What Are Western Saddle Riggings?

Learn the different riggings for western saddles.

The western saddle is more complicated to understand because of the multiple types and varieties. Journal photo

Q: I am going for my Certified Horsemanship Association certification, and although I am much more familiar with English saddles, I am hoping to get a low-level certification in western, too.

I feel like I need a better understanding of the western saddle, which seems to have more straps and rings and gadgets than an English saddle does. I am confused by the “rigging” of the western saddle. What exactly does that mean, and what is the purpose of the different rigging positions?

- Carolyn

A: Congratulations on going for your instructor certification, and you are very smart to try for both English and western certification.

Since at the lower levels, there is not much difference in the disciplines, as long as you know about and can manage the tack, you should be able to get certified in both. The western saddle can be more complicated to understand, particularly since there is such tremendous variety in the types and styles of western saddles. The English saddle has been around for a millennium or two longer and is a little more standardized and, some might say, a little more civilized!

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The “rigging” refers to the D-rings on both sides of the western saddle that are used to strap the saddle on the horse. The different types of rigging refer to the location of those D-rings from front to back. There are three basic styles of rigging available in a western saddle: full rigging, seven-eighths and three-quarter. However, some western saddles will have a modified rigging for trail, sometimes known as a Y rigging.

Full rigging: You may be most familiar with a full rigging, when there’s a D-ring attached to the saddle’s tree or skirt directly beneath the pommel. This is the most forward position for saddle riggings. To cinch up, wrap the latigo from the cinch to this D-ring, with layers of the latigo lining up in one vertical line. Saddles with this rigging often have a flank cinch, or rear cinch, (called a “double rigging” because the saddle is attached at the front and back) to keep the saddle from tipping forward when traveling downhill or to help distribute the pressure when the rider dallies the rope to stop a steer. This full double rigging is the preferred outfit for ranch riding and roping. The pressure of the saddle lands just under the pommel, then the back cinch keeps the saddle balanced.

7/8 rigging: This style means that your cinch is seven-eighths of the distance from the cantle to the pommel, and it brings the pressure from the cinch slightly rearward on the horse’s back, compared to the full rigging. You can also use a rear cinch with the 7/8 rigging to help secure your saddle on hills. This configuration helps the saddle sit in a balanced point and can relieve pressure from the horse’s withers.

3/4 rigging: Similarly, this rigging means that the D-rings are attached a little behind the seven-eighths rigging, or three-fourths of the distance from cantle to pommel. This will protect the shoulders and withers even more and give more room between the horse’s elbow and the cinch. Keep in mind: The farther back the rigging, the more pressure rests in the middle of the saddle instead of at the front. This three-quarters configuration moves your cinch back from your horse’s heart girth. Switching to this rigging can help your horse avoid girth sores during long rides.

Trail rigging: Some saddles designed just for trail have a D-ring at the back of the saddle (angled down from the cantle to form a Y shape) as well as in the full or seven-eighths position. Instead of attaching two different cinches, these saddles are designed so that you can run the latigo through the front D-ring and cinch, then the back D-ring to help keep the back of your saddle anchored. This Y rigging will move the pressure back away from the withers, and it works well on gaited horses and other short-coupled horses.

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Some western saddles will have multiple rigging options, giving more flexibility for saddle fit and making the saddle useful on a variety of differently shaped horses and circumstances. In a saddle with three-way rigging, there will be two D-rings at the front of the saddle, and it can be rigged up three ways - in the full, 7/8 or 3/4 positions.

Make absolutely certain when using a saddle with multiple rigging, that the rigging is the same on both sides. If you use the front D, it will be full rigging and if you use the back D, it is three-quarters rigging. To achieve seven-eighths rigging, you create a V with the latigo by running it through the front and back D.