Western Saddles are saddles used in--or based on the ones used in--cattle ranching in the United States. They are the "cowboy saddles" familiar to movie viewers, rodeo fans, and those who have gone on tourist trail rides.
The design of the Western saddle derives from the saddles of the Spanish vaqueros, the early cattle and sheep herders of Mexico and the Southwest. It was developed from a combination of the saddles used in the two main styles of horseback riding then practiced in Spain--"la jineta" or Moorish style and "la estradiota" or jousting style--with the addition of a very functional item: the saddle "horn". The horn allowed vaqueros to rope and control cattle. Today, many Western riders have never worked a cow, but their saddles still feature this historical element. (Some newer Western saddles, such as those used in Endurance riding and those made for the rapidly growing European market, do not have horns.) Another element which contributed to the design of the Western saddle was the McClellan saddle of the American cavalry.
The Western saddle is unlike the English Saddle in that it has no padding of its own. The weight-bearing area of the saddle is large and usually covered with soft sheepskin, but it must be padded with a saddle blanket in order to provide a comfortable fit for the horse.
Other differences between the Western and English saddles include: Stirrups. those of the Western saddle are not built to detach from the saddle in case of emergency, but instead are spacious and sturdy; the rider's high-heeled cowboy boots prevent his feet from slipping through and exposing him to the danger of being dragged. Method of securing the saddle to the horse: rather than buckling on as does the English girth, the Western girth, known as a cinch, is tied on with a strap of leather.
There are many types of Western saddle available. Some are general-purpose models while others are specialized for the various Western horse sports such as cutting, reining, roping, and show.
Many people feel that the Western saddle is more comfortable than the English Saddle. This is doubtless because of its history and purpose --as a working tool for a cowboy who spends all day, every day, on horseback.