Western Saddles: History, Buying & Selling
Western saddles are the saddles used by the cowboy. This type of saddle first developed by Spaniards in Mexico was based on the styles of riding popular in Spain at that time, with the added characteristic feature of a saddle horn and raised cantle, giving a roomy seat. The early Western saddles were heavy and many were very ornate. From the beginning, this saddle was a utility product, but also a mark of individuality.
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Western saddles came into being because of the need of working cattle, which included roping, hence the saddle horn. A saddle needed to be sturdy and suitable too for long hours and working days, with the capability of packing overnight gear, while keeping the rider comfortable.
The American ranchers improved on the early Western Saddles from Mexico, by lightening them to make them less cumbersome, and by adding a high pommel and swelled fork, allowing the saddle to provide extra leg grip for daily work and to better stay on a bucking horse! The design of the pommel and cantle of Western saddles is determined by use and personal preference.
Working the range often required quick changes of direction, also sudden stops and going up and down sharp inclines were all a part of everyday work, so a rigging to hold the saddle on the horse was devised the front cinch going around the belly and attaching to plates or rings on both sides of the saddle; and often a back cinch, make of leather, held on both sides of the saddle to buckle only firmly enough to touch the horse s belly and ever tight enough to cause bucking or discomfort. The rigging on Western saddles is tied to the saddle with straps of leather called a latigo. After being sized for the horse, the cinch stays attached to the off-side latigo until it wears out, and the near side latigo is buckled or knotted when the horse is saddled or unsaddled.
How the rigging is places on Western Saddles determines the center of balance of the rider. To be balanced over the horse s center of gravity, the rigging is more to the center of the saddle To allow the saddle to set down more on the horse, which places the rider a little behind the horse s center of gravity, the rigging is set more forward. Varied styles of rigging are used depending on the work to be done, and according to requirements of speed and particular agility demanded in each of the many competitive Western sports of today.
Western saddles were developed to be in use for many hours at a time, so the tree of the saddle became larger, covering more surface area than English saddles, with little padding between the bars of the tree and the underside of the saddle a design to disperse weight bearing.
Essential features of all Western Saddles are: a pommel, of varied height; a cantle of varied height, heavy square or round skirts, rigging variations, and heavy stirrups which can be either open or hooded. Variations of the Western Saddle exist and are dependant on intended use and comfort. Other than the ranch or working saddle, there are saddles specifically for roping, cutting, reining, team penning, barrel racers, and pleasure riding or horsemanship classes.
To absorb the shock of the cow hitting the end of a rope, team penning and roping saddles have high horns and deep seats. To stay out of the way of the reins, a lower horn is found on reining saddles. To keep the rider in place, lighter weight saddles with deep seats and wide swells are used in barrel racing ( and their rigging is the closest in the modern world to that of the popular McClellan saddle of the 1800 s Pleasure saddles are more likely to be decorated with tooling, silver medallions or fancy stitching. Of course the traditional parade saddles are highly decorated and shiny!
The stirrups of Western saddles are part of the saddle and do not detach. The design of the stirrup having a wider tread came into being along with the riders heeled boots , to prevent human feet from slipping through the stirrup and the dangers of being dragged. Falls were not uncommon during range work!
(Some variations on the Western saddle design, such as those used in bronc riding, endurance riding and those made for the rapidly growing European market, do not have horns.)
Western saddles are the pride of their owners. They are much more than just a saddle to put on a horse s back or to use in work. They are a symbol of the development of the range, of the evolution from the Texas longhorn to the prime cattle of today. Makes and styles of Western saddles carry names suggestive of their history, and their construction, as well as their use.
The names of the Western Saddles, to both manufactures and owners, are symbols of much of the history of a country and inclusive of pledges of integrity. Each name also standing for courage and character - the good service these saddles provide are almost, but not quite the least of the matter.
Listings on this site by companies who make or sell saddles can be located in the Shopping section of the site, and individual listings will display product information, often photos and pricing, and contact emails, phone numbers and links to individual Tack or Saddlery shops.
Other HSC site areas of interest to horsemen are Horse Industry Stables/Farms/Ranches, Stallions at Stud, Horse Associations - Clubs and Horses for Sale - each area offers an online search facility.
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