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Western Saddle Guide > Saddle Parts > Seat

The Saddle Seat

The saddle seat on a western saddle is probably the most important part to the rider. It will, to a large extent, determine how comfortable those hours in the saddle will be.

Seat Construction
It all begins with the “ground seat.” The ground seat attaches to the saddle tree and is the structure that the final finished saddle seat is built upon. It isn’t visible on a finished saddle, but it controls where you’ll sit on the horse’s back and how comfortable you’ll be. The ground seat is usually made of all leather, metal, a combination of leather and metal, or from one of the new plastics.

ground saddle seat Quality ground seats will be slightly curved to match the pelvic arch. Low quality seats are flat and can feel like you’re straddling a table. Not a feeling you’re going to enjoy on a long ride. A well-designed ground seat will also be narrower at the front, which allows the rider’s legs to be close to the horse.

The ground seat also has a “slope.” Starting at the handhold and curving towards the cantle, the slope determines where the rider will be positioned on the horse. The lowest point of the seat will be where the rider will sit, which greatly impacts his riding position.

saddles There are a great range of opinions on the “proper” saddle seat slope; some based on different activities (i.e. cutting, roping) and some on personal preference. We’ll add our opinion to the mix. We believe that most riders will be best served with a relatively flat seat that positions their legs underneath them. This is the most balanced position. Too many saddles have high slopes that tilt a rider back against the cantle and force their legs out in front. This is an out-of-balance position.

Over the ground seat, the finished saddle seat is built from heavy leather. On the best saddles, a single large piece of leather is used to cover the seat, cantle, and front and seat jockeys. Examining a saddle’s seat construction will tell you quite a bit about the craftsmanship of the saddlemaker. Lower quality saddles will use a two-piece construction for the seat, often using a padded seat to cover the seam.

Padded seats have become quite popular and are now available on a large number of saddles. However, padded seats really aren’t a solution for an uncomfortable saddle. The problem isn’t the softness of the seat but rather the design. If the seat is designed to fit the human anatomy, it will be comfortable, with or without a padded seat. Of course, any new rider will need some hours in the saddle to get their muscles used to riding. There’s just no way around that beginner pain. But, once that’s behind you, you’ll find that a quality saddle with a well-designed seat will be quite comfortable.

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Seat Style and Fit
To determine what the right saddle seat style and seat size is for you, we recommend sitting in and riding in as many saddles as possible. You’ll start recognizing what feels good and what doesn’t.

Seat size is a popular way to attempt to establish the size of a saddle. Seat size is published on all saddles and measures the distance from the base of the horn to the top middle edge of the cantle. It is expressed in half-inch increments and ranges from 12”(youth) to 17”. Most saddle makers do not believe saddles should be made in sizes larger than 17” as it seats the rider too far back and causes discomfort for the horse.

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The reality is that seat size is only one factor impacting the size of the saddle. The depth and slope of the seat, the slope and dish of the cantle, and the style and angle of the fork, all combine with the seat size to determine how much room is available in a particular seat. Unfortunately, none of these other factors are standardized or published in a saddle’s measurements. Therefore, it’s necessary to sit in each saddle to determine fit. You’ll find that there are dramatic differences among saddles within a particular seat size. As a rule of thumb, you should have approximately four inches between the front of your body and the fork. Your seat should rest on the base of the cantle, but not be pressed against the back of the cantle. Some prefer a tighter fit, some looser. In general, it's better to have a saddle a smidge too big than a smidge too small.

Saddle seat comfort and fit should be one of your main criteria when choosing a saddle. Take the time to get it right.


Ground Seat and Seat Slope diagrams courtesy of "Saddle Savvy" by Dusty Johnson

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