English Saddle vs Western Saddle, a valid comparison

Is "English Saddle Vs Western Saddle" A Valid Comparison?

English Saddle vs Western Saddle, a valid comparison

Guest content by Nicky Ellis from Horses & Foals, Illinois, US

There are lots of arguments, discussions and articles tackling the topic “English Saddle vs. Western Saddle”. This is basically a meaningless argument. You don’t have to choose between the two, and in fact, if you want to be a truly skilled and competent rider, you shouldn’t.

A good rider is not dependent upon specific tack for good performance. A skilled rider should be able to ride well and comfortably with any properly fitted tack. Likewise, a properly trained horse is not dependent upon tack to perform. Your horse should be comfortable and accepting of any well-fitted tack you choose to use.

Being able to ride both Western and English is a very good skill to have because it enables you to perform a whole lot more functions on horseback. With an English saddle you can go out for a hack, jump fences, go foxhunting or any use it for any number of other equestrian pursuits designed for English riding.

A traditional English Saddle
A traditional English Saddle

When you ride with a Western saddle you can perform all sorts of ranch duties and rodeo activities, such as calf roping, barrel racing, pole bending and so on. Some riders find a Western saddle more comfortable for long-term riding such as trail rides. Others prefer a bareback riding or treeless saddle or an Australian saddle for this sort of riding. When looking at the saddle pad for western saddles, there is a clear difference in size and fitting from those used with English saddles.


The bottom line is an English saddle is not better than a Western saddle or vice versa. You should choose the saddle you need for the purpose you have in mind, taking your own preferences into account.

How Do You Choose A Good Western Saddle?

While many readers of this may be very familiar with an English saddle, the idea of riding Western may be new and unfamiliar territory. Here are some guidelines for choosing the right Western saddle to suit your needs.

Western Saddle
Western saddle

Just as with English saddles, there are many choices to be had among Western saddles. The differences are based on the intended use of the saddle, and also in personal preference in terms of ornamentation.

When choosing a Western saddle you should think about the activities you intend to pursue. For example, roping and reining are two different activities that place different demands on your saddle.

Roping saddles have double rigging and large sturdy saddle horns. These features support roping and securing (dallying) a cow or calf.

Reining saddles have stirrups that are hung more forward than on standard Western saddles. This lets the rider sit back in the saddle for more security during quick starts and stops. Likewise, a barrel racing saddle is lighter weight, more secure and built for speed.

Trail saddles are lightweight and have a small saddle horn. The reduced weight helps your horse stay comfortable and have more endurance for long distance rides. A sturdy saddle horn is not needed for light pleasure riding or trail riding.

If you plan to dabble in a variety of Western riding activities, look for a stock saddle or a ranch saddle. This is a good, versatile all around choice.

Does Your Saddle Fit Your Horse & You?

The most important thing to consider when choosing any saddle, Western or English is fit. A saddle that doesn’t fit your horse correctly can cause him injury. A saddle that doesn’t fit you right can cause you a great deal of discomfort and ruin your ride.

To get the right saddle, you’ll need to keep your size, weight and dimensions in mind as well as those of your horse. Remember that both of you may undergo changes physically with the passage of time, and be sure to check your saddle’s fit from time-to-time to make sure it’s still a good choice for both of you.

Follow These Steps To Make Your Choice

  1. Try out a lot of saddles.

When choosing a saddle, begin by testing a wide variety of Western saddles. Shop your tack store, and take advantage of any opportunity you have to sit in the saddle at the store. If you have friends who ride Western, try riding their saddles to see what works best for you.

Pay close attention to:

  • The height and angle of the fork
  • The size and angle of the seat
  • The position of the stirrups
  • The height of the quintal
  • The weight of the saddle

It’s very possible to get a good deal on a good saddle online, but it’s best if you can look at it first and try it out. Most tack shops and tack websites will give you grace. When you can try out the saddle to make sure that it’s right for you and your horse.

  1. Buy the best quality saddle you can afford.

It’s a good idea to invest as much as you can in your saddle because it’s an important piece of equipment for your safety, comfort, and enjoyment.

While it may be tempting to get a fancy Western saddle with all the bling, bells and whistles, you are sure to be better off getting a plain saddle with more attention paid to quality then dazzle.

  1. Stick with brand names.

It’s always a good idea to consider major saddle brand names. Manufacturers of brand-name saddles have a stake in providing a high-quality product. No-name saddles may be made of questionable materials by virtual slave labour in Third World countries. If something goes wrong with a low-quality saddle, you will have no recourse.

  1. Buy a saddle you can handle easily.

You may wish to shop for a used saddle, and this can often be a good idea, however, newer saddles made with lighter weight materials can have a lot of advantages. Older saddles often have wooden trees which are quite heavy and difficult to manoeuvre for smaller riders.

Is It Harder To Tack Up With A Western Saddle?

One difference between a Western saddle and an English saddle that may make many riders feel that the English saddle is preferable is the fact that a Western saddle can make tacking up harder. English saddles are typically very lightweight and streamlined. Girthing an English saddle and adjusting the stirrups is a straightforward proposition because both processes are as simple as fastening a belt around your waist.

Western Saddles stirrups can be difficult to adjust
Western Saddles stirrups can be difficult to adjust

Western saddles are typically larger than English saddles, and this can be a good thing in terms of distributing the weight evenly over your horse’s back for long rides. When it comes to tacking up, this can be a bad thing in terms of carrying the saddle from place-to-place and getting it onto your horse’s back. As mentioned, this is especially true of older saddles.

Western saddle girths are a little more complicated than English saddle girths. Some are a simple belt buckle arrangement. Others require learning a fairly complex configuration of loops and wrapping to secure the girth strap.

Likewise, adjusting the length of the stirrups on a Western saddle can be a bit trying and complicated. Unlike an English saddle which simply has exposed straps that can be moved up and down with ease, a Western stirrup sometimes has fairly concealed points of adjustment that are difficult to access.

A truly properly fitted English saddle can be used without additional padding. Any Western saddle must always have saddle blankets or pads between the fleece underside and your horse’s back.

Add A Western Saddle To Your Tack Collection

Adding new options to your riding experience is always a good idea. Having a good set of English tack, a good set of Western tack and a good quality bareback pad can give you lots of options for short rides, long rides and full participation in a wide variety of activities on horseback.

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