Ready to go saddle shopping? Note that the saddles described below are organized by price range: less than $1,000; $1,000-$1,499; $1,500-$1,699; $1,700-$1,999; and $2,000-$2,500. (All prices are suggested retail and subject to change.)
Less than $1,000
Harnessing the power and practicality of high-tech materials, the lightweight Stealth Synthetic Trail Saddle by Abetta combines features from Western, English, Australian, and United States Cavalry saddles. The oversized seat jockey provides comfort and allows free fender movement; no skirts make for close contact. Fleece-covered, Neoprene-cushioned bars increases your horse's comfort. Comes with Pro-Tuff Endurance stirrups. Cost: $545.
Australian saddles help ensure rider security with close contact, a deep seat, and padded kneepads (called poleys) that help keep you in place while going downhill. The Kimberley Trailmaster with Horn from Down Under Saddle Supply also offers a Western-style horn and flank girth ring. Fleece panels guard against slippage. Cost: $620.
Just for Women
Designed with a high cantle for spinal support and a narrower front, the Lady Trail Flex Saddle from Fabtron is tailored to the woman rider. A leather front and rough-out seat (with extra padding) combine with Cordura-nylon fenders and a fleece-lined skirt to lighten the weight and for easy-care convenience. Durable, stainless-steel hardware holds up to trail use. Cost: $779.90.
Treeless Western Saddle
In place of a standard tree, the Basic Trail Rider Treeless Saddle from Bob Marshall Sports Saddle features two closed-cell neoprene pads, with leather on the top and a polyester/wool blend on the bottom connecting a solid cantle and pommel; this configuration allows your horse to move more freely and you to remain in close, balanced contact with him. Cost: $945.
Western Trail Saddle
The Comfort Fit Trail Saddle from Reinsman offers a high cantle, multiple saddle strings, and a D-ring for your rear cinch. A soft seat jockey and fenders, along with a narrow seat, add to your comfort, while teardrop fenders mean less bulk under your leg and easy stirrup adjustment. Cost: $1,360.
The Special Effx Trail Pleasure 200 from Cactus Saddlery features a Special Effx tree, which allows the saddle to conform naturally to your horse's back, even as he moves. The balanced cantle, seat, swells, and horn aid rider support and promote proper positioning, and the skirt is cut to allow close contact with your horse. Cost: $1,472.50.
The Deep Carved Muster Master from The Australian Stock Saddle Company features an adjustable timber-and-aluminum tree, and a 5?-inch deep seat that's web-suspended for horse and rider comfort. The knee-pads (poleys) are 4? inches high. The leather is Australian, and the panels are lined with Merino sheepskin.?The saddle is extremely close contact and weighs about 22 pounds in a standard seat size. Cost: $1,495 (without horn).
The Trailmaster Saddle from Specialized Saddles uses a ?3D Fitting System? ?? easily adjustable fitting cushions and wedge shims to tailor the fit to your horse's three-dimensional shape, even if he bulks up or slims down. Flat bars evenly distribute weight over his back. Comes with English rigging and wide, secure endurance stirrups. Customization options are available. Cost:$1,549.
The Cashel Outfitter is a hardworking yet comfortable saddle. Although it's light weight, it offers a safe, secure ride and is durable enough to pack heavy loads. Loaded with strings and D-rings, it's made for the trail. The Axis True Fit tree offers optimal fit. Rear-cinch assembly included. Cost: $1,695.
Mountain Trail Saddle
The Simco Mountain Flex Trail Saddle features a high, five-inch cantle and 7/8, in-skirt, stainless-steel J rigging, with rear D-rings for your back cinch. Wide, leather-covered, hand-laced stirrups provide room for even wide boots. A Ralide Flex tree provides stability while offering your horse freedom of movement. Cost: From $1,700.
Tradition on the Trail
For the look and feel of the traditional ? but tailored for the trail ? Circle Y?s Mesquite Trail Saddle fits the bill. The saddle features three-way adjustable, in-skirt rigging to suit your needs, and pre-twisted fenders for rider comfort. A small skirt allows close contact. A DURAhide-covered wooden tree promotes stability, while the saddle?s Tunnel Skirt design eliminates pressure on your horse's spine. Cost:$1,750.Customizable Saddle
With an emphasis on fit and function, the Steele Trail Boss from Saddles by Steele saddle offers a variety of options, from the overall (Western or English) to the more specific (quarter, gaited, or mule tree). The saddle?s long seat is designed for comfort. The fiberglass-encased tree distributes your weight evenly over your horse's back. Cost: $1,975.
Focus on Fit
By offering 11 possible bar sizes and different gullet widths, the Wade Trail Saddle from J.J. Maxwell Tack & Saddle Co., LLC, is designed to provide optimal fit. A modified bar allows for shoulder-movement freedom. Trail-friendly features include light weight materials and a short skirt. You?ll measure your horse using the company?s form shapes. Cost: $2,100 (base price).
Designed by natural horsemanship trainer Julie Goodnight in conjunction with Circle Y Saddles, the Blue Ridge Gaited Trail saddle promotes correct rider placement and horse/rider comfort. A specially engineered tree is designed to meet the needs of smooth-gaited breeds. A round, shock-absorbing skirt promotes close contact. Stirrups are twisted to hang naturally in line with your leg. A narrow twist and padded seat further increase rider comfort. Cost: From $2,395.
(800) 937-3700; www.buyabetta.com
(800) 937-3700; www.actioncompany.com
The Australian Stock Saddle Company
(818) 889-6988; www.aussiesaddle.com
Bob Marshall Sport Saddle
(270) 988-2684; www.sportssaddle.com
(866) 605-6567, www.cactussaddlery.com
(800) 333-2202; www.cashelcompany.com
Circle Y of Yoakum
(800) 882-5375; www.circley.com
Down Under Saddle Supply
(800) 395-8225; www.downunderweb.com
(800) 654-2321; www.fabtron.com
J.J. Maxwell Tack & Saddle Co., LLC
(888) 739-0108; www.jjmaxwell.com
(800) 225-8827; http://shop.juliegoodnight.com
(800) 548-2487; www.reinsman.com
Saddles by Steele
(615) 792-3884; www.steelesaddle.com
(575) 882-3342; www.specializedsaddles.com
Tucker Trail Saddles
(800) 882-5375; www.tuckersaddles.com
Laurel Berger O?Connor, a Pennsylvania horsewoman, is The Trail Rider?s products editor.