What’s the difference between a Western and English saddle?

Those passionate about horseback riding can easily distinguish between a Western and an English saddle.

Each specific saddle is designed for the riding it is meant for. Western saddles are used primarily for barrel racing, reining, and cutting, while English saddles are mainly used for jumping and Dressage. While the differences between the two tackles may not be as obvious to the rest of us, telling the difference between the two types is relatively easy when you consider the following points:


Western saddles were originally developed for cowboys who spent long days in them and are much heavier than an English saddle. A Western saddle’s seat was designed to keep a cowboy comfortable during long hours of range riding. Western saddles distribute the rider’s weight and the saddle over a larger portion of the horse’s back, making long rides less tiring and more comfortable.

With a contoured cantle, fenders, stirrups, and horn, western saddles are constructed of wood covered in either fiberglass, rawhide, or ride. Most are covered in leather, with the seat covered in suede. The underside of the western saddle can be covered in sheepskin, wool, or acrylic. Most western saddles are blinged with ornate carvings in leather and silver accents.

Western saddles are also available in several specialty models for roping, pleasure, trail riding, or reining. Each Western specialty saddle has different features, such as a smaller horn and balance, depending on the riding it is meant for.


English saddles provide the rider with more contact with a horse’s back. Lighter than a Western saddle, English saddles are constructed on a laminated wooden tree that is steel reinforced or made from synthetic wood. The English saddle is covered with plain leather or a leather look-alike or fabric covering. They are stuffed with foam or a combination of wool and acrylic fibers.

Like the Western saddle, there are different types of English saddles suited to the riding done. The Dressage saddle helps the rider sit upright and puts the legs closer to the horse’s sides. Close contact jumping saddles feature a shallower seat with more forward-facing flaps. The General or All-Purpose saddle offers a deeper seat than the contact jumping saddle and flaps between those of the Dressage.

A Lane Fox saddle is required if you are a devotee of Saddleseat Equitation riding. This saddle features straight flaps, a flat seat, and no rider knee rolls and is perfect for the Saddleseat classes such as the Morgan, Tennessee Walker, and Saddlebred.

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