When talking about saddles it is important to know how and why they are the way they are.
With saddles form follows function. A saddle's design can make the difference in working and in showing. There are saddles for every discipline in the western horse world. Here are some of the most popular.
The barrel saddle is designed for speed events. They have a deeper seat and wide swell/pommel that allows the rider to stay seated and balanced during fast turns. A slightly taller horn makes it easier to hold on to during the turns. It also weighs less than the average western saddle and usually has a rounded or minimal skirt.
The trail saddle is another well know example of a western saddle. For many people who have never ridden, their first experience with a western saddle is in a trail saddle. Trail saddles tend to be lighter weight with a nice deep padded seat. The padded seat is for both the riders comfort and the saddles are designed to keep the horse comfortable to for a better trail experience. These saddles often have extra D-rings and ties to attach saddle bags or whatever you may need.
The show saddle is the stand out in the western world. It is designed to catch the eye of the crowd and judges. It had a deep padded seat to allow the rider to maintain the proper position while riding. Most show saddles have a lot of elaborate tooling work and a lot of silver accents.
The cutting saddle is the first in the work saddle line up. It is made with a flat seat and wide swell/pommel. This helps the rider to stay centered while working livestock, which requires short stops and turns. The horn is often narrow or low, to keep it out of the rider's way.
The reining saddle is designed to not interfere with the riders hands or reins. It has a lower horn, flatter seat, and a close contact skirt and free swinging fenders. It is designed to help the rider maintain contact with his horse and allows for easier hip movement.
The roping saddle is the heavy weight of saddles. It has a different tree design than most of the other saddles. The tree is low and rounded with a taller thicker horn. It could also have a lower cantle for getting off and on easily. It has special reinforcements to handle the extra stresses roping puts on it.
Other Types of Western Style Saddles
The modern endurance saddle is a little newer to the western world. All western saddles where originally designed to be an “endurance” or long distance type saddle, for long hours working cattle, to riding the pasture lands to check for broken fences. Nowadays the Endurance saddle is used as a competition saddle for long distance riding. These saddles are small light weight and often without a horn. The seats are comfortable and the saddle itsself is designed to spread out the riders weight across the horses back.
As the name implies, a gaited saddle is designed for a gaited horse or a horse with more action in the front end. Gaited horses and horses with a natural high stepping action need their shoulder free to preform their special gaits easily. This type of saddle has a shorter tree to prevent interference front and back as well as a higher gullet clearance. The saddle will sit a little further back on the horse allowing the shoulders to move easier.
The over all design of the western saddle has changed little over the past century, with new technology and materials we are getting better made and more specific saddles made to work better in their given discipline.