GRANITE?FALLS?- Most people who came to the Granite Falls Western Fest Rodeo last weekend to watch the bronc busting, bull riding and calf roping probably didn't give a moment's thought to the cowboy's most essential piece of equipment, his saddle.
Most everybody can recognize the difference between an English saddle and a western saddle, but how many people know the differences doesn't stop there.
Chad Klose, owner of the Blairview Saddle Shop in Alexandria, sells a lot of different saddles, but even he isn't sure exactly how many different kinds there are.
Photo by Steve Browne
Chad Klose, owner of the Blairview Saddle Shop in Alexandria, shows some off the saddles he offers for sale at the Granite Falls Western Fest Rodeo on Friday.
"Let's see, there's roping saddles, barrel saddles, cutting saddles, show saddles, reining saddles - that's where they do their patterns like their figure eights where the horse puts its front legs down and slides, so you don't go over his head," Klose said. "There's pony saddles for the kids, English - I don't get into those much, but I carry a few."
There are cowboys all over the world, in North America, South America, Australia and South Africa. But only American and Mexican cowboys practice the skills of la reata, called the lariat. In Australia and South Africa, cowboys use the whip and in South America, the bolas.
Using the lariat requires a special design for the saddle, most notably the horn.
"The roping saddle is heavier built with a heavier horn," Klose said. "Barrel saddles are lighter, with a shorter skirt to keep it as light as possible. Pleasure saddles are for trail riding. There are saddles for all kinds of things. The padded seat on a western saddle comes from Mexico."
According to Klose, the Australian saddle looks like a hybrid of an English saddle and a western saddle.
"They have an English look to them with a western horn," Klose said.
And of course, there was a whole category of cavalry saddles you don't seen anymore.
But what kind of saddles are the bronc riding cowboys riding in the arena?
"That's a bronc saddle," Klose said. "It's got no horn, for obvious reasons, and a lot more free swinging stirrups to get their legs out in a hurry."