Buying a saddle is probably the most important equine-related purchase you'll make, second only to selecting the right horse. A saddle is, after all, a substantial monetary investment, as well the main piece of equipment that sits between you and your horse. The right saddle has to fit your horse, your rear end, and your budget.
"I compare buying a saddle to buying a car," says Sandy Klein, owner of Bits & Pieces, a tack store in Bend, Oregon. "There are lots of brands to choose from in many price ranges! It just depends on your needs, your taste, and your budget. Some people prefer fancy Italian-made cars, some want a good used Japanese-made car, and some can only afford an old beater that gets them to and from work!"
And, like car shopping, researching before you buy is the best way to make an educated decision. With Sandy's help, we'll get you started.
Decide Your Discipline
English or western, right? Not quite. Within each of the main styles of riding, you'll find a saddle designed for just about any sport you'd want to do with your horse. Choose a sport, and you might end up with even more options.
• Training saddle. A high-quality training saddle has the same balance and comfort as its more elaborately decorated show counterpart. Working saddles are great for riders who enjoy their horses on the trails.
• Buckaroo saddle. Modern buckaroo saddles are as much art pieces as they are working tack. Usually made in custom shops, buckaroo saddles are hand built, hand tooled, and fitted to your exact specifications. They feature deep seats, large horns, and even traditional tapaderos, which cover the stirrups.
• Trail saddle. Trail saddles are designed for riders and horses that spend hours covering ground. They are durable, comfortable, and lightweight, usually with less skirting than other saddles to limit extra pounds. They also have ample rings and latigos for tying on saddle bags and rain slickers.
• Barrel saddle. A barrel saddle's small, single skirt keeps it lightweight for timed events. The high cantle gives riders added security in quick turns and hard starts and stops. The tree design also allows riders to sit close to the horse's center of balance.
• Roping saddle. Roping saddles are built on trees designed to take the abuse of holding a calf. The wide gullet also alleviates stress to the horse's back as he performs his job, while the shallow seat and low cantle allow for a cowboy's quick dismount during either ranch work or competition. Overall, roping saddles tend to weigh more than other options, making them a better choice for roping than recreational riding.
• Reining saddle. The reining saddle's close-contact design allows riders to communicate with their mounts while performing complicated maneuvers during a reining pattern. The deep pocket of the reining saddle's seat, combined with the saddle's overall balance, also makes it a good choice for everyday riding at home.
• Show saddle. Show saddles feature silver and crystals, ranging from the lightly adorned to highly elaborate. Modern show saddles are mostly built on an all-around tree suitable for the horses and riders competing in horsemanship, trail, western riding, and pleasure. Show saddles aren't great for everyday riding, because the silver decoration is heavy as well as expensive.