The English saddle and the Western saddle have unique features, serve different purposes, and are suited to the disciplines they’re used for.
Both saddles are named after the riding disciplines they are used for, and ultimately, what decides the choice of your saddle is your discipline or type of horse riding.
Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced rider wondering which saddle to choose or who wants to know the difference between these two saddles, you’re in good hands.
This article will help you understand the key differences between the English saddle and the Western saddle so you can make an informed decision before hitting the trails with your trusty steed.
So, grab a cup of coffee (or tea), and let’s dive in!
Table of Contents
Types of Riding Styles
There are two main types of riding styles—English and Western.
Western Riding Style
The Western riding style goes as far back as the 1600s. This style was most likely brought to the Americas by the Spanish riders who immigrated and settled in the northern and southern regions of the US.
This style was developed to suit the long days they spent riding the range driving and working cattle.
Western riding style is known more for its attention to comfort over elegance. This style gives more of a functional vibe than the English style, which exudes elegance, class, and showmanship.
English Riding Style
The English riding style has its origin in Europe.
Most of the disciplines under English riding are believed to have evolved from the training techniques used on military horses.
Both the techniques used in English riding and the rider’s attire reflect a more traditional and ceremonial riding style.
Now that we have discussed the riding styles, let’s move on to the main course—the saddles.
The designs of English and Western saddles are vastly different.
English saddles are made from lightweight materials and are smaller and lighter.
Their light weight allows the rider to maintain close contact with the horse, especially in equestrian sports like show jumping and dressage.
This design allows the rider to move as one with the horse and for the horse to feel subtle instruction changes.
Western saddles, on the other hand, are made from thicker materials and are larger and heavier with more embellishments.
They cover more area to evenly distribute the weight of the rider and the tack across the horse’s back, ensuring that both the rider and horse are comfortable.
Saddle Parts and the Differences
A saddle is made up of many parts and these parts vary between the English and Western saddles.
However, there are basic parts that neither of these saddles can be without, namely:
- Knee roll
- Stirrup leather
So, how do these parts differ between English and Western saddles?
The cantle is the backrest of the saddle.
It curves upward slightly, and it’s where the lower back connects with the saddle.
The measurement of the seat is another major difference between these saddles, as the seat size influences your level of comfort.
Unlike the English saddle that’s measured from the center of the cantle to the pommel, Western saddles are measured from the middle of the saddle.
The tree is the base that determines the seat size and how it fits on the horse’s back.
It is usually made from wood reinforced with steel or similar synthetic materials in English saddles.
In Western saddles, the tree is usually wooden and covered in fiberglass, rawhide, or it’s made with polyethylene, called ralide.
They are also called swells or forks and provide a base for the horn in Western saddles.
The billet is used to attach the girth to the horse.
In the English saddle, it is on both sides of the saddle, but in the Western saddle, it’s on the right side of the saddle.
The skirt looks like a small flap on top of the saddle flap in the English saddle, while in the Western, it is under the rider and extends down the horse’s side.
It secures the saddle to the horse’s back. It is technically not a part of the saddle but necessary for its function.
It is called girth on the English saddle and cinch on the Western saddle.
Now, some features or parts of the saddle might be absent in the different styles or might be called other names, and they include:
This is the knob that rests at the front of the saddle.
It’s used to secure one end of the rope during roping or cattle drives.
The English saddle doesn’t have a horn.
English saddles don’t come with stirrups, but they can be bought and attached to them.
Western saddles are usually sold with the stirrups included and assembled.
The jockey is the leather that covers the saddle seat.
Conchos and Saddle Strings
Western saddles may have conchos at the back of the saddle with two thin saddle strings hanging from each concho.
The conchos are primarily decorative, while the strings hold packs, gears, lariats, or any other equipment the rider might need.
English saddles often have a narrow, medium, or wide twist, depending on the rider’s preference.
It determines how the saddle would fit between the rider’s legs.
English Saddle vs. Western Saddle
Both English and Western saddles have unique benefits that make them ideal for different types of riding.
However, when it comes to choosing a saddle, there are a few things to consider.
Depending on your riding discipline, you may find that one type of saddle is better suited for you than the other.
Here, we’ll take a look at the pros and cons of English and Western saddles so that you can make an informed decision about which is right for you.
—They are lighter in weight, making them easier to handle for beginner riders.
—They are closer to the horse, which helps the rider feel more secure and balanced.
—They offer more leg support, which is helpful for riders who are still learning the proper form.
—They are typically used for dressage, eventing, show jumping, and other English riding disciplines.
—English saddles can be less stable than Western saddles, making them less ideal for beginners or those who are not as confident in their riding ability.
—English saddles can also be more uncomfortable for longer rides, as they offer less padding and support than Western saddles.
—English saddles often require more upkeep and care than Western saddles, which are made of more durable materials.
—They are made from sturdier materials, require less care, and last longer.
—They have a larger seat, which gives the rider more comfort and stability when competing in rodeo events or trail riding.
—They are typically used for western riding disciplines such as barrel racing, roping, and cutting.
—They do not offer as much leg support as English saddles, so riders must have good balance and control to stay seated properly.
—They are generally heavier than English saddles, making them better suited for advanced riders or those who need extra stability in the saddle.
Although the saddles are very different, one cannot be said to be better.
Both types of saddles have their own advantages and disadvantages, so it’s essential to choose the right saddle for the type of riding you’ll be doing.
If you’re not sure which saddle is right for you, talk to a professional or a knowledgeable salesperson at your local tack shop before making your purchase.
If you are just riding for fun, selecting one would depend solely on your comfort and preferences.