Western Saddle Parts And What They’re Called

What Are the Parts of a Western Saddle?

If you’re like me and grew up riding in an English saddle, looking at a Western saddle may leave your head spinning. There are so many extra parts! While it may appear complicated, each piece of a Western saddle has a specific purpose, and learning about the purpose behind the design can give you valuable insight into the workings of Western tack. 

What are the parts of a Western saddle called? There are several different components that make up a Western saddle:

  • tree
  • cantle
  • pommel
  • horn
  • leather housing
  • skirt
  • stirrups
  • fenders
  • cinch

I’ve found that understanding the parts of the Western saddle has made me better at fitting saddles to my horse and knowing how to use them. To get a more in-depth look at each part, keep reading!

Parts of a Western Saddle: The Tree

The saddle tree is the foundation of the saddle and is usually made of wood. The shape of the tree determines the rough shape of the saddle. It will include the foundation for the saddle seat resting on either part of the horse’s spine, the cantle, the pommel, and the horn.

  • The Cantle – the cantle is essentially the backrest of the saddle. It’s a piece that will extend upward from the back of the saddle and ideally rest against your lower back. While its purpose is to support the rider’s seat, it works as more of a guide for the seat instead of a structure against which to lean, especially when loping and galloping or when riding over rough terrain. Higher cantles are more commonly used in high-speed disciplines such as barrel racing. On the other side of the spectrum, lower cantles are more commonly used by ropers who prefer the flexibility and the easier, quicker dismount of a shorter backrest. 

  • The Pommel – in the Western circuit, the pommel may also be called the “swell” or the “fork.” It is the upward extension at the front of the saddle and works similarly to the cantle, supporting the rider’s seat but on the opposite side. The pommel must fit comfortably around the horse’s withers, typically lower than the cantle. 

  • The Seat – the seat of the saddle refers to the area between the cantle and the pommel. A saddle seat offers various depths, and the ideal fit will depend on you as the rider and your riding discipline.

  • The Horn – the horn is perhaps the most distinguishable feature of the Western saddle. It is the knob that rests atop the pommel at the front of the saddle. While many beginning riders assume its purpose is to give the rider a little extra security, its sole purpose is not as a handhold. The main purpose of the horn is to hold one end of a rope used in cattle ranching. It is also used in proper mounting and dismounting techniques. 

Parts of a Western Saddle: The Housing of the Saddle

Now that the saddle shape has been created through the saddle tree, it’s time to cover the wood. Otherwise, it would not be a very comfortable ride for the human or the horse.

  • The Jockey – the covering of the saddle tree is called the jockey or the housing. Typically, the covering underneath the saddle is made using sheepskin, which creates additional padding on the underside of the saddle. The top of the saddle is typically covered in leather, which provides a supple and smooth surface for the rider that is also easy to wipe down and clean. The jockey can be separated into two parts: the seat and the back jockey.

  • The Skirt is the leather portion of the saddle that extends from under the jockey and rests along the horse’s sides. The skirt’s design and shape give the Western saddle its traditional rectangular shape. 

Parts of a Western Saddle: The Stirrups

Unlike with an English saddle, the stirrups of a Western saddle are included with the saddle as a whole when sold. This will include both the fenders and the stirrups themselves.

  • The Stirrup Fenders – the fenders are the lengths of leather that extend from under the jockey and connect the stirrups to the saddle. The fenders of a Western saddle are much wider than the stirrup leathers of an English saddle. They are designed for both horse and rider comfort. 

  • The Stirrups – the stirrups are secured with the fenders and are where a rider inserts their foot. Western stirrups, like fenders, are much wider than their English counterparts. They usually have either leather or rubber padding on the bottom, affecting the ease of sliding your boot in and out of the stirrup. 

  • The Hobble Strap – the hobble strap is the leather portion connecting the stirrup to the fender.

Parts of a Western Saddle: Keeping the Saddle Secured to the Horse

Of course, a saddle is no good unless it’s secured to a horse. I found this part to be the most confusing of the Western saddle and much less straightforward than an English saddle. Here’s what you need to know:

  • The Cinch – known as the girth in English riding, the cinch is a wide strip of sheepskin, felt, or mohair that runs under the horse and is secured onto each side of the saddle. The cinch I’m referring to is secured under the front of the saddle, but a second cinch is often secured to the backs of many Western saddles, especially in certain disciplines.

  • The Billet – on the “off side” of most Western saddles is a billet. This piece resembles a belt with multiple holes to buckle one side of the cinch. 

  • The Latigo – on the other side of the cinch will be a latigo, a long, thin strap of leather or nylon that will be looped multiple times through the metal ring on the cinch and the metal ring on the skirt (also called the rigging or rigging D). The metal ring that the latigo is secured to is screwed directly into the tree of the saddle for security, creating a flexible and secure connection, finished with a “Texas T” knot. Many saddles will come with a “latigo keeper,” which is a single slit the excess length of latigo can be stored. While I’ve always ridden with a billet on one side and a latigo on the other, some Western riders prefer billets on both sides or latigos on both sides.

Parts of a Western Saddle: Conchos and Saddle Strings

Many saddles will include decorative conchos around the perimeter of the saddle that are metal rings or screw heads used to secure saddle strings. Saddle strings are very thin strips of leather or rope that can be used to secure packs, gear, ropes, or any other equipment a rider may need while out on the range, ranch, or trail. 

Why are Western Saddles So Much Larger than English Saddles? 

One of the biggest differences between Western and English saddles is in size. Western saddles are much larger and heavier than English saddles. While you may assume that a larger, heavier saddle would be less comfortable for a horse, the opposite is true. Western saddles are so large because the size and shape work to more evenly distribute the weight of tack and rider across a larger portion of the horse’s back, which lessens the pressure on the horse. Of course, the larger size also works to the rider’s advantage – Western saddles are designed to be used through long days while herding cattle. While the size is an advantage to the horse, it also aids in the rider’s comfort.

To learn more about the size and weight difference of English and Western saddles, visit my article How Much Do Horseback Riding Saddles Weigh?

The Complexity of Western Saddles

While the construction of a Western saddle may seem confusing at first glance, everything makes sense once you learn about the specific purpose of each component. Western saddles, stirrups, fenders, and almost everything else are larger than their English cousins. However, this is not an aesthetic matter; rather, one of comfort for both horse and rider.

All of the additional accessories may often add a flair of style but are important to the saddle’s function in carrying gear, ropes, and other equipment. Western saddles, after all, have been used for hundreds of years and have served as seats, tools, backpacks, and even pillows for the working cowboy.

Measuring and fitting your saddle correctly is essential to your horse’s comfort. To better understand how to tell if a saddle fits, check out my article Measuring a Horse Saddle For a Perfect Fit.


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