Buying a Used English Saddle

Price and fit are not your only concerns when investigating to buy a used English saddle. Key stress points, leather condition and the tree also need your attention.
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Price and fit are not your only concerns when investigating to buy a used English saddle. Key stress points, leather condition and the tree also need your attention.

Aside from the price of a used saddle, there are other areas with which you need to be concerned. Look at the billets on the saddle. Billets are always one of the first things to go. Are they cracked or have they de-laminated (pulled apart)? The billets are what hold the saddle to your horse so it is crucial that they be in good shape. But if they aren't in good shape, don't fret -- they can be replaced. A complete all billet installation will start around $100. Prices will vary between tack repair individuals.

Photos courtesy of Charlotte's Saddlery

Photos courtesy of Charlotte's Saddlery

Next, look at the seat of the saddle. Is there any sign of wear, specifically where the "piping" runs along the outer portion of the seat. Sometimes that will start to split. It's a high friction area because of the way our seat bones contact the saddle. The seat can also be replaced but that can turn out to be an expensive repair. The cost will vary from saddle to saddle depending on the condition.

Check the condition of the panels underneath. Are they cracked or showing signs of excessive wear? Panels break down over a period of time. Panels are generally stuffed either entirely with wool or a combination of layered wool, felt, and foam. One is not necessarily superior over the other, but it is often considered easier to restuff the wool flock panels. Once again, a reputable tack repair individual can restuff panels. Prices will vary depending on the condition of the panels but should start around $50.

What about the tree of the saddle? Trees are either wood or fiberglass/plastic. You can't always tell whether a saddletree is broken or not without literally taking the saddle apart. There is a little test that you can perform when considering a saddle. Hold the saddle lengthwise (pommel first) against your thigh. Grasp the cantle or rear of the saddle and gently pull toward yourself. A saddle with a sound tree will give or flex when you are pulling. However, an excessive amount of give, where it looks like the seat is buckling, might be an indication that there is a problem with the tree.

Trees can be repaired but it's a very specialized process and should be done only by a qualified repair person. The cost can be high, but sometimes can be considerably less than the purchase of a new saddle.

In summary, use your commonsense when buying a used saddle. Don't necessarily be concerned with the age of the saddle. An older saddle can be in better shape than a newer one that has not been well cared for. Look at the overall appearance. Has the previous owner maintained (cleaned and conditioned) the saddle on a regular basis.

English saddle 2

If the saddle looks dry but otherwise in good condition, remember that a good conditioner can do remarkable things, so the saddle may be worth your consideration.

Don't let price throw you. Most sellers are willing to negotiate. Concentrate on what you and your horse require. Don't try and fit the saddle to your horse in your mind. Take the saddle home or have it sent to you so you can put it on your horse. Most shops will allow you to do that.

Helpful I.D. Hints: All Crosby saddles have an "M" or "W" stamped on the near side stirrup bar. That indicates a medium or wide tree. Stubben stamps the tree size, a 28 cm(centimeter), 29cm, 30cm, 31cm, or a 32 cm on the far side billet guard indicating tree size with 31 cm being considered medium tree. In earlier years they used the alphabet A,B,C,D etc. (Sometimes this will wear off after time and can't be seen.)

Stubben also stamps the serial number of the saddle on the far side billet guard. When traced back to Stubben, the number can tell you the year the saddle was made, who actually crafted the saddle, flap size, tree size(and probably what they had for breakfast). Passier and Hermes saddles are also stamped with serial numbers that can provide you with some very interesting and helpful info.

This article was originally published in the Charlotte Giddy-Up Gazette.

For more information on Charlotte's Saddlery, go to www.charlottes-saddlery.com.