The Different Parts of a Horseback Riding Saddle

For beginner riders, all of the tack and gear that comes with riding horses can seem overwhelming. It can take some time to get used to properly tacking up a horse, and it is something you can only learn through experience. Understanding the parts of the saddle can give you a head start in your horse knowledge. It will also allow you to learn what all of those pieces are for and how they work together.

What are the parts of a saddle? There are two main riding disciplines – English and Western – and they each have their own specific style of saddle. Within these two categories of saddles, there are endless options and “extras” that will be included on a saddle to accommodate individual equestrian sports. Below you will learn the basic parts of both the English and Western saddle. 

Read on to learn the name and description of the parts that make up both English and Western saddles. 

Parts Of An English Saddle

English saddles are much smaller and lighter than Western saddles. This design allows the rider to maintain close contact with the horse and offer subtle, almost invisible cues in equestrian sports such as dressage and showjumping. 

Under all of the leather that makes up a saddle is a foundation that is called the tree. The tree is usually made of wood or synthetic material and makes up the interior of the saddle. This tree will determine the size of the saddle and how it sits on the horse. You won’t be able to see this foundation, as it will be covered entirely with leather.

Cantle – the cantle is the “backrest” of the saddle. It will curve upward slightly and is where your lower back will make contact with the saddle. Cantles come in a variety of different angles, heights, and styles. Which cantle you choose depends on both your sport of choice and your preference. 

Seat – this is the top of the saddle where the rider sits. The seat comes in a variety of depths and which depth of seat you choose will depend on your preference, comfort, and discipline. Dressage saddles, for example, often have a deep seat and a high cantle to encourage good posture in the rider.

Pommel – the pommel is the front of the saddle, and will curve upward slightly, similar to the cantle. This will give your seat forward support.

Twist – English saddles can have a narrow, medium, or wide twist depending on the rider’s preference. It is the section of the saddle that sits just below the pommel and determines how the saddle will feel between the rider’s legs. 

Knee Roll – the knee roll is at the front of the saddle flap and is purely for comfort. Some saddles have contoured knee rolls for added support. 

Saddle Flap – the saddle flap will lie on each side of the saddle, and comes in a variety of lengths and shapes.

  • Under the saddle flap is where you will find the girth billets. These are three straps that are used to hold the girth in place. You will also find the billet keeper here – this works to keep the billets in place so that they do not bunch up under the saddle flap. 
  • You might also find both knee blocks and thigh blocks on either side under the saddle flap – these provide support for the rider’s legs and are often contoured. 

Skirt – the skirt looks like a smaller “flap” that is on top of the saddle flap. It protects the rider’s legs from being pinched or irritated by the stirrup leather buckle. 

Stirrup Leather Keeper – the stirrup leather keeper is a small loop or slit that is attached to the saddle flap that is used to hold the slack of the stirrup leather. Unlike Western saddles, English saddles do not usually come with stirrups – you will have to buy these separately. 

Girth – while the girth is not technically part of the saddle, without it, your saddle is useless. The girth is what secures the saddle to the horse’s back. Girths can be made from a variety of materials and should have a soft, padded underside for the horse’s comfort. An English girth will have buckles on each end that attach to the girth billets that you will find under the saddle flap.

Parts Of A Western Saddle

Western saddles are much larger, longer, and heavier than English saddles. One might assume that English saddles are therefore more comfortable for a horse, but that isn’t necessarily so. One reason that Western saddles are so large is that it helps to distribute the weight of the rider (and tack) across the horse’s back, which provides relief for the horse. Western saddles are also considered by many to be more comfortable for the rider. These saddles were originally designed for long days on the ranch, so comfort for both rider and horse were key in its creation.

The Western saddle starts with a foundational tree, just as does the English saddle. The shape of the tree will determine not only the size of the finished saddle but also the style and angle of the seat. 

Horn – the horn is the knob that sits at the front of the saddle, and no, it is not meant to be used as a handhold. Horns are most commonly used to hold one end of a rope that is being used to rope a cow. 

Pommel – the pommel is the front of the saddle that will curve slightly upward, higher than in the English saddle, to support the front of the rider. On Western saddles, pommels are also referred to as swells or forks, and they provide a base for the horn. While there are three different pommel styles to choose from on a Western saddle, the A-fork and the swell fork are the two most commonly seen. 

Cantle – as with the English saddle, the cantle is the “backrest” of the saddle. It will curve upward and is where your lower back will make contact with the saddle. The cantle will come in a variety of angles, styles, and heights. 

Seat – this is the top of the saddle where the rider sits. The seat comes in a variety of depths and which depth of seat you choose will depend on your preference, comfort, and discipline. 

Latigo – this is a leather strap on the left side of the saddle that is used to secure the cinch to the horse. There will also usually be a latigo keeper on the left side; this is a tab or slit that is designed to hold the excess length of latigo.

Billet – the billet is on the right side of the saddle and is what is used to attach the cinch to the right side of the horse. Most Western saddles have two billets – one at the front of the saddle, and one at the rear. However, many riders choose to use only one cinch (the one at the front), and the rear billet will go unused or be used to attach a back cinch strap.

Jockeys – the jockey, or housing, is the leather that covers the seat of the saddle. Most Western saddles have both seat jockeys and back jockeys, though the back jockeys will be absent in saddles designed for specific sports. 

Skirt – the skirt of a Western saddle is similar to that on an English saddle and will lie under the jockeys and extend down the side of the horse. The skirt gives the Western saddle its rectangular shape.

Stirrups – the stirrups are where the rider’s feet rests while riding (the term “rest” is not entirely accurate, however, as your feet should be engaged with heels down while riding). Western saddles are typically sold with the stirrups included and already assembled.

Stirrup Fender – the stirrup fender hangs from the saddle and is what holds the stirrup. Stirrup fenders are wide when compared to English stirrup leathers, and are designed for rider comfort.

Stirrup Hobble – this is a strap at the bottom of the fender that secures the stirrup in place.

Conchos and Saddle Strings – your Western saddle may have conchos at the rear of the saddle, often decorative, with two thin saddle strings hanging from each concho. The saddle strings are meant to hold packs, gear, lariats, or any other equipment the rider needs to carry.

Cinch – the terms “cinch” and “girth” are often used interchangeably. Although they are essentially the same thing, a girth is used with an English saddle, and a cinch is used with a Western saddle. As stated earlier, a cinch is not technically a part of the saddle, but it is certainly essential to the saddle’s function. 

Back Cinch Strap – this is a second strap that will go around the barrel of your horse behind the placing of the cinch. This strap helps to stabilize the saddle and keep it from putting pressure on the horse’s withers. While this is an optional piece to include with a Western saddle, it can make the ride more comfortable for your horse.

Which Saddle Is Right For You?

While English and Western saddles are significantly different, unless you are looking for a saddle to accommodate a specific sport, you have endless options when it comes to choosing a saddle. If you are leisurely riding, the choice will largely come down to preference and your comfort. If you can, try out a few different saddles before you go shopping to narrow down what works best for you.


Want to learn more about horse tack? Check out the articles below!

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