Western saddles are almost as iconic as a Stetson hat. At least, to lovers of all things Western…and cowboys. The western saddle is made of leather, plain or heavily tooled, stretched over a wooden “tree” or frame that includes the pommel (raised ridge on front of saddle) with a centered horn, the bowed seat and the high rise of the cantle that hugs the backside. The current saddle is based on those of Mexican vaqueros (men who trained horses and handled cattle) who worked with horses. That saddle is considered a descendent from a combination of saddles used for two different styles of riding in Spain centuries ago—la jineta (light cavalrymen known for rapid maneuver) and la brida (jousting style). Early saddles weren’t much more than a wooden frame covered with a blanket.
As with most tools, people who use them come up with ways to improve the design or make additions that improve the way they use them. Sheepskin is used as padding both under saddle itself, as well as between the wooden tree and the leather covering. The horn was added to the pommel as a place to anchor the reins so the rider could use both hands (for throwing a lasso or using a rifle). Flaps of leather called “fenders” are positioned where the rider’s legs rest on the horse’s barrel and were probably added for the comfort of both rider and animal. Out of necessity, leather thongs were added to tie down a bedroll behind the cantle or to secure a lariat where it could be reached easily. In the 1870s, Charles Goodnight developed a side saddle for his wife to use while working cattle on the ranch, and his saddle incorporated a second cinch toward the flank of the horse for a more secure fit, making it a double-rigged design.
When on the trail, the saddle became the suitcase to hold the cowboy's belongings, blankets, ropes, canteen. While roping cattle, the horn served as an anchor point for the rope. Then at night, the saddle was often used as a backrest around a campfire and, in some case, a pillow.
Over the years, a variety of saddle types have developed to fit the specific task being performed. Among the types are barrel-racing, endurance, cutting, trail, rodeo bronc riding, roping, and equitation or show saddle. Also, because not all horses are the same size, they needed saddles of differing sizes, widths, heights, etc. for the best fit and the best performance. You can see that an expert saddlemaker could become a valuable resource to men who made their living by riding horseback everyday.
The opening scene of my story When My Heart Knew in the anthology, Cowboy Kisses, shows the heroine, Maisie Treadwell, galloping across the Texas prairie. As with many western women of the times, she rode astride and her figure atop the galloping horse is the hero’s first sight of her before they’ve even met. Leave a comment here about your first riding experience for a chance to win an ebook of this anthology.
Posted by Linda Carroll-Bradd, author of contemporary and historical western stories