Form And Function – A Western Saddle Guide

JCM Saddle Co.

If your dream is to run your horse at Belmont Park and watch him fly around the track at breakneck speeds, a fine-boned thoroughbred built for racing is your best bet.  If you simply want to haul the grandkids around the property in a sleigh after a fresh snowfall, you’d better get yourself a draft horse.  The type of horse should match the job he’s asked to do, likewise when shopping for a saddle-function should be considered before taking out the credit card.

The Cutting Saddle

A cutter’s horse needs to be “cowy” athletic and bold.  Not afraid to get down low, nose to nose with that cow and show him whose boss.  To stay balanced on his horse during the sharp turns demanded in cutting the cowboy needs a saddle with a flatter seat (to help stay centered and fit closer to the horses body) with the swells and horn being higher than the average saddle.  This gives the cowboy something to steady himself on, so he doesn’t interfere when his horse is making that cut.  The cutting saddle will typically weigh a little less than most working saddles.

The Reining Saddle

In the arena, a reiner does all his work at a canter or gallop.  His horse must be agile, quick and very responsive.  He must be able to get underneath himself to show off a nice canter and slide to a stop.  To accomplish this, the reining saddle will have a low horn to prevent interference from the rider’s hands during those spins and stops.  The seat will be shaped to allow the rider to shift their seat back for that big stop.  Also, since communication is the cornerstone of reining, the saddle will be made to give the ultimate feel between horse and rider. 

The Roping Saddle

If you’re a header or healer, the saddle you buy needs to be double rigged and tough.  Roping saddles are some of the heaviest of the working saddles-built to take on the weight of a cow.  The horn is usually thicker and wrapped for dallying while the seat is suede to increase grip.  For quick dismounting the cantle will be lower and the stirrups wider for better bracing.  Lower swells keep the leverage from rope to horn and at a minimum.  Overall, the roping saddle is designed to offer maximum freedom of movement, strength and durability. 

The Barrel Saddle

A barrel run needs to be fast, so a barrel saddle needs to be built for speed.  Designed for maximum speed around sharp turns, the barrel saddle is lightweight, with a deeper seat to keep the rider in the saddle.  The higher cantle offers a more secure ride and the rounded skirt and smaller size make it easy for the horse to change leads quickly around a turn.  A taller horn and narrow stirrup help keep feet and seat in the right place.  One of the lightest western saddles, the barrel saddle is a study of balance and comfort.

As the world of western riding becomes more specialized it’s important to have a saddle that fits your discipline and your horse.  But whether you’re headed to the arena for a sliding stop, the cutting pen to make that cut, or down the trail to enjoy some wide open spaces, make sure you choose a well made quality saddle like those made at the JCM Saddle shop will keep you safe and last for many rides to come.


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