We want our children to be safe and, if they’ll be showing, to look great as well. Your child is ready for her own saddle when she no longer needs a side walker.
Saddle fit is as important for children’s mounts as for adult riders. Even though a child weighs less, an ill-fitting saddle will still hurt the horse or pony. The basic tenets of saddle fit still apply to these little saddles, so at the least you must be sure that there’s space between withers and pommel and that the saddle is not bridging.
However, we’ve found that many children’s saddles can be made to fit passably — if not perfectly — by using the right thick pad. This isn’t a recommendation for the long-term, however. It’s an interim fix.
Safety guru Dru Malavase of New York thinks that a deep-seat, all-purpose saddle makes the most sense for most kids. If the stirrup leathers are set on deep bars or on a non-release bar, we recommend safety stirrups, such as peacock stirrups (see November 2002 for English stirrups and January 2003 for Western styles). Frankly, safety stirrups are always a wise idea.
Some saddles have a handle over the pommel (sometimes called a pommel or bucking strap), which serves a substitute for grabbing mane, but this piece should not be so big that a hand or the reins can get caught in it. The knobs that look like a saddle horn on an English saddle can grab loose clothing in a fall and cause serious injury in the rare cases when the pony/horse rolls over the rider in a fall.
Seat and flap sizes are often smaller on children’s saddles than on the adult versions. Children’s saddles sizes start at 13” — even 12” or under in some specialty saddles — and go up from there all the way to 16”, which can also be a small adult size. However, Jim Robeson, a saddler in New York, said the flaps are then a bit larger for the small adult’s leg.
Many English children’s saddles are made on wider trees to fit chubby ponies. Not only is a too-narrow tree bad for the pony, but the stirrup leathers can fall off the stirrup bars if a too-narrow saddle is perched on the withers of a wide pony’s back. Most Western children’s saddles aren’t designed to fit ponies since, in Western classes, the smallest rider is often seen on a large horse but in a tiny saddle. Tapaderos on the stirrups prevent feet from sliding through and getting caught.
Sizing for saddle-seat saddles includes room for the 4” cutback at the withers. Jane Ginther, of Hartmeyer Saddlery, says they’ve carried children’s saddles as small as 14” that, after deducting the 4” cutback portion, leaves only a 10” seat to fit a toddler for leadline classes. Most children’s saddle-seat saddles, however, are 17” (13” seat), which is the ideal size for children who are too small for a 19” saddle, the smallest of the adult saddle-seat sizes.
While there are often appealingly low-priced “children’s saddle sets” for sale, consider buying a higher-quality item that will fit both horse and child and be more durable. Good children’s saddles cost from $400 to $1,000, however, as all parents know, children outgrow everything faster than they wear it out, including saddles. If you want to save money, scout tack shops for a good used saddle. Once your child is finished with a saddle, you can probably sell it for close to what you paid.
Most tack shops carry some kind of children’s saddle, but the widest selection we found for English saddles are Hartmeyer, Thornhill and Dover. National Roper’s Supply has a long list of Western saddles available.
Some less traditional saddle ideas include Wintec’s synthetic children’s saddle that retails for around $170. It has a pommel handle that does not protrude and knee rolls.
Kids like to ride, and it’s up to the adult in charge to ensure the situation is as safe as possible. We disapprove of parents who ride double with their children, even with the gadgets that make it seem easy to do so. Stirrups that go over the saddle horn and double pads, duplex saddles, or similar systems encourage a poor practice. Children should ride on their own, in a saddle that fits them and their horses. They should also be outfitted with an SEI/ASTM helmet — regardless of discipline — and riding boots. And, get a saddle that fits horse and rider, realizing you’re likely recoup the investment at resale.
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