Several significant differences exist between English and Western saddles. There’s no padding between the tree and the external leather and fleece skirting in a Western saddle. Where the Western saddle generally has a horn, the English saddle lacks one and is not as deep-seated. The English saddle is also distinguished by its panels, pads attached to the underside of the seat. The English show saddle is built on a solid tree, with leather and padding materials added. The tree is made of laminated layers of top-quality wood reinforced by spring steel and riveted gullet plates. These trees, called ‘spring trees’, are adjustable.
The traditional show saddle is minimal and has a close fit, with straight-cut flaps. The stirrup is further forward with the cutback pommel behind instead of over the withers. The rider has little support. In comparison, modern-style English show saddles have a dressage-like form, with vertically cut flaps to give the rider a deeper seat.
Western show saddles are constructed on an all-purpose tree, but have extra tooling and adornments, such as silver or crystals. The adornment ranges from light to highly elaborate. Because the silver is both weighty and expensive, these saddles aren’t the best for everyday riding.
Show saddles come in both synthetic materials and leather. Leather is traditional, holding its value well over time, but synthetic saddles have several excellent advantages. The price of a quality synthetic show saddle is much less than that of a leather one. Synthetic saddles are lightweight, half the weight of a leather saddles. They are also easier to maintain, needing only to be wiped with a damp cloth.