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Ask someone who is unfamiliar with the equine field what words they most closely relate to horses – you’ll probably hear a chorus of “spurs,” “bits,” and “blinders” intertwined with the most common answer: saddles. 

To some, a saddle is a saddle, but those people could not be more wrong. 

In western horse raising, no two saddles are going to be perfectly identical, nor will they serve the same purpose. A barrel racing saddle shouldn’t be your first choice if you’re in a roping event, nor vice-versa. 

The first step in choosing the right saddle for you and your horse is understanding the differences between some of the western horse saddles

Ranch Saddles

Ranch saddles are some of the more common saddles you’ll run into, as is implied by the name, on a ranch. These saddles are designed to be heavier, bulkier and more durable than some others, and often feature a higher cantle and deeper seat to provide extra comfort when working. 

Barrel Racing Saddle

As you may guess, barrel racing saddles are most commonly used for barrel racing, and therefore are designed to be lightweight and maneuverable. Similar to ranch saddles, the seats of barrel saddles are often deeper with a higher cantle to help secure the rider. A higher horn is often present on barrel saddles to allow for additional security around those tight turns.

Endurance Saddle

Long, endurance based rides typically call for a more comfortable saddle that is smaller, lighter, and often without a horn. The seats are often more shallow, as the deeper pocket is unnecessary for a longer, slower ride. 

Reining Saddle

A lower-profile saddle that features a flatter horn and seat area allows for the rider to more easily convey cues to the horse via hip and rein movements thanks to this saddle

Show Saddles

Show saddles are all about appearance, often featuring elaborate detail work and patterns, often featuring a silver lining to truly catch the eye of the observer. Show saddles differ in appearance saddle-to-saddle, as – not unlike the clothes you wear – different riders often prefer different styles. 

Trail/Pleasure Saddles

Perhaps one of the more versatile saddles, trail or pleasure saddles come in a long list of different styles and designs, often owing to the preference of the rider. A higher cantle is often great for added protection, while a lower cantle offers more comfort and maneuverability. These saddles often come with a good number of ties available for packing gear – similar to what you may see on an endurance saddle. 

While the above does not represent every variety of western style saddle on the market, they are some of the more popular. If you have a preference that goes against the norm, that is perfectly acceptable, as long as it gets the job done.