Swell fork or Slick fork saddles

What type of saddle do you like and / or ride in and why? Growing up in the southeast and living on the east coast I have ridden in swell fork saddles, but now I am thinking about getting a wade.

I have a McCall Lady Wade and love it. Fits my wide body, short backed Arab well with plenty of shoulder room. As for me, I can sit down into it really deep and I like that. It has all the whistles and bells too for a reasonable price. I’m very happy with it.

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I am a big fan of the wade saddle. I own two of them. I like a wade primarily for its deep, secure seat. Many wades (but not all) put the rider in a better riding position. The wade is a popular rancher/roper saddle tree in the Great Basin/California vaquero tradition. The tree features a large diameter horn made for dallying (vs. tying on) a cow. Because the tree has no swells, bucking rolls are used to prevent the rider from running into the horn. Wade saddles are outfitted with wide, sturdy stirrups, about 4 inches on average.

I agree that the Lady Wade is good value saddle. I have had four of them, but now own custom built wades by Bitterroot Saddle. McCall introduced the Lady Wade as a lighter weight saddle for women, but men can use them, too. Wades can be quite heavy, commonly weighing 40 to 60 pounds. The Lady Wades are between 35-40 pounds including Monel stirrups, back cinch, breast collar, etc. Here are some pros and cons of the Lady Wade.

  • McCall makes a semi-custom saddle, meaning you can select your tree size, hardware and tooling from options available by McCall. A custom wade would fit the tree to your horse; a semi-custom gives you a choice from a set of fixed tree sizes.

  • The saddles are well made and quite good looking. They are functional for roping and ranch work.

  • The price is reasonable if you are buying new. Also, there are a number of good used Lady McCall saddles available at good prices.

  • The Lady Wade, while lighter than other McCall working saddles, is still a bit on the heavy side for a lot of riders.

  • As with all manufactured and semi-custom saddles, tree fit (to your horse) can be an issue if your horse is not a “standard” shape. Every Lady Wade I tried on my mutton withered horse bridged across his back. (Bridging, if you don’t know, is when the front and back of the tree rest on the horse’s back, but the middle of the tree “bridges” across the center).

My wade saddles are designed with less leather to make them as lightweight as they can get while still functioning for ranch work. I don’t rope or work cows, but still like the sturdiness and comfort of a wade saddle. I use mine on the trail, and have even used one on a 25 mile endurance ride. In normal times (i.e., no pandemic or wildfire smoke-choked air), I ride somewhere around 25-30 miles per week year round. I have a lighter saddle - a used Circle Y barrel saddle (not a wade) that I used on one of my horses while my custom saddle was being built. I like the light weight of the Circle Y - so easy to throw up above my shoulders to the horse’s back - but I can’t beat the comfort of the wade. I love my custom wades!

Side note: McCall makes a “wade-style” trail saddle called McLite featuring a synthetic (not wood) slick fork tree and weighing 25 pounds. I don’t know much about it. If you’ve read Dusty Johnson’s Saddle Savvy, you know that traditional saddle makers are wary of synthetic trees because the screws and nails attached to them tend to be less secure, Johnson also feels synthetic trees don’t provide enough give, which may cause the horse discomfort or lead to back problems. The McLite is limited to a QH tree, and seat sizes 14, 15 and 15. My guess is that the McLite is not intended for cow work, hence the “wade-style” disclaimer.

There are many, many wade saddle makers out there, but McCall is a popular entry point for many riders. Hope this helps you with your choice, and maybe it will generate more discussion.


This is all very informative. I have looked at McCall’s quite a bit. I was leaning towards a 98, or a Pendleton. One having a wade tree and the other having an association tree. I hear they have the best ground seat around no matter what type of tree you go with.

I was able to sit in a few of their lady wades a few weeks ago, and did not find them as comfortable as I was expecting. I was wondering if there is much difference between the seat of them and a 98. Everyone I talk to about Wade saddles talks about how balanced they are. I even had an English rider tell me it reminded her of a dressage saddle. The deep pocket is definitely something I am interested in. I have noticed that I ride very forward, and I am not sure if it is the type of saddles I am riding in or my reactive riding style. In my saddle search I have noticed that more saddle makers are building swell fork saddles with deeper pockets, and bigger wood post horns. Kind of the best of both worlds. Just hard to know how they sit looking at them on the internet.

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I have a wade saddle built by Cary Schwarz that I was lucky enough to purchase from a friend about 17 years ago. My horse at the time was 3/4 Thoroughbred and it fit him really well. I’m glad my friend was too petite to fit in this particular saddle because it fits me great and all the horses I’ve put it on.