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Western Saddle Guide > Saddle Parts > Fork

The Saddle Fork

The saddle fork is the front of the saddle tree. It holds the two parallel bars together and provides a base for mounting the horn. A fork is also commonly called the swells or, on English saddles, the pommel. The term “fork” came from the early practice of making this part of the saddle from the fork of a tree.

The fork is what gives the shape to the front of the saddle. The shape of the saddle fork is also what determines the name of the saddle tree.

Fork styles come in two basic varieties – slick fork (also known as an a-fork) and swell fork. The swell fork can be either full or undercut. A diagram of each style is below.

saddle forks

The fork on a slick fork saddle is generally only 8 to 10 inches wide with the sides of the fork sloping straight up to the outside of the horn. The swell fork saddle has a "swell" that is generally 11 to 14 inches wide.

Fork styles have evolved based on the different uses for saddles and also based on the preferences of the rider. Geography has also played a part. Early saddles were all of the slick-fork variety. Later on the swell-fork evolved as a more secure style for bronc riding, roping, and competition.

Undercut swells were popular for a while as a way to keep you in the saddle when riding young or rough horses. Sometimes they'd keep you in too well and cause a wreck. Eventually, safety concerns caused the exaggerated undercut swells to fall out of favor.

Over time, the swell-fork has become the most commonly used fork style for pleasure and competition saddles.

The slick-fork saddle, however, held on in California, Nevada, and western Montana where the buckaroo tradition remained strong. Today, the slick-fork saddle has re-emerged as a popular ranch and all-around saddle. You’ll find most custom saddle makers making slick-forks, and many manufacturers are also now including them in their product lines. The Buckaroo tradition is back in fashion. It’s cool to be a Buckaroo.


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