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How to Choose the Best Saddle

By: Rebecca Sweat

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After your horse, your most important purchase probably will be your saddle. The choice of a saddle can make or break the riding experience you have with your horse. With a properly-fitting saddle, you and your horse will feel more comfortable when out riding, making the time together more enjoyable. A poorly fitting saddle, on the other hand, can cause your horse extreme discomfort and pain.

"A horse that is being ridden with a saddle that doesn't fit may show his discomfort by inappropriate behavior such as balking, rearing, head tossing, bucking, refusing transitions, head shaking, ear pinning, biting and/or kicking," says Sandy Arledge, a horse trainer and a breeder of American quarter horses in San Diego, CA.

Saddles don't come cheap – at least if you want one that will last for more than a few months. You probably will have to spend a minimum of about $250, or you could spend a couple thousand dollars or more for a top-of-the-line saddle. Because it is a big-ticket item, you should make sure you've chosen the saddle that best suits you before you buy it rather than discover later that you should have bought another one.

If you've visited some tack shops or checked out a mail-order catalog or two, you may feel somewhat overwhelmed at the variety of saddles that are available.

Tips for Buying a Suitable Saddle

  • Make sure you're comfortable with the riding discipline you choose before you invest in a saddle. Saddles vary, depending on whether you ride English or Western. If you choose English, you may want to go with dressage, hunt seat or saddle seat. Western riders would choose from roping, reining, stock or pleasure saddles.

  • Research the brand names of the saddles made for your discipline. Contact the manufacturers and ask about the features of their products. Visit their Web sites. Consult with tack shop owners and get their perspective. Talk to other riders in your discipline to see which brands they prefer and why.

  • Buy the best saddle you can afford. "Spending money on a quality saddle now pays off down the road," Arledge says. "If you spend two or three thousand dollars for a well-made saddle, it could easily last 20 years or more with proper care. If you figure out the cost over the life of the horse, it isn't that much per year compared with your total horse care expenses." A good quality saddle, she adds, will be more comfortable for both you and your horse, and will eliminate some behavior problems due to ill-fitting equipment.

  • When shopping, sit in the saddle to make sure it fits your backside properly. Saddle seats come in a range of sizes, which for average-sized women usually is a 15- or 16-inch seat. Be prepared to sit in a lot of saddle seats before you find the one that suits you best.

  • Choose a saddle that fits you and your horse. "A common mistake that people make is buying a saddle that just fits themselves or just fits their horse - but a saddle has to fit both," says Carol Timmerman, owner of Timmerman's Ranch and Saddle Shop in Island Lake, IL.

  • Take the saddle home and try it out on your horse before making a final decision. Most tack shops give saddle shoppers at least 24 hours to make sure it fits and feels right.

  • Carefully observe how the saddle sits on your horse. "A properly-fitting saddle will not press down on the withers, and no part of the saddle will touch the horse's spine directly," Timmerman says. After you're done riding and you take the saddle off, she says you will know the saddle does not fit your horse properly if he is sweaty or has dried spots on his withers.

  • If you can't afford a new saddle, consider a used one. "Your money will be better spent on a high-quality used saddle than a poorly built, inexpensive new saddle," Arledge notes. "In addition, good, well built saddles do not loose their value, and usually can be resold with little or no devaluation."

    Whether you purchase a new saddle or a used one – you can't go wrong with a quality saddle.

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