Category Archives: tack talk

Thinking about saddles

During part of my show prep this week I cleaned up my Western saddle.  Looking at it afterward, I realized that a good chunk of my riding life has been spent in not just a Western saddle but a specific type of Western saddle–a reining saddle.

Why a reining saddle?  Well, my first reining saddle, a Saddle King of Texas, came into my life because my parents found it used for a deal.  Granted, $150 for a saddle in 1970 wasn’t cheap.  But Saddle King was a known brand and the saddle was in good shape.  Albeit heavy.  I think the dang thing weighed around 50 lbs, and heaving it on top of 15.2 hands Sparkle was a challenge for a young teen.  Nonetheless, I did it.

That Saddle King actually ended up being a good riding saddle for the kind of horse I was riding.  Sparkle was a sturdy Quarter Horse with a tendency to take off bucking when she got pissed, and she was a damned good bucker capable of sunfishing and other tricks.  I don’t think I’ve ridden a horse as good at bucking as she was since then (but only because G doesn’t put students up on hard buckers and because I avoid that type of horse if I can now).  A heavy saddle that sat securely on a horse’s back with a low reining horn was a good thing. Even though it was rigged for a double cinch, the cinch placement for riding with the front cinch alone was good so that the back of the saddle didn’t pop up off of the horse’s back.  That thing sat hard and secure, unlike the double-cinched pony saddle I also had, with rounded skirts and a tendency to pop up off of my athletic pony’s back.  The cinch placement was also good in that I didn’t have the latigos under my leg–a big thing in a Western saddle.  Hugely uncomfortable, and a frequent compromise when considering a single cinched rigging.

That saddle is still being used by the person I sold it to, a former neighbor.  I’d say it’s probably close to 70 years old and still doing well.

Later, when I started riding at G’s, I quickly developed a preference for a Billy Cook reining saddle he had in his tack selection.  Like the Saddle King, the Billy Cook put me in the right spot.  The stirrups in a reining saddle hang in a pretty good position for all around Western riding, with a bit of leeway in the seat to adjust my position as needed for what I’m doing.  The Billy Cook also had metal oxbow stirrups, closest thing you’ll get to an English stirrup in Western tack.  Like any good reining saddle, it’s set up to give the correctly positioned rider a dang good approximation of a dressage seat, with a very deep heel.  And it, too, didn’t pop up.

Mocha’s first saddle was a used Colorado Saddlery reiner.  It didn’t quite fit her but it was cheap and I figured she’d outgrow it as she muscled up.  When she was clearly done with it, I replaced it with the saddle pictured above.  It’s one of only two brand new saddles I’ve owned (the other was a generic kid’s pony saddle for my first pony) and it’s my absolute favorite of any saddle I’ve ridden.  There’s a subtle-not-quite-a-block setup in the design of the skirts which helps with thigh placement in the saddle, and it helps promote the correct seat pretty easily:

My shoulders are a little off in this shot, but nonetheless it’s easy to see that I can relax back into the deepest part of the saddle with a reasonably straight shoulder/hip/heel line.  The stirrups also move freely enough that I can slide my legs forward a little bit to sit a hard sliding stop, or move them back a little to support two-point, and lean forward easily to encourage speed.  That dip in the thigh section allows me to cue with the thighs easily (not always easy in some Western saddles) and maintain pressure throughout the entire leg.  It’s also a secure deep seat without being confining.

Plus the dang thing is just plain comfortable.  There’s a small amount of padding but not much in that seat.  Nonetheless, it’s possible to put in three hours even with an aching back without getting too crippled up for either horse or rider.  I know I can’t do that with my Collegiate Senior Eventer, much as I like that saddle as well.

Mocha seems to like it and do well in it.  I’m comfortable.  It’s a nice saddle and I’m not embarrassed to ride it in a show, and I can feel her working well in it.

What else could you want in a saddle?

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