What to look for when buying your new or used saddle
We all know how time consuming the purchase of a new saddle is. We sit in them, maybe take them on a test ride, get advice from fellow horsemen and women. But who is to tell what this new saddle will feel like down the road? No matter if you are spending fifty dollars on a used saddle, or five thousand dollars on the top of the line, here are some tips to assist you along the way.
The Quality of the Leather
Obviously the higher the quality of the leather, the higher the price. You may think that you cannot afford the higher priced saddle, but stop and think about it. Five years from now, which saddle will still be in top condition? Which will have held up with use? Even if you take the best care of a poor quality leather, it is still going to look like a poor quality leather. If at all possible, spend the additional money for the better leather now so that you are not having to replace it every few years.
Feel the leather. Quality leather should feel smooth and supple, but never spongy. Take the saddle's fenders, side jockeys, and skirt and bend them. Small cracks in the grain may indicate dry rot or overly dry leather.
Check the strength of the leather. The leather's hair follicles should be close together, there should be no wrinkles. Open or course grain (wide between the follicles) and small wrinkles indicate belly leather, which is weaker and less durable than leather from the animal's sides and back.
Check the finish of the leather. Make sure the leather's sharp edges are removed, slicked down, and sealed with edge coating. A well-made saddle always has nicely finished edges, rather than rough ones.
Construction of the Tree
Think of the saddle's tree like your own spine, without it we would have no support. If a treee is broken, the saddle is useless. A few points on how to check a tree:
Point the front of the saddle toward you. Grasp the pommel with one hand, and the cantle with the other. Pull the cantle toward the fork. If the tree flexes under this pressure, move on. Then face the front of the saddle away from you. Hold the cantle in one hand, and force the pommel back (toward you and the cantle) with the other. Again, there should be no movement.
Check the material of the tree. If possible, look to see what the tree is made from. Rawhide-covered wood trees are stronger and more durable than injected, molded-plastic ones. Fiberglass-covered wood trees are not only strong, but the fiberglass coating waterproofs the wood.
Check the bars of the tree. Place the saddle on a saddle stand, or flat on the floor. Bend over the side, and grasp the bars (the tree's long side panels that run parallel to your horse's spine) one at a time. Then, try to flex them in and out. Do the same thing on each side just below the cantle. Feel for movement and look for wrinkles in the leather, which could indicate a broken pommel or cantle.
Stitching and Buckles
The stitching and the buckles hold the saddle's parts together, so it's important to check them for wear and tear.
Check by sight. Watch for rivets that pull through the leather, and for any stitching that's worn through. Someone may try to dye the leather darker to hide these so make sure you check thoroughly.
Check the Rigging. Examine the saddle's rigging (the hardware--such as D-rings--and straps that attach the cinch or girth to the saddle). All leather should be soft and supple. Adjustment holes should be clean and tight. Hardware should be made from stainless steel, solid brass, or chrome-plated brass, for durability. Avoid rusted steel or corroded aluminum hardware.
Place the saddle on a saddle stand with a good saddle pad. Be sure it's level, as it'd be on your horse's back. The front of the saddle shouldn't sit lower or perch up higher than it would on your horse.
Check comfort. Hop onto the saddle, and place your feet in a natural riding position. The seat should allow you to comfortably keep your hip under your heel, and shouldn't tip your upper body forward or back. You should be able to stand in the stirrups without falling forward or backward.
Finally, check the saddle's stirrups and fenders. Check stirrup design. Look for wide, flat stirrup bottoms, which offer balance and support, and alleviate nerve pressure in your feet. If the saddle you would like to buy doesn't offer suitable stirrups, replace them after purchase.
Check the length of the stirrup leather. If the saddle features English-style stirrup leathers, make sure they're long enough for you. If they're too long, you'll be able to punch new holes to shorten them, but if they're too short, you'll need to buy new ones.
Check the length of the fender. Adjust the stirrups to riding length to make sure the saddle's fenders are the right length for you.
We hope that these tips can help you with your purchase. It is always good to take a friend with knowledge to assist you. Maybe the person or tack shop will allow you to try the saddle prior to your purchase, this is the best way to determine if it is right for you!