The 8 Parts of Western Saddle You Should Know

Looking at a horse saddle, have you ever wondered why there are so many parts in just a small thing?

Well, this article will tell you how to name all parts of a Western saddle, what they are for, and how to select the right size saddle for you and your dear horse.

Parts of a Western saddle


1. The tree

The tree is considered the “skeleton” of a saddle. Other subsequent parts of the saddle are built upon the design of the tree.

The function of a saddle tree is to distribute the rider’s weight equally when he is on the horse’s back. This will help avoid pressure points and bring comfort to the horse.

The tree is important as it greatly contributes to the safety and longevity of the saddle. Conversely, a poor-quality tree means a poor-quality saddle.

Different types of the Western saddle tree

Traditional trees are usually made of wood. The best wood to use is often Western pine or Lodgepole pine. Saddle trees can also be made of synthetic materials, such as plastic, fiberglass, or Ralide.


Plastic saddle tree – Fiberglass saddle tree – Ralide saddle tree

  • Plastic saddle trees are much lighter than wood trees. This type of tree is perfect for long trails and endurance. However, after about 7 years, it can turn brittle and crack. Once cracked, it can’t be repaired. Additionally, it can’t hold nails, staples, or screws well.
  • Fiberglass is tough and rigid, so fiberglass saddle trees can get stress fractures after using 2-3 years. However, nowadays, many fiberglass trees are long-lasting thanks to the advancement of technology.
  • Ralide saddle trees are very strong and durable. This material is the best of all synthetics. However, this type is not as flexible as wood and is made with molds: no nails or screw-on Ralide trees.

Part of the Western saddle tree

The tree consists of 5 parts: 2 bars, 1 fork, 1 cantle, and 1 horn.


  • The 2 bars

The 2 bars are the internal structure that runs parallel down the length of the saddle. The most directly impact the horse’s back. They distribute the weight of the rider over the horse.

They are located inside the saddle. Therefore, you can only see them when you completely take the saddle apart.

  • The fork (swell, pommel)

A fork holds the bars together at the front of a saddle and somehow provides protection when riding. Indeed, when the riders are thrown forward, the fork will keep them in the saddle.

The fork is also helpful in moving or lifting a saddle as the rider can grab the fork and the back of the saddle to put in on the horses’ back.

Especially in Western saddles, it serves as a base for the saddle horn.

  • The cantle

The cantle holds the bars together at the back of a saddle. It locates like an anchor for the tree in the rear of the saddle.

Like the fork, the cantle provides additional support to the rider. Sometimes, it can stabilize the riders from the back when riding.

According to the purpose, it can be higher or lower.

A higher cantle can support the rider’s back and keep him in his seat when the horse twists and turns in barrel racing.

Meanwhile, a lower cantle can benefit the rider in dismounting the horse quickly during roping.

  • The horn

The horn is the key thing to identify a Western saddle. It is on top of the fork on the front of the saddle.

It provides extra support for the riders, like stabilizing them when getting on or off the horse. Also, it is used as a place for lassos and other equipment.

Depending on the purpose of the saddle, the horn can have different sizes.

For example, a larger horn can support a rope and other equipment of a roping saddle. Or, a smaller horn that slants forward tends to be used in barrel racing as the rider will lean forward and hold it for support.

A beginner rider may feel safer with a Western saddle as the horn can secure you if you are a beginner rider.

2. The Ground Seat

The seat, which is behind the horn, is where the rider will sit when riding. The size and slope of the seat determine the rider’s comfort. Usually, there are 3 levels of slope: deep, flat, or in the middle.

Deep seats will be better for barrel racing as the horse will do many twisting and turning. Also, a deep seat with a high cantle will keep the rider better.

Meanwhile, flat seats are more suitable for reining. In this case, the riders need to sit low on the horses’ backs, and a flatter ground seat is good for hip movement.

 3. The Gullet


Measure A Saddle Gullet With Full Leather And Fleece On

The gullet is the tunnel created underneath the fork. It sits on top to protect the horse’s withers.

This part must be formed right to fit the size and shape of the horse. If it is too low, it will hit the horse’s withers, causing discomfort and pain.

Thoroughbreds, Saddlebreds, and Tennessee Walkers are commonly horse breeds with long withers. As a result, they can likely have a gullet fitting problem. Hence, be careful when choosing gullets for them.

Read more: Top 5 Horse saddles for High-withered Horse

4. Skirts

This is a large piece of leather or other cushioning material. It is underneath the saddle seat to protect the horse’s back from the direct pressure of the bars.

It also helps to stabilize the saddle by distributing the rider’s weight evenly.

5. Rigging

The rigging is a part of a Western saddle. It consists of 1 cinch, 2 D-rings, 1 latigo, and 1 off-billet strap.

The cinch (the girth) is located towards the front of the saddle. It is to secure the saddle to the horse.

The latigo attaches the cinch on one saddle’s side through the D-ring of that side. On the other side of the saddle, the off-billet strap connects the cinch to the D-ring.

As the rigging comprises many important parts, it is essential to be connected correctly to prevent accidents.

6. Fender

This part is to protect the rider’s legs from the horse’s sweat. It connects the stirrup to the main part of the saddle.

7. Jockey

There are often 2 jockeys in a Western saddle: one in the front, and the other is towards the rear. Some can have front, back, and side jockeys.

Jockeys separate the rigging and the seat of a saddle. This part protects the rider’s leg and keeps the rider’s body from contacting the saddle’s rigging when riding.

8. Stirrup

This is a triangular piece for the rider to rest his feet when riding. It supports the rider’s legs and helps him hold a proper riding position.

The stirrup leathers keep the stirrups in place. They are made from heavy leather.

Selecting the right size saddle for riders

Although there are size rules for finding a suitable saddle, the best way is to try sitting and riding on different sizes before buying.

Western saddles are measured from the back of the fork to the front of the cantle in a straight line. As a result, a Western saddle is often 2 inches smaller than an English saddle for the same size.


Measure Western saddle

Basically, Western saddle sizes range from 15-inch seats to 19-inch seats. There is also half size, but it is not always available from most manufacturers.

Below is the Western saddle size rule that you can apply in general.

  • Youth: size 12 inch to 13 inch
  • Small adult: size 14 inch
  • Average adult: size 15 inch
  • Large adult: size 16 inch
  • Extra-large adult: size 17 inch
  • Very large or tall adult: size 18 inch to 20 inch

Now I hope you are satisfied with everything you have just learned about parts of a Western saddle. It is not difficult, right? For me, whenever I see a horn, I know that it is a Western saddle.

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