Saddlebags 101: The Basics of Horseback Saddlebags

by Alexa Gohn

Who doesn't love long trail rides? Memorable hours spent bonding with your horse while navigating paths and admiring your surroundings — but what do you do when you need space to store your water bottle or backup hoof pick? Learn more below about how saddlebags can change your trail-riding game, leading to longer and better rides.

What Are Saddlebags?

Saddlebags are storage bags that attach to your saddle, allowing you to carry necessities you wouldn't otherwise have space to. They come in a variety of sizes and styles and let you pack almost any necessity. Some things you can carry in a saddlebag include:

  • Cellphones
  • Cameras
  • Light lunches
  • Grooming tools
  • Reflective vests
  • First aid kits

It's more common for Western riders to carry saddlebags than English riders because of the added storage. Plus, Western saddles are more equipped for trail riding and longer rides than English saddles.

How Do You Mount Saddlebags?

Western riders have more mounting options because Western saddles have many D-rings and saddle strings, which saddlebags attach to. The saddlebag itself has sewn-in clips, snaps or clasps that attach to the D-rings and saddle strings.

Different types of saddlebags require different mounting strategies. Some types go on the front, side or back of the saddle. And saddlebags come in a variety of sizes and weights, influencing how you will ideally mount them.

5 Types of Saddlebags

There are many different types of saddlebags to choose from, including:

  • Pommel bags: Pommel bags are two medium-sized bags connected with a single, wide piece of fabric. The center fabric allows you to hang the bag over the front of the saddle, or some have a hole that you can slide over the horn of a Western saddle. A pommel bag makes it easy to reach for your water bottle or other must-haves while riding, and you may feel the bag brush up against your leg now and then.
  • Single small saddlebag: Mainly for English saddles, single small saddlebags are like pommel bags but are a singular, small bag that hangs on the right side of an English saddle. They're ideal for carrying your cellphone or a water bottle for convenience during your ride.
  • Traditional paired saddlebags: Traditional paired saddlebags look and function similar to pommel bags, except they sit at the back of the saddle. They're ideal for storing items you use after you dismount, such as a light lunch or hoof pick.
  • Cantle bag: Cantle bags are tubular bags that sit directly behind the saddle, right over your horse's kidneys. Because of that positioning, you want to store only lightweight objects in cantle bags or you may cause your horse discomfort.
  • Western saddlebags: You may occasionally hear of Western saddlebags. This term is more of a category than a specific saddlebag, encompassing designs like pommel, cantle and traditional paired saddlebags.

Traditional Saddlebag Materials

Bags also come in three different materials:

  • Cloth: The most common cloth varieties are nylon, cotton and canvas. Cloth is great because it offers a wider selection of styles and colors. It's also easy to clean and lightweight. But cloth saddlebags tend to show wear over time more easily than other alternatives.
  • Waxed oilskin: A more durable alternative to cloth is waxed oilskin, a tightly woven cloth treated with oils and wax. It's lightweight, waterproof and resistant to the elements. Because of its durability and treatment, a waxed oilskin bag may have a higher price than a cloth bag.
  • Leather: Many people prefer the traditional look of leather saddlebags. Leather saddlebags are durable, hold their shape well and are available in different finishes to match your saddle. They do require more cleaning time than cloth or waxed oilskin alternatives.

Tips for Using Saddlebags

Horses are naturally curious about things that go near them — it's in their nature. Consider the following tips to help keep your horse comfortable during your ride:

1. Accustom Your Horse to the Saddlebag First

Before jumping in the saddle, make sure your horse is accustomed to the feel, sound and look of the saddlebag. It's crucial your horse feels comfortable with the saddlebag because, if not, they may spook during your ride and create a risky scenario.

First, let your horse sniff and see the bag. You may get some curious snorts, and that's OK. Carefully mount your bag and lead your horse at the walk, allowing them to safely warm up to the unfamiliar feeling. When they seem to feel comfortable, lead your horse at the trot so they can feel what it's like for the saddlebag to bounce and make added noise. If they're uncomfortable or spook, bring them back to a walk and try again when they're more comfortable.

Only start trail riding using a saddlebag when you know your horse is familiar and comfortable with it.

2. Distribute the Weight Evenly

Think about how uncomfortable it is for you when carrying something heavy on one side of your body and not the other. Horses feel the same way when carrying unevenly distributed weight.

Place the heaviest item in your load on the bottom of the saddlebag and place the lighter items on top. Avoid packing too many heavy items, especially if you're storing them in a cantle bag that rests over your horse's kidneys. It's also best to place your saddlebag in the front of your horse's center of gravity, just behind their foreleg. That way, they can more easily carry the weight.

3. Avoid Overloading the Bags

Remember that equines perform better when they're comfortable, and they're less likely to exhaust quickly when carrying a reasonable amount of weight. Be courteous to your horse's long-term capabilities by bringing only lightweight necessities or very few heavier items. Also avoid packing too many items to the point your saddlebag bulges or becomes difficult to lock. If so, it could put added pressure on your horse and cause discomfort.

Browse Our Wide Selection of Apparel, Tack, Stable Supplies, Training Aides and Other Products Today

Saddlebags are beneficial to both Western and English riders. They solve your problem of not having enough storage space on long rides, like leisurely trail rides. And they're easy to mount to your saddle, requiring only a D-ring or saddle string.

Horse Tack Co offers a variety of saddlebags so you can enjoy your ride. We also offer other equine essentials like apparel, tack, stable supplies, training aids and much more! Browse our products online, or contact us online with any of your equine questions.

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