Minimizing the Saddle Shopping Woes

Courtesy of SmartPak

Saddle shopping – to a novice it sounds like fun, but it puts fear into the hearts of all who have undertaken it before. Does it fit me? Does it fit my horse? Will my horse change shape? Does my horse like it? Do I like it? Does my trainer like it? Does my bank account like it? Yikes, my anxiety level is rising as I type! I recently went through an extensive saddle shopping experience with my extremely picky and prickly mare Tally. Here are some tips and tricks that we picked up along the way.

  1. Be realistic about your needs and finances
    There are so many saddles out there. Different brands, styles, makes, models, and prices. It can be extremely overwhelming! Before you start seriously searching, sit down and figure out what you can afford to spend and what your riding plans are, both immediately and in the next year or two. I have a perfectly good jump saddle that fits Tally really well.

However, my mare is on jumping hiatus for at least a year, possibly permanently. We’re becoming very familiar with the dressage ring, much to her dismay. She loves her Antares jumping saddle, so of course I grabbed the Antares Signature Dressage Saddle to try before I even had a thought in my head about what I could afford. I love it and if I save my pennies I can probably get it in the future, but it’s currently out of reach financially after having to replace my truck (transmission – ‘nuff said…) Rookie move – don’t test drive a Mercedes if you’re on a Mazda budget. It’s a waste of time and sets you up for heartbreak. Once I got real and figured out what my budget was, I was able to pinpoint which brands I could afford and that helped to narrow my focus. Which leads me to…

  1. Do your research
    I’ve been known to spend weeks comparing product descriptions, reviews and prices before buying anything, from washing machines down to cereal. Knowledge is power! Learn the brands, see what people are saying on the forums, talk to professionals, and become familiar with prices, both new and used. All this information will help you as you start to winnow down your choices and start finding saddles to bring to the barn. I’m very fortunate that I’ve been working in the horse industry for most of my life, so I have a ton of experience with various brands, but I was surprised at how much more information I was able to find once I started looking. Don’t have time for all that? Then the next tip is even more crucial!
  1. Get help
    The knowledge is out there – use it so you don’t end up with a very expensive leather sculpture. Within your barn there are trainers, barn managers and fellow riders with years of experience. They can help you to narrow down the choices and get to one or two viable options. A saddle fitter may seem unnecessary, but having someone with the training and practical experience of looking at thousands of saddles on horses could save you a world of tears down the road. I’m lucky enough to have a saddle fitter who boards at my barn, but we also have an equine chiropractor who fits saddles and visits the area regularly as well as several other saddle fitters in the region. If you are in a remote area without access to a saddle fitter, you can try sending pictures and talking through saddle fit with someone over the phone or via email if they are willing. Your horse will help you determine if the fit is right but you have to know your horse and be very sensitive and attentive to changes in way of going and behavior that could be caused by the saddle. Obvious fit issues can be fairly easy to spot, but more subtle issues like bridging or pressure points can be more difficult to assess. My princess mare is well known for tolerating a saddle for a few days then deciding it’s just not quite right – so I know that I need to ride in a saddle for several days before making a decision. I also palpate my horse’s back every day so I know what ‘normal’ is for her, and I can detect mild soreness and discomfort very quickly and stop using a saddle before it causes any serious issues.
  1. Know where you can compromise and where you can’t
    Your horse has to be comfortable, and you need to be comfortable – those are the most important things. The goal is to have a saddle that your horse can move freely in, and you need to be in the right position to influence your horse effectively. If those things are true about a brown saddle when you had your heart set on black – you may need to compromise. If you fall in love with a certain brand but your horse pins his ears and isn’t moving as well as he normally does, it’s probably not the right choice. Keep looking – don’t get discouraged! I’ve always wanted a Roosli dressage saddle – it was my dream saddle in college (everyone else had pictures of Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise on their walls – I had pictures of Gem Twist and Roosli saddles.) I was so excited to find several used Roosli saddles in my price range. Excitedly, I got one to try on Tally and…she hated it. Instantaneously – I didn’t even get a full lap around the ring. Ah well, dreams are made to be broken. There are some styles of riding that require specific saddles or attributes of saddles, either officially through a set of rules, or unofficially as traditional practices dictate a specific ‘look’. These are important if you are showing – be aware and ensure your saddle complies.

How did my saddle shopping adventure turn out? After hours of research, talking with numerous people and bringing a total of 8 test ride saddles to the barn to try out over a period of two months, Tally and I are now the proud owners of a Thorowgood T8 dressage saddle – not at all the saddle I was expecting to end up with, but one that Tally loves and I am comfortable in. It puts me in the right place, has passed approval by both my trainer and the saddle fitter, and has passed the 5-day Tally Tolerance Test. I’m excited to start looking the part at dressage shows – I’ve gotten some funny looks competing at 1st level in my jump saddle! And riding in a dressage saddle really does help my position and allows me to communicate with Tally more effectively. Good luck with your saddle shopping – I hope it’s (fairly) painless and your Roosli-like dreams come true!