The western saddle has an interesting history and development. While it is now considered a uniquely American style, its origins can actually be traced back to the Moorish horsemen and warriors of the Dark Ages. When the Moors invaded Spain in the 700’s, they brought with them their unique style of riding and tack. Their saddles were designed for battle, with high cantles and forks for protection and security, and longer stirrups to accommodate riding with armor. This was the saddle of the knights and the crusades.
The Spaniards adapted this saddle into what became known as the Spanish War Saddle. This was the saddle they brought with them to the New World. As their goals in this new country transitioned from military conquest to colonial expansion, this military saddle evolved into a stock saddle, known as the Spanish Stock Saddle. The stock saddle was designed as a tool for the working cowboy and followed the expansion into the American West.
The evolution of the stock saddle was greatly influenced by geography and culture. Distinct styles developed reflecting differences in climate, terrain, culture, and stock working styles. The harsh climate and punishing brush and mesquite of the southwest resulted in saddles built to protect the rider – big, bulky, plain. The mild climate and lush land of California provided the vaqueros with much more leisure time. Their saddles were not only smaller than the Texans, but evolved into highly decorative pieces.
From the 1700’s through the 1950’s, the western stock saddle continued to evolve, with new features to support cattle work and improved construction methods to extend strength, durability, and comfort.
Today, the needs of the working cowboy are no longer the only focus of western saddle design. Saddles are now designed for a wide variety of uses and riders – trail/pleasure, endurance, rodeo contestant, team roper, barrel racer, reiner, cutter, and, of course, working cowboy. Western saddles are now manufactured, imported, and exported all over the world. But regardless of their style or origins, all of these saddles share ancestry and derive from the western stock saddle.