Classic vs Western Saddles

The Western Saddle - points to remember

Classic vs Western Saddles – what’s the difference between English and American saddles?

Wonerding what the difference between the English and western saddle? Read on to find out more …

Horses have been present in people’s lives for thousands of years, keeping up with our daily activities and duties. Formerly, horses were companions in agricultural works, courageously pulling heavy machinery, using their strength and resilience. They were also used as means of transport. People used to travel on horseback or with the use of carriages and surreys, and with the animals’ durability, people were able to travel many kilometres a day.

With time, tractors and other agricultural machines appeared on the soil, and cars, buses, and motorcycles on the streets served people as new means of transportation. Horses, however, turned out to be irreplaceable in a few departments of human life. On the farms and fields, they are still used for guarding the cattle, they are the key component of equine-assisted therapy for people with disabilities, and they also help in felling in places where heavy machinery cannot enter.

Throughout the years, people have learned to use horses’ best qualities, such as durability, strength, agility, and friendly character, so with time, they have become companions and friends at work and for life. The fact that you can find horses almost everywhere in the world diversified the equestrian disciplines pretty heavily, depending on the traditions and history of the given region.


You may spot significant differences in the basic equestrian equipment, namely the saddles. Two of the most popular types that are extremely different from each other are English (classic) and American (western) saddles.

English saddle

There are a few types of the English saddle, e.g. jumping, dressage, cross, and all-purpose, and despite their varying cuts, their structure is the same. The classic saddle is supposed to support the rider and provide him or her with freedom and lightness of movement. Each of the saddles consists of a seat, pommel, cantle, knee roll, flap, panels, and tabs (located under the flap). Additional pieces of equipment are stirrup and stirrup leathers.

The English Saddle - points of the saddle
The English Saddle – points of the saddle

The rider needs close contact with the horse’s back and freedom of movement while jumping over an obstacle or participating in dressage competitions so that he or she could give precise signals. To meet that need, there are the so-called “close contact” types of saddles, which provide maximally close contact with the steed. The seat and panels are profiled in such a way that allows the rider to evenly distribute the body weight onto the horse’s back and the tree, which is the construction of the whole saddle, is elastic and “moves with” the horse. There is a pommel on the front and a cantle on the back, which support the rider’s proper position in the saddle. For example, in a jumping saddle, they are flatter, while in a dressage saddle they are profiled upwards to sit the rider more stably in the saddle.

There is a knee roll on the flap that protects the rider’s leg from the girth fastening, which allows you to stabilize your seat. Under the flap, you will often find knee blocks, which allow the rider to properly position the calf.

Western saddle

The American saddle was designed for riders, who spend long hours in the saddle while guarding the cattle. That’s how the term “cowboy” was coined. As they spend long hours on the horse’s back, the saddle must be comfortable both for the rider and the steed.


The construction of the western saddle provides even pressure on the horse’s back, which makes it comfortable for the steed and does not cause any pain during day-long rides.


The Western Saddle - points to remember
The Western Saddle – points of the saddle

The skirt, on which the whole saddle construction is based, is built in such a way as to best distribute the weight and it goes from the withers to the flank. The common property of both the classic and the American saddle is the seat, however, in the western saddle, it resembles more of a chair. All so that the rider could comfortably spend many hours in the saddle.

Right in front of the seat, there is a fork (called also a swell), which purpose is similar to the ones of the knee roll and blocks in the English saddle. The fork was created to stabilize the rider while the horse kicks or sprints. Above the fork, there is a characteristic part of the western saddle, namely a horn. You can wrap a rope around it that you may later use to catch the cattle.

In the western saddle, you will also find latigo and grapples for girths. Depending on the needs, you may attach the western saddle with one or two girths. The one on the back stabilizes the saddle on the horse’s back but it’s not always used.

The American saddle has fenders that are wide and flat, and stirrups that have wide threads. All those properties maximize the rider’s comfort. A thin flap may cause painful chafing during long rides, and the thin thread of the stirrup won’t provide as much support as the cowboy may need.

Where do the differences between classic and American saddles come from?

American and classic saddles serve different functions and are designed for different riders. A rider, who spends all day in the saddle should prioritize his or her comfort. This is why in the American saddle, you get a profiled and comfortable seat and wide, convenient fenders. Additionally, these saddles perfectly distribute the weight, so that your horse can effortlessly carry the rider on his back for many hours. On the other side, you have the classic saddle that is supposed to be light and support the rider’s seat so that he or she could freely use the signals. The classic saddle is used for equestrian competitions, which require precision and freedom of movement, which is why its structure helps the rider make delicate but meaningful signals


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Author: Suzanne Ashton Founder, Everything Horse Ba Hons Marketing Management email:

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