Western saddles come in various sizes and configurations. If you are somewhat of a novice when it comes to purchasing a saddle, you may not necessarily know what to ask for. A knowledgeable salesman or retailer will, or at least should, ask you what type of riding you intend to do. One of the reasons for this, and there are several, is that the type of rigging your saddle should have depends largely on the type of riding you plan to be doing.
Rigging refers to the location of the cinch with respect to the saddle seat. In the late 19th century and early 20th century, most western saddles came with center fire rigging, where the cinch around the horses belly was located roughly equidistant from the front and the rear of the saddle, or equidistant between the pommel/saddle horn and the cantle. Center fire rigging was fine for riding, but when roping or going down a steep slope, the saddle tended to tip forward.
This was solved by changing to full rigging. Here, the cinch is located directly the pommel and saddle horn. Full rigging provides significantly more stability than center fire rigging, but it still has certain disadvantages when traveling over rough terrain.
If you plan to spend most of your time recreational or trail riding, you’ll want a saddle that features 3/4 rigging. Here, the cinch is located 3/4 of the way towards the front of the saddle seat, or 1/4 of the way back from the saddle horn. If you purchase a 3/4 – rigged saddle you’re unlikely to go wrong.
A few prefer 7/8 – rigging, and if you’re into barrel racing you will probably want full rigging. For those who plan on spending their lives rounding up cattle, double-rigged saddles are the usual choice. Double rigging merely means using two cinches instead of one. You can usually tell what the rigging of a saddle is by looking at the position of the stirrups, since they are usually located in the same position with respect to the saddle seat as the cinch is.
Written by William Savage of Babbling Ink "Outsourcing Professionals United"