When it comes to buying a saddle for your trusty steed, there is a bewildering variety of options on the market, and it’s easy to feel lost. As a qualified saddle fitter and stable manager, I’ve seen that look of confusion on many faces before – and this article is here to help.
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Saddle Buying Guide
First, it’s worth noting that saddles should be purchased with the help of a friendly professional: a stable manager or, preferably, a saddle fitter. A fitter would be able to help you select the right saddle as well as ensuring that it fits both horse and rider. A poorly fitting saddle can be dangerous to the rider as well as painful for the horse, potentially causing long-term or permanent damage to the both of you.
New or Second Hand?
It’s always nice to buy new. Everyone loves the smell and feel of leather straight from the tack shop, and that way, your saddle is guaranteed to be in good condition. However, second hand is a very valid option when saddle shopping. Most saddles are for sale for legitimate reasons – the owner stopped riding, or the horse outgrew it, or the rider has switched to another discipline – and can be found in tack shops as well as online directly from the seller. There are two things to beware of when buying second hand, though. The first is the condition of the saddle. Be sure to assess it before purchasing; be especially careful to test the tree. A broken tree isn’t always apparent at first glance, but it renders the saddle permanently unusable.
The other is to be careful of buying online from private parties. Many people have been scammed into paying for a saddle that never arrives – and that probably never existed in the first place. Insisting on collecting the saddle yourself isn’t always a safer option, either. Always meet the seller in a public place, and don’t go alone. There’s a lot of creeps out there.
What To Look For
The type of saddle best suited to your horse depends on a variety of factors, including his shape and your goals. However, some rules apply to all saddles. First, the condition and quality should be solid. If you’re on a budget, a fairly good saddle in working condition will do; however, certain parts of the saddle must always be in excellent condition. These include the stirrup bars, stirrup leathers, cinch straps, and tree. Superficial scratches or scuffs on the leather are unsightly in the show ring, but ultimately have no impact on safety and comfort for horse and rider.
Top quality saddles are always nice to have, but not always affordable. The most important thing is that the saddle must fit you and your horse perfectly. One can compromise on leather quality – perhaps even opting for cheaper and more durable synthetic – but never on tree shape.
For the new rider on a tight budget, the Oyster Creek Trail Saddle is an excellent starting point. It is a simple enough saddle with some different rigging options to help customize the fit to each horse, but can be heavy, and the leather is not of outstanding quality. Like many budget Western saddles, the leather can be really squeaky – not really a problem for your horse, but this can get annoying over many miles, and generally doesn’t improve much with conditioning.
The Circle Y Julie Goodnight Wind River Flex2 Trail Saddle is a more expensive option for the discerning trail rider. Designed for the absolutely optimum comfort of horse and rider…
These heavy-duty saddles are designed for real hard work. They’re built to last while working all day, every day, and to keep the horse comfortable while doing so.
For the serious cowboy, there’s no real option apart from the genuine Billy Cook saddles – like this Billy Cook Nebraska Rancher saddle. This beautifully tooled saddle is made for the hardened professional, and will last longer than most cowboys, designed to be passed down for generations. Its seat is very hard for durability, however, and your dude ranchers won’t last long in this tough saddle.
You wouldn’t use your tough old farm saddle at a horse show. For that purpose, there are gorgeous and elaborate show saddles. These have low horns and often lack a flank cinch, making them unsuitable for ranch work or roping, but they are stunning to look at and perfect for the show ring.
The barrel racer wants something specific in order to be both quick and safe around that pattern. Barrel racing saddles have deeper seats and higher horns in order to give the rider something to hang on to while their horse performs rapid acceleration and lightning-fast turns.
The beginner barrel racer would do well to start out with the American Saddlery The Denero saddle. Its fenders are roughened in order to help keep the rider more securely in the saddle and the high horn allows for ample grip around the turns. Its greatest downfall is its appearance – the Denero’s boring basket weave and pale seat make it a little unattractive to look at.
For the professional racer, the Martin Saddlery FX3 barrel racing saddle is the better choice. This saddle was specifically designed for high-performing barrel horses, with a shorter skirt to allow for the short-coupled conformation of good quarter horses.