What Is A Swell Fork Saddle?
The fork of a Western saddle falls into two broad categories: Swell forks and slick forks.
On this page we describe what makes a saddle a "swell" fork saddle. You might also like: What Is A Slick Fork Saddle?
Below: A swell fork saddle. The blue arrow is pointing to the widest part of the fork.
First, About A Saddle's Fork
Before we talk about what a swell fork saddle is, it might be helpful to first understand what the fork itself is.
- The fork of the saddle is at the very front of the saddle.
- On a Western saddle, the saddle horn is at the top of the fork.
- The fork arches upwards to make room for the horse's withers beneath it.
- On each side of the fork, at its bottom, it attaches to a part of the saddle tree called the "bars." Note: This can be seen on a bare saddle tree but not on a finished saddle.
A Western saddle fork sometimes goes by several names. While calling it a "fork" is common, it's also called the "swells" or the "pommel." While any of these terms are commonly used when referring to a Western saddle, the word “pommel” is used almost exclusively for English saddles.
So, A "Swell" Fork Saddle Is...
A swell fork saddle has a fork that is wider somewhere across the fork instead of at the bottom where it attaches to the bars.
Below: The blue arrow is pointing to the bottom of the fork where it attaches to the bar on that side. The green arrow is pointing to the widest point of the fork. Since the widest point of the fork on this saddle is somewhere across the fork, instead of at the bottom where it attaches to the bars, it is a “swell fork” saddle.
Not All Saddle Swells Are The Same
Even though a large number of Western saddles are swell fork saddles, they're not all the same. Swells come in a wide variety of sizes and shapes.
Below is another swell fork saddle. As you can see, its swells are larger and differently shaped than in the saddle shown above.
Below: The blue arrow is pointing to the bottom of the saddle fork and the green arrow is pointing to the widest point of the fork. This is another swell fork saddle.
Forks, Swells, and Confusion
We mentioned above that on a Western saddle the fork is also sometimes called the swells. While this is true, it can occasionally also be confusing.
That's because while many saddle forks have an actual swell to them (that is, they're widest across the fork instead of at the bottom), some don't. These other saddles are called "slick" fork saddles and you can read about them here: What Is A Slick Fork Saddle?
Even though slick fork saddles don't have any swell to the fork, in casual conversation some folks might still call the fork the swells. The two terms, fork and swells, are interchangeable to a lot of people, even when there isn't actually any swell to the fork.
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