Friday, September 12, 2014

Back in the Saddle Again
Part 2: P-Z

Here’s a crash course in saddle terminology for those who don’t know a cantle from a cinch ring. Bruce Grant, in How to Make Cowboy Horse Gear, lists the parts of the Western saddle as a tree (frame), the seat, the cantle, the horn, the swell and gullet, the front jockey and back jockey, skirt, fender (rosadero), stirrups, stirrup-leathers, cinch rings, latigo, conchas and tie-strings.

Pimple, postage stamp, kidney plaster, kidney pad: the cowboy’s name for an English saddle

Pommel: the front portion of a saddle (the fork) attached to the side-bars

Pommel bags, cantinas: saddlebags up front of a saddle

Pomo, manzana: the pommel of a Mexican saddle

Rear jockey, back jockey: the top skirt of a saddle under the cantle

Rig: a saddle

Rimfire saddle, rimmy: a Spanish rig, a saddle with a forward-placed cinch; the rear of the saddle was inclined to rise when a rope-dally was made on the horn and there was a lot of steer on the other end of the rope

Saddle-blankets: in the Old West, the average cowman used an ordinary blanket, folded according to taste, to protect the horse’s back against the chafing of the saddle. It was preferably made of wool, but if made of cotton it was larger and folded more to produce the necessary thickness. The finest blankets were Navajo – less inclined to crinkle than a common wool blanket, yet possessing pliancy. Riders who used the double rig or Texas rig generally covered a larger area of the horse than those favoring a single cinch rig

Saddle bow: the arched forepart of a saddle-tree

Saddles: an adaptation of the Spanish war saddle, itself probably from the Spanish Moors, who probably developed their design from that of the Arabs. The main difference in the Western saddle is the high horn, used by the cowboy for roping. Saddles were (and are) usually named for the maker or the shape of the tree. A number of different rigs were used in the West, and to a great extent, in the early days a man’s rig could indicate whence he came. A Texas rig had two cinches, the center-fire rig belonged fundamentally to California, while the El Paso-Albuquerque was a three-quarter rig, a style that belonged also to the Northwest (for example, the Montana rig). In later days, a man could more easily use the rig of his fancy. The very early saddles of the Mexicans in Texas had a broad-based horn that instantly identified it: the apple was flat-topped. Early Anglo saddles constituted the bare minimum to separate a man’s butt from his saddle blanket. The saddle-tree was covered with rawhide only, and the over-all housing was a loose detachable cover. The Mexican models were adopted by the Mountain Men and frontiersmen, modified further by the Texans and others to their own needs. The saddle-types of the Mountain Men were used by early cattlemen in the north (whose cattle were the ones traded by travelers on the Oregon Trail and California Trails back in the 1840’s and 50’s). One early type of saddle was the Mother Hubbard: under this, most of the rigging disappeared. Toward the end of the century, once again most of the rigging was revealed, though the style did not revert entirely to the early model that had only an upper skirt and no fenders. The new style retained the deep fender that had been used with the mochila and had a full squared skirt under the tree. Swelled forks came in at the end of the century, and some riders had adopted the roll cantle by this time. The old-timers, however, stuck with the old slick-fork.

Saddle-tree, tree: the frame and foundation of the saddle, usually of wood covered with rawhide. It was measured from the top center of the cantle to the rear of the horn

Salea: a softened sheepskin placed between the horse’s back and the saddle blanket

Silla: a chair or seat; hence, a saddle

Slick-fork: the fork of a saddle that curved down smoothly as opposed to a swelled-fork

Spanish-rig: a saddle with one cinch directly beneath the saddle horn

Squaw saddle: a padded blanket or quilt used as a saddle, after the fashion of the old aparejo

Stirrup, stirrup-iron: the support for the rider’s foot that hangs from the saddle; to use the term correctly, the stirrup includes both stirrup-iron and stirrup-leather. In the early days, this was not made of iron at all, but carved from a single piece of wood. Later, the wood was bound with rawhide or wrapped with metal until eventually, the support was made of iron. Compared with Eastern or European stirrup-iron, those of the West were heavy and utilitarian, often covered with tapaderos to protect the foot. They were an essential part of the working equipment of the cattleman, and great strain could be put on the leather and iron during working of the cattle.

Stirrup-leather: the broad strap hanging on each side of the saddle which supported the stirrup-iron

Stock saddle: a saddle especially made for the working of cattle, strong enough in the horn and tree to withstand the enormous stress and strain laid on it by roping animals

Sudaderos: the leather lining of a saddle’s skirt

Swell-fork: the fork of a saddle which swelled out on either side below the horn

Tablas del fuste: saddle-tree bars or slats

Tackaberry buckle, tackberry buckle: a cinch-buckle that took two wraps of the latigo and hooked into the cinch ring

Tapaderos, taps, tapaderas: (Spanish: “thing that covers”) a covering on the forepart of the stirrup to protect the foot from brush and other obstacles. A very necessary piece of equipment in brush country. It was also more than that, for it prevented the foot from being put fully through the stirrup-iron, which would trap the foot if the rider fell from the horse. In pre-Anglo days, Mexicans and Californios put only their toes into the stirrup-irons, using a shallow tap which lay flat against the broad stirrup-iron

Texas rig, Texas saddle: the double-rigged saddle favored by Texans; a stock saddle with a high cantle and horn

Texas skirt: a square saddle-skirt such as found on a Texas rig. Popular east of the Rocky Mountains from Texas to Canada, including part of Western Canada, while the Spanish style of rounded skirt prevailed in the coastal states. Around 1900, the two styles were combined, generally speaking, by the Miles City, Montana saddlemakers. From that time on, the styles were mostly mixed throughout the west

Texas tree: a saddle-tree of a kind used on a Texas rig

Three-quarter rig, Montana rig: a saddle with its cinch just forward of the center-fire position; also found in the El Paso-Albuquerque rig

Tie-strings, tie-straps: the thongs or straps on the upper flank saddle-skirts by which bedrolls and other equipment was fastened behind the cantle

A Dictionary of the Old West, Peter Watts, 1977
Dictionary of the American West, Win Blevins, 1993
J.E.S Hays


  1. Unless you ride, this is most useful information for the rest of the world. Great saddle collection in the town south of here that is pretry fascinating. Now more if it will make sense. Thanks Doris

  2. Great information. A good comprehensive look at the "dictionary" saddlery. Thanks so much.

  3. Glad to be of service - I love learning the names of things and finding new words