The question before us: Are the differences in Reining, Pleasure, Cutting Saddles just aesthetics, or do they help the rider in their chosen discipline?
A Reining Saddle should be a close contact saddle, it will normally also have a lower horn to allow the reins to move, it will also typically have a flatter seat for the rider to allow for hip movement. A Reining Saddle will be lighter weight compared to the tough Cutting Saddle, or the highly adorned Pleasure/Show Saddle.
A Pleasure Saddle will often often have an equitation seat to help keep the rider in the proper position, they will likely have ornate tooling and silver, they also have a lower horn and pommel for ease of moving the reins.
A Cutting Saddle has some bigger differences. high pommel, High Horn for obvious reasons, it may also have fenders made from a rough finish leather for better grip. It will have a flat seat but may be slightly raised at the Pommel. These are heavy duty saddles that will stand up to the hard work of cutting or roping.
There are genuine reasons for having the right tool for the job but the most important thing is to find a saddle that is right for you and your horse.
This is our second post on western bits, in the first article we said that there are 2 types of bits used by Western Riders, the Snaffle and the Curb. In this article we'll take a closer look at the Curb.
A Curb bit works using leverage unlike the Snaffle which uses direct pressure.
What do we mean by leverage? The shank acts as a lever which amplifies the pressure that the rider applies, unlike the Snaffle which is a 1:1 pressure. The longer the shank the greater the pressure on the mouth and poll.
If you want to do the maths a Snaffle is easy 1:1.
The Curb: if the purchase is say 1 inch and the shank is say 4 inches then the pressure is 1:4, so for every 1 ounce of pressure from the rider the horse feels 4.
A Curb works on three points: the poll, the chin and the mouth. The intention of course is for the rider (for any discipline Western or English) to be light and still with their hands.
The Shank will put pressure on the poll and mouth and the purchase when attached to Curb strap or chain applies pressure to the chin.
As with all bits there are lots of variety of Curbs and you should talk with your trainer or someone equally knowledgeable when choosing a bit that is right for you and your horse.
There are 2 main types of Western Bit:- Snaffle and Curb.
There are few debates about the definition of a Snaffle, we consider a Snaffle to be a bit that applies direct pressure. The key difference between a Snaffle and Curb is the type of pressure, a Curb is always a leverage and a Snaffle always direct pressure. There are straight bar snaffles and jointed curbs which makes things complicated so think about the type of bit based on the pressure.
Direct pressure is where the force exerted by the rider is the same as the pressure felt by the horse, i.e. 1 pound of pressure applied by the riders hands equals 1 pound of Pressure felt by the horse. In the case of a Snaffle that pressure is felt on the bars, tongue and corner of the mouth. Direct rein is used with direct pressure bits, if you pull with the left hand the horse will yield their head to the left.
A Snaffle is considered a Mild bit and is often used on young horses or on any horse with a new beginner rider. Sometimes even with a more mature horse it is useful to go back to basics, if for example you want to work on direct bends. However, some Snaffles are more severe, typically the thinner the more severe or if the bar has a twist. It is always best to check with your trainer or an expert to ensure that you are buying the correct bit for your horse and also for you.
Here are some examples of Snaffles:
The first Snaffle bit picture above is a D Ring, this particular bit has weighted rings to encourage lower head carriage and also has curved bars to make it more comfortable. Inlaid copper makes it taste good and its pretty too!
The second image is a loose ring snaffle, you notice that the rings are free to turn. This prevents the horse from grabbing the bit.
The third example is a twisted wire, loose ring Snaffle. The copper will make it appealing to the horse and promote salivation. In this particular example the twist is larger making it less sever than a thinner twist.
To confuse matters... The 'Shank Snaffle'
Many don't consider the Shank Snaffle to be a snaffle at all and based on our earlier definition it isn't. A Shank Snaffle applies leverage and chin pressure. A shank Snaffle is whole topic of its own, so rather than cover it here we recommend this article which explains the mechanics of Shank Snaffle in easy to understand detail.
Western Riding Competition Rules regarding the Snaffle Bit:
Different associations have different rules regarding equipment so make sure you check! Some associations will have Snaffle Bit classes on the schedule and in others a Snaffle may be used on younger horses.
Quarter Horse Bars in a Western Saddle are effectively the frame, you won't see them once a saddle is finished.
Full Quarter Horse Bar and Semi Quarter Horse Bar are the most common, but what does that mean and how do I know which a saddle has?
When people talk about Quarter Horse Bars in relation to saddle fitting they are talking about the pitch of the bars. The Full Quarter Horse Bar has a flatter pitch making the fit wider and Semi has a higher pitch. This means that a saddle will be wider/thinner at the base of the bars and makes no difference to the starting point, the gullet.
Although people often refer to the Quarter Horse Bars there is in reality no industry standard to say that a Full Quarter Horse bar is 'X' inches, Quarter Horse bars will only give you a generic indication as the size of the saddle.
Quarter Horse Bars are also only one of a number of measurements that you should take into consideration when looking for a saddle, it is best to speak with an expert and try on different saddles.
The Saddle Makers Association of America has a lot of useful information on their site regarding saddle measurements.
We'll be writing more articles on spurs soon but in the meantime here is great picture to show where your spurs should sit on your boot.
It is very difficult to wear spurs without the correct western boot, the spurs will either ride up or down and end up in the wrong place. The same is true of the size, not all spurs are the same size, that said they also don't come in every shoe size. You can always ask your farrier to make them a little wider/narrower, if they don't fit correctly they will either slip or pinch.
Helpful article by Dennis Moreland on the correct placement of spurs, check out our range of spurs and straps.
Now we're going to talk about the western tack. We'll start with the
saddle. As you see, it's a lot longer, so it spreads the weight over the
horse's back more. The back of the saddle is higher than a traditional English
saddle, as is the front is, so it actually sits you in a very safe, natural
position. They're very, very comfortable to ride and, as you see, they have
quite ornate carving on them. On a show saddle you'll
get more silver on them than the traditional standard working type saddle.
This one would be a medium type engraving, there's not huge amounts on it;
they weigh up to about three stone in weight. They fit generally most
horses, but you can get different size trees. This saddle will have a
16inch seat which will be standard for average sort of person to ride in,
but they do go down in size and you can get smaller saddles for children.
You have a saddle pad underneath the saddle which helps to take the weight
off the horse's back and, again, you can fit the saddles a little bit by
spreading the weight or fitting them with the saddle pads, so you can have
a thicker or thinner saddle pad depending. This is a show type which we
would wear in the show ring. You can have either have wooden, metal, or
leather covered stirrups. There's no specific style, whatever you wish.
We're going into the bridle now. This is what we've classed as a one ear
bridle. It hooks up over the right hand ear traditionally. You can also
have two ear bridles, so one will go over one ear and then you
have the same rig up on the left hand ear. You also can have bridles with
a brow band and throat latch if you wish. There's no particular type.
You can have them very
ornate and have silver if you wish to or you can have just very plain if
you wish to as well.
The reins are generally a split
rein. They're quite long, up to about seven to eight foot long in length.
Again, very different and they're quite heavy. They're made of harness leather,
so they're quite heavy and weighty which makes it easier when you're riding
on a loose, longer rein so you have a little bit more control of the horse.