetic horse saddles (but worth it!).
  • A leather horse saddle is usually heavier than synthetic types.
  • Leather saddles are limited in colour choice.
  • They are more comfortable for the rider (and horse!)
  • Higher saddle maintenance, to ensure their longevity.

Synthetic horse saddle

In more recent years, synthetic materials have gained popularity as a modern alternative to the traditional leather saddle. These materials, such as synthetic leather or textiles, may not have the same feel as leather saddles but are becoming the preferred material of choice among many riders. They’re perfect to use for younger riders – who tend to outgrow their saddles fairly quickly – and are cheaper than leather types.

A synthetic horse saddle is durable and resistant to general wear and tear. They are often lightweight, making them quite appealing for disciplines that require agility and quick movements (like jumping events).

While synthetic saddles may lack the same natural beauty as leather, they sure do make up for it in versatility and style. They are available in a wide range of colours, patterns and designs; allowing riders to truly express their individuality in the arena!

A synthetic horse saddle requires a lot less fuss in terms of cleaning when compared to leather horse saddles.

Here’s a quick summary of synthetic horse saddles:

  • Cheaper than leather saddles.
  • Synthetic horse saddles are lighter than leather types.
  • Synthetic saddles come in a variety of colours and patterns.
  • They are better for older riders to use (when lifting heavier leather saddles may be difficult)
  • Synthetic horse saddles are ideal for riding schools and outride businesses.
  • They require less maintenance when compared to leather saddles.


What is the difference between a leather saddle and a synthetic saddle?

The main difference between the two is the material that is used to ensure the longevity of each. A leather horse saddle is a high-quality, breathable and durable saddle. It moulds and shapes to the horse’s back over time and is generally more expensive (and heavier!) when compared to synthetic types. Leather horse saddles require more TLC in terms of maintenance and cleaning.

Synthetic horse saddles are made from synthetic materials, such as nylon or faux leather. They are durable and resistant to wear and tear and are easy to clean. A synthetic horse saddle is cheaper (and lighter) than a leather saddle and comes in a variety of colours and patterns to choose from.

The materials used are mainly for aesthetic purposes; the importance of a saddle is ensuring you have chosen the right saddle fit for both you and your four-legged pal.

What are saddle trees made from?

Saddle trees – the base of all horse saddles – can be made from a variety of materials. Nowadays, manufacturers make wooden trees, fibreglass trees, metal trees and synthetic trees.

Similar Posts