We want carriers that make our saddles easier to transport. We also want enough padding so that we don’t feel the saddle is being bumped around, which could hurt the tree or the leather, but not so much padding that the whole thing just seems puffy and oversized.
We want soft lining so that we don’t worry about the leather’s surface — the saddle should look the same when it comes out of the carrier as it did when it went in.
We appreciate extra room for larger saddles but don’t want the carrier to be so vast that the saddle moves around or becomes more difficult to carry. That said, some testers wanted more room for extra gear, while others felt that only saddles should be in saddle carriers. Basically, this comes down to your preference, but bear in mind that bridle buckles and the like moving around inside a bag with your saddle can scratch it.
Be sure you choose a saddle carrier designed for the type of saddle you use. While some carriers are multi-purpose, we did find that if they’re too large our jumping saddles slide around too much and if they’re too small, our dressage saddles get squished.
Shoulder straps are virtual necessities, and most of the carriers we tried had them. Saddles are tough to carry in the best of circumstances, and when they’re swaddled in a big cover they get really cumbersome. A shoulder strap helps you get the situation under control by giving you a place to get support. As you walk, you can place the pommel above your hip and hold the cantle with the hand on that side, while the shoulder strap will bear most of the weight.
Most important, though, is that your saddle carrier is easy to load. And that comes down to the zipper style on your carrier and your own method of loading. It may even involve a bit of practice and patience, as we found testers who took too long to load a saddle into the carrier tended to “forget” to use that bag once our trial was over because it was just too much of a bother.
Don’t underestimate the importance of the zipper placement on your saddle carrier. It’s critical to the ease of loading and unloading your saddle. One caveat: Loading saddles into carriers is rarely easy. Saddles are unwieldy at best, and it’s tough to wrestle them into cases — especially heavier dressage and all-purpose saddles. We found even the carriers touted as easy-loading require some finesse.
Most carriers, like BMB and Thornhill, have all-around zippers that top-open the carrier so you can insert the saddle. This design makes it simpler to load a saddle because it opens wider than front-loading bags. You basically unzip the entire bag, open it completely up, and insert the saddle. This is the simplest design to use, as it requires the least amount of wrestling.
The proper way to load a front-loading carrier is to open the zipper fully and lay the bottom half of the case on a saddle rack or stand. With the saddle supported by your left arm (your arm will be under the seat of the saddle with the pommel resting near your elbow), slide the saddle downward and into the case. You can hold the case open with your right hand if necessary. Lift the bottom side of the front of the case up and over the pommel and close the zipper.
With an all-around-zipper case, you should set the saddle carrier on a saddle rack with handle straps facing up. Unzip it as much as desired for your saddle and fold the top back, as you would a suitcase lid. Set the saddle on the bottom of the bag with the pommel facing forward and fold the top portion of the bag over the top of saddle. Zip the bag closed. You can also place the all-around-zipper carrier on the floor and open it face up. Place the saddle in, pull the sides up and zip it.
The Glover saddle carrier was our favorite. Its fleece lining coddles saddles, and we found it easy to load and unload. Plus, the padding is just right. At $70, it’s a great value.
The $107 BMB saddle carrier is also a top choice. We loved its deluxe look and feel. Nicely padded, it adjusts to the saddle’s shape well. If you don’t want a shoulder strap, the Thornhill is similarly sturdy if not as posh-looking and is cheaper at $79.95.
Best Buy goes to the $39.95 Schneiders carriers, with their solid feel and padding.