Synthetic Saddles Rock!

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If you?ve gone saddle shopping with a small budget, you know the quality available in leather saddles for less than $1,000 is just not there. That leaves a choice of buying a used leather saddle (and being sure tHere's no broken or repaired tree), settling for a new inexpensive leather saddle (and living with the imperfections) or giving up? on leather and going synthetic.

The simplest, safest route is a new synthetic saddle. Few people will even know your saddle?s not leather as you ride by. Or even if it's sitting on the saddle rack, really. Plus,? you can skip that time-consuming saddle soaping.

When our test saddles arrived, the first comment was always, ?that's not leather'?? The four saddles we had?the Tekna S-Line dressage, the Wintec Pro dressage, the Thorowgood T4 dressage and the hybrid Thorowgood T8 dressage?showed great attention to design.

They not only looked like leather, they were virtually just as pliable. Plus, the material is much more scratch and mold resistant. The colors are deep and rich.? Stitching is even and tight. The designs are intuitive and rider friendly. These saddles lack nothing when it comes to quality construction. ?See?saddle chart and replaceable gullets sidebar.

CLEANING AND ACCESSORIES.?Of course, nearly everyone knows that synthetic saddles are cleaned with water. (Really. don't use anything? else.)? You must keep them out of the sun while they're drying and not expose them to high heat, such as blow drying them or locking them in a hot car (which isn?t good for leather either).? Other than that, they're a piece of cake. The suede-like areas did collect dusty debris, but we wiped that off with a dry cloth between washings.

We used leather stirrup leathers and girths on these saddles without problem. You can also purchase matching bridles, girths and leathers, if you prefer.? While We've heard that leather can cause a squeak when used on synthetic materials, we didn't have that problem.

TEKNA S-LINE.?The Tekna S-Line saddle from English Riding Supply is available in a smooth or suede-like finish. We chose the smooth finish, and it was wonderful, appearing very much like leather. The saddle was comfortable with padded, shaped knee rolls and a moveable knee block.? The material is breathable. It had the longest stirrup bar in the trial, and changing stirrups was a breeze.

The long, shaped flaps add to its pretty design. The pommel is slightly cut back, which we liked.

When we rode, the saddle felt already broken in. It allows a nice close-contact feel of your horse.

Although we only had the medium-size changeable gullet the saddle came with, we pulled it out and put it back just to see what it was like. You do really need to pull this saddle apart to get the job done, but it's not difficult. We would like to see a little Velcro on the flap that hides entry to the adjustable gullet, and we'd appreciate a couple spare screws, just in case one gets lost, but English Riding Supply said they will send you one if needed.

The Wintec billet design.

The Wintec billet design.

WINTEC PRO DRESSAGE.?The Wintec Pro comes in an Equisuede/microfiber finish. We chose wool flocking, but you can also get the CAIR Cushion System.

When you first mount up, you may feel like you're sitting on a cloud, probably due to its layer of foam cushioning. But it's extremely comfortable, especially with its narrow twist, and you quickly adjust to it.

The panels are well-padded and appear breathable. Wintec says it's an ?Equigrip? lining, designed to help stabilize the saddle. The saddle has an overgirth attached to the flaps. It looks like it's used to keep the flaps close to the horse, to ensure they won?t interfere with your leg and feel.? It was an extra step tacking up, but worth it.

Changing the gullet was the easiest of all these saddles. Long gone are those notorious days of struggling with the gullet.

The only thing that bugged us was the added foam on the saddle skirt and upper corner of the flap. It didn't interfere with riding or feel, but we felt it added to a puffy look.

THOROWGOOD.?The T4 Thorowgood is a fully synthetic model with suede-like seat and knee rolls, while the T8 is a hybrid, meaning it's mainly synthetic but has a leather seat, flaps and knee rolls.

Both saddles are beautiful and comfortable. The design and look is very upscale, and the long flaps on the saddle seem to promote a longer leg. Test riders said they were automatically in the perfect spot when they mounted (one rider said her sitting trot was twice as easy). The T4?s suede-like seat was grippy but comfortable and barely noticeable. Our horses moved wonderfully.

The panels are flocked with wool that's easily accessible by your saddle fitter. In fact, Thorowgood takes over-the-counter saddles to almost custom level with a variety of panels and trees for cobs, wide horses, high or low withers and so on. From there, you can tweak the fit further with the gullets.

That, however, was a little tougher than the Wintec, and we found the hex screw that came with the saddle didn't work as well as the one from our own tool box, but that's a minor thing. The flap over the change area isn?t Velcro-ed, but it held in place well.

BOTTOM LINE.?Your saddle decision starts with 1) Does it fit the horse' and 2) Does it fit the rider'? Only then should you think price, and synthetics can save you a bundle. We would be happy with any of these saddles, but our favorite was the Thorowgood T4. it's well-priced, well-designed and comfortable. Plus, we applaud the multiple fit options beyond the gullet change. If you're not ready for full synthetic, go $200 more for the T8?s leather seat and flaps.

One last thought: If you want a gullet-change saddle to use on a variety of horses frequently, consider the Genesis tree fit system (see September 2012).? The tree width changes with a few simple clicks of the tree.? Of course, you pay for that simplicity, compared to the synthetics, as the all-leather Toulouse Genesis Aachen dressage saddle we used cost $1650.

Article by Horse Journal staff.