The Barrel Saddle Experiment

The Hunt for a new ride.
Comparing 10 different barrel saddles.

With fingers crossed a summer full of barrel racing and fun is around the corner, I decided it was time to upgrade my barrel saddle. This blog post will share my findings as I research and try a few out.

PICTURED ABOVE– A Billy Cook, A Kelly Kaminsky Circle Y Flex , A HR Barrel Saddle,  and a Triple Creek.

Spring is here and who doesn’t want to saddle shop?!  My Billy Cook Barrel saddle has a 4 inch Cantle. It has been a lovely comfortable ride but my butt flies out of the saddle when my horse digs around the barrels. I’m hoping a saddle with a higher cantle will help. THE SEARCH IS ON! Join me as I try out wood tree, flex tree, Brazilian, and even treeless saddles. 

I started my journey at my friend Erica Dale’s farm. I brought my Billy Cook barrel saddle, borrowed Diane Smullen’s HR saddle, and Erica dragged out her Triple Creek and Kelly Kaminsky Circle Y Flex. We spent the morning comparing and talking about the differences in each. 

 I mention several people in this piece who generously helped me with my research.  A special thanks to Erica Dale, Diane Smullen, Betsy Mac, Shirley Caine, Yvette Towrie, Steve Towrie, Sue Collier, Nadia Faccin, and Faith Fawns.

Billy Cook Barrel 16 inch

This was my saddle. An old school Billy Cook barrel model. It’s wonderfully comfortable and served me well for the last few years. Notice the back of the saddle. It’s a 4 inch cantle. Also notice the pocket of the seat… it’s relatively level. I’m having problems maintaining my seat as we speed up. So…. the HUNT IS ON.

** I sold this saddle for $900 to a teenager from London.

The Horse I’m trying to fit

Meet Sienna

Sienna is your classic foundation quarter horse mare. Round, not much wither, built slightly downhill. So I am going to be looking at primarily FQHB 8 inch gullet saddles for her. (SPOILER ALERT: I end up buying something completely different than I thought I would!)

Vortex Saddle 15.5 inch

This saddle is owned by my friend Steve Towrie and he was happy to let me try it. These saddles are Canadian-made by a company in Quebec and are GORGEOUS. The saddle had a forgiving fit (didn’t pinch my thighs). The cantle was high, which made me feel secure, and there was a gentle pocket in the seat. I thought this was my new saddle! It visually seemed to fit my horse and I thought I was sitting in a slice of heaven. There was one problem I discovered when getting it checked at a lesson. The cinch ring is square. That’s fine for a horse that isn’t a few hundred pounds overweight, but it was poking into my mare’s flab. (Thank you Betsy Mac for noticing!)

** New these saddles are between $4000-$5000

Lightweight Brazilian Saddle

The Seven Saddle

** You can have a Seven Saddle custom ordered and delivered for just under $2000.

These synthetic saddles have fibre glass trees and the rigging comes from the centre of the saddle instead of the front. Some NFR riders swear by them, and Sue Collier, (barrel racing icon), rides in a different model Brazilian. They are supposed to fit a variety of horses because of the fibre glass tree. Riders who have problems handling heavier saddles will appreciate this 15lb option.

I found the sample I rode on secure, comfortable and it fit Sienna. However, I was concerned about the wear & tear factor of the material and decided to opt for a leather saddle. If you would like to learn more, Betsy Mac is now a rep for the company. Contact her at

saddle #1

KK Circle Y Barrel 15in

In a socially distanced visit, Erica Dale and I lined up four saddles and tried each out while talking about fit and function. This is her Kelly Kaminsky Barrel saddle 15 inch, FQHB. It is extremely comfortable to sit in and felt very secure. The cantle is high (5 inches) and the horn is at a good angle. The 15 inch felt too small for my thighs so I would need a larger size if I was to consider this saddle. I took it home and tried it on Sienna, but the FQHB were actually too wide with this model and perched up on her back. The angle of the bars didn't work.

** these saddles run about $2700 new


Erica Dale does have a cautionary tale about the flex tree. Hers was broken and she didn't realize it. It caused some problems with her horse's back. However, she had Wilson's Tack (this saddle maker comes highly recommended) put in a new tree and it is guaranteed for life. Her saddle is for sale if you are interested. Contact her at

So pretty. And pretty affordable!

Triple Creek Barrel

** These saddles start from $900 US up to around $2000 US.

Erica Dale is currently riding in this Triple Creek Barrel Saddle. It has a very secure pocket, tall cantle and  the horn slants away from the rider. This particular saddle is a 14inch, so I was squished in it. It set you back in your seat, which is a feeling I’m not used to.

I’ve seen a few of these out at the OBRA shows, and they are some of the best looking saddles on the circuit. Triple Creek Saddlery is located in the USA, but they ship up here to Canada. The prices are affordable and those I’ve spoken to are happy with the custom service. I personally don’t want to buy a saddle without riding in it and checking the fit on my horse first. But I LOVE the look of these…


HR Barrel Saddle

These barrel saddles have a reputation of fitting a wide variety of horses, and boast a high cantle. They don’t rock you back into as much of a pocket as some of the other saddles. I found the horn to be more upright as well. This brand was high on my list of possibles. This particular saddle is a 15 inch and owned by Diane Smullen. She let me borrow it for my experiment. Though I ended up going with another type of saddle (read on for the reveal!) this was my close second place. The Sliding Stop tack shop sells new and used HR Saddles here in Ontario. 

**these saddles are around $2000 new

Textan Flex Tree $1100

** these saddles are hard to find and run around $2000 US

If you are looking for an alternative to a wood tree, these saddles offer a flexible tree where the wooden bars have been replaced by high-density foam firmed up with armor coating. This makes for a lighter saddle and the theory is that the flexibility of the moldable bars will make the saddle fit more horses.

This particular model is for sale and has a 15 inch seat. Contact Yvette Towrie at

Classic Circle Y
Barrel Saddle 14 inch

This is my daughter’s barrel saddle and she’s been riding in it for the past five years. It fits short backed horses particularly well. It socks you right in and puts you in the perfect position around the barrel. Obviously the 14 inch was too small for me, so I tried to find another one for sale with a 16 inch seat. No luck at all. This is a 2003 version and I’ve never seen another like it. 

Go treeless and free up those shoulders

Circle Y Treeless

** these are hard to find in Canada. Particularly this model. If interested in buying a treeless please contact Yvette Towrie at

This is the Circle Jackie Jatzlau treeless barrel saddle.  It fit my mare really well. However, it’s only a 15 inch seat which is too tight for me, and I found the horn too close to my belly button. There is a fair bit of debate about these saddles, so I researched the pros and cons of them. 

After researching: I ended up buying this saddle for my daughter and her horse Cat. Shirley Caine, a popular riding coach in the Port Perry area, noticed Cat’s current saddle was pinching the mare’s shoulders, so we tried this on her and the horse ran beautifully.

Bob Marshall Sport Saddle

** you will pay minimum $2500 US for  one of these new, but there are used ones from around $600 and up used on the internet. Very few of these saddles are for sale in Canada. Contact Yvette if interested.

This is Steve Towrie’s saddle, it is a Bob Marshall Sport Saddle. I tried it out and it is like sitting on a comfortable couch. If you have a hard to fit horse, this could be the solution. 

I am interested in these saddles but I wasn’t able to find a used one in Canada I could try on my horse before I purchased. Steve Towrie rides a sensitive mare who is happy in the treeless. He wouldn’t sell me his.


Okay this one is not a barrel saddle, but it’s for sale, rare, and has beautiful craftsmanship $1000

Troy Cox Trail Saddle 15.5 inch

I started doing speed events in a trail saddle like this and have eventually gotten used to being more confined in the barrel design. Originally I thought barrel racers must be crazy to sit in those tight things. Now I understand you’re crazy if you DON’T ride in a barrel saddle when turning and burning. 


Troy Cox is a saddle maker out of Ohio, known for his custom saddles.


The Winner! 

Circle Y KK Barrel Saddle

Nadia Faccin rides with Erica Dale and she had a Kelly Kaminski Circle Y saddle she wasn’t using stored at the barn. It has a 16 inch seat and a semi-quarter horse tree (SQHT) model. She allowed me to borrow it for as long as I wanted to. It has a deep seat, high cantle, good pocket, and lots of room in the thigh hole. I’ve never felt more secure in a saddle.

This saddle has a dropped cinch ring and extra leather that wraps around extra chunky horses. The flex tree had some give when my mare turns and she seems more comfortable doing patterns. I bought this saddle from Nadia and really appreciated the chance to ride in it multiple times first.

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