Saddle Buying Guide

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Saddle Buying Guide

A good saddle helps to make the experience of riding a horse comfortable and secure. Because it is essentially a piece of safety equipment, choosing and buying a saddle must be taken seriously. When looking for saddles on eBay, seek out good quality pictures that show the saddle up close and from different angles in good light conditions. The most important thing, however, is saddle sizing. Saddles are unusual pieces of equipment because they need to fit both the rider and the horse. Taking measurements and asking for measurements from the seller are central to purchasing a well-fitting saddle online, which is so important for the horse and its rider’s safety and comfort.

Styles of Saddle

The Western saddle and the English saddle are the two most popular styles of saddle all over the world. Within both styles there is a wide range of subtler differences that suit saddles to different show events or riding activities, all of which can be found for sale on eBay.

Saddle Construction

Both Western and English saddles feature:

  • Seat
  • Cantle
  • Pommel
  • Skirt
  • Stirrup leathers
  • Stirrup irons
  • Girths (the band that encircles the horse’s ribs to keep the saddle secure).

Most saddles are built around a wooden or fiberglass ‘tree’, which provides a firm foundation for the saddle. When buying second hand saddles online it can be useful to ask the seller about the state of the tree, since a broken or twisted tree makes a saddle unsafe.

Western Saddle Construction

Western saddles commonly have wooden trees coated with fiberglass or rawhide, and covered with thick durable leather. Lightweight synthetic saddles are also available. The underside of the saddle is often lined with sheepskin, wool or acrylic.

English Saddle Construction

Most English saddles are built on a steel-reinforced wooden or fiberglass tree. The saddles are covered with plain leather, a leather-look material or a synthetic fabric covering. They are stuffed with foam or a mixture of wool and acrylic fibers.

It is possible to buy treeless English saddles. Used mainly by endurance riders, treeless saddles can be more comfortable for horse and rider. The tree is integrated into the saddle and completely clears the spine of the horse, avoiding direct pressure. These saddles can allow a better range of movement for the horse, particularly through the shoulders. They fit a wide range of horses, allow close contact between horse and rider and can become increasingly comfortable over time as they mould to the shape of the horse and rider. When buying a treeless saddle online, consider purchasing suitable padding with it, as this will help to protect the horse further.

Materials

Leather Saddles

Leather is the traditional material that all saddles, whether Western or English, used to be made from. When buying a saddle, always look for good quality leather and pay attention to the finish, the stitching and the fittings.

Synthetic Saddles

Technology allows for the creation of high performance synthetic English and Western saddles that are much lighter than leather saddles. Made of fabric, or more recently of synthetic leather and suede, these saddles are easy to clean and can even come in a variety of vibrant hues.

Choosing Saddle Styles

Western Saddle

Particularly popular in the US, where it originates, this type of saddle has a deep seat and long stirrups. These attributes make the Western saddle particularly suitable for long days on the trail as well as for the agile feats required in rodeo riding.

Most have a horn at the front of the saddle for roping cattle and a high cantle at the back to keep the rider’s seat in position. They also feature more or less skirting and bigger or smaller fenders (which protect the legs from the horse’s sweat) depending on how important it is for the rider to have close contact with the horse.

All-Event Western Saddle

The deep seat, high cantle, horn and strong tree of the All-event saddle make it suitable for general use including trail-riding, roping and cutting.

Ranch Saddle

A tough saddle with a padded seat for comfort and a high horn for roping, the skirting on these saddles is cut so that the rider can have good contact with the horse for giving signals.

Trail Saddle

Often lighter than other Western saddles, the Trail saddle features a padded seat and a small horn. It is a popular saddle for pleasure riding.

Barrel Racing Western Saddle

This saddle has a particularly deep seat to help the rider keep their balance when the horse is doing fast turns and runs. The seat is often covered in suede to give the rider a better grip. The Barrel-racing saddle has a tall horn to grasp onto and its stirrups hang forward to give the rider a more stable seat.

Endurance Western Saddle

Light and comfortable, this saddle is designed for long rides and endurance competitions. Like the Trail saddle, it is popular with pleasure riders. This saddle has no horn but boasts many anchor points for securing the accessories required for long journeys.

Show Western Saddle

Covered in ornate leatherwork and silver ornamentation, Show saddles are designed to impress judges and to keep the rider centrally balanced, encouraging good posture.

Reining Western Saddle

Because signaling is important in reigning events, where a horse performs turns, sliding stops and spins, these saddles have a low horn that will not get in the way of the reins. It also has a flat seat and short skirts so the rider’s legs stay in close contact with the horse.

Roping Western Saddle

These strong saddles are designed to allow maximum movement for the rider. They feature thick horns and a deep suede-covered seat.

Equitation Western Saddle

Occasionally called ‘Western Dressage’, equitation requires the rider’s body to be well-postured and in close contact with the horse. The saddles are often ornate and feature stirrups that are perpendicular to the horse so that feet are positioned correctly.

English Saddle

English saddles are smaller and lighter than Western saddles. This allows the rider to have closer contact with the horse’s back. These attributes make these saddles suitable for disciplines like show-jumping and dressage.

Instead of the practical horns that Western working saddles have, English saddles only have smooth pommels that rise above the withers to let the horse have freedom of movement. Along with the cantle at the back of the saddle, pommels help to keep the rider in the correct position. English saddles have considerably less skirting than Western saddles, which allows the rider’s legs greater contact with the horse. The flaps (called fenders on Western Saddles) have forward, backward or straight orientations depending on the event the saddle is designed for.

General Purpose Saddle

These saddles are suitable for dressage, jumping, hacking and trekking. They have a deep seat with flaps orientated between those of dressage and jumping saddles. However, while suitable for all events they are not designed for any one discipline, which means that experienced and professional riders often look for specialised saddles.

Dressage Saddle

With long straight flaps and a very deep seat, the dressage saddle gives the rider a central and upright posture and allows the rider close contact with the horse for signaling.

Jumping Saddle

A shallow seat and forward-oriented flaps help the rider to adopt the jumping position.

Racing Saddle

With a nearly flat pommel and cantle, short flaps and short stirrups, these saddles are lightweight. They also allow the jockey to adopt the familiar elevated racing pose that gives the horse maximum freedom of movement.

Polo Saddle

Both the horse and the rider’s freedom of movement are important in the game of Polo. To allow for this fact, Polo saddles have a flat seat, straight flaps and padding beneath the leg.

Endurance Saddle

A well-padded saddle, large skirt, anchor points for accessories and stirrups with wide treads make this a comfortable saddle suitable for long rides or trekking.

Side saddle

Designed for skirted riders and uncommon today, these specialist saddles have a wide flat seat, one stirrup leather and two pommels - one of which acts as a leg support.

Finding the Right Size of Saddle

It is crucial that the saddle fits both the horse and the rider in order to be safe and comfortable. If a saddle is too small or large it will chafe the horse’s back and the rider’s backside, throwing the rider out of position. Finding a saddle that suits both horse and rider need is made much easier if you take the right measurements.

The Right Size Saddle for the Horse

When making a purchase on eBay, taking and applying measurements in important in determining the right sized saddle to buy. A saddle of any type should fit snugly, never slipping back and forth or side to side. It is vital that the gullet fits the width of the horse’s back. There is a huge range in the width of horse’s and ponies backs, with smaller animals not necessarily having narrower rib cages than larger ones. More than the brand of the saddle, it is the breed of the horse that you should consider when buying a saddle. Cobs have short, broad backs and wide rib cages, as do Arabs. However, Thoroughbred horses have narrow backs. If the gullet is too wide it will press on the withers and if it is too narrow it will pinch them.

Western Saddle Sizes

There are six saddle widths for Western saddles:

Narrow

Small horse or pony

Quarter horse bar

Medium-sized horse

Semi-quarter horse bar

Medium-sized horse

FQHB Tree

Horse with broad back

Gaited Horse bar

Large horse or high-withered horse

Draft Horse bar

Draft horse

English Saddle Sizes

Picking the right breadth of gullet will help the saddle sit correctly on the horse, with the pommel and the cantle level with each other. When buying saddles online there is rarely the opportunity to fit the saddle before purchasing it. In this instance it is a good idea to borrow one or several saddles to help inform the choice of saddle on eBay. There are also some measurements that indicate whether it will be a good fit for the horse and rider.

There are up to six standardised saddle sizes:

Narrow (N)

Small horses or ponies

Narrow-Medium (NM)

Average horse

Medium (M)

Average horse

Medium-Wide (MW)

Large horse

Wide (W)

Very large horse

Extra Wide (EW)

Draft horse

The Right Size Saddle for the Rider

If the saddle is too small for the rider it can result in uncomfortable contact being made with the pommel or horn as the horse strides. Saddles that are too large encourage the rider to ‘swim’ about on the seat. It is useful to bear in mind that the deeper the seat the smaller the saddle feels. If looking for a deep saddle, consider going up an inch in size.

Western Saddle Seat Sizing

The saddle seat size is measured in inches, from the base of the horn to the top center of the cantle.

Small children

12 inches

Small adults

13 - 14 inches

Average adults

15 -16 inches

Large adults

17 - 18 inches.

Once the saddle is home, tack up and sit on the saddle to ensure that it is the correct size. There should be about 4 inches of room in front of the rider’s body, while the rider’s backside should rest at the base of the cantle.

English Saddle Seat Sizing

The saddle seat size is measured in inches from the saddle nail, found on either side of the pommel, to the top center of the cantle. Unlike with Western saddles, English saddles often come in half sizes too.

Small children

14 inches

Small adults

16 inches

Average adults

17 inches

Large adults

18 – 19 inches

If the rider can place their hand flat between their backside and the cantle when seated that is a good indication that the saddle is the correct size. Otherwise, there should be about four inches of room in front of the rider’s body and 4 inches to the back.

How to Buy Saddles on eBay

To search for saddles, type into the search box ‘horse saddles’, which will bring up results for both Western and English saddles. Some buyers have a good idea of the type of saddle they want to buy, such as ‘Dressage Saddle 16 inches’. Using the search feature will help you find exactly what you want.

When searching through listings, carefully review all the data. Make sure the item matches what you had in mind. Look over the photographs a couple times. Feel free to Ask the Seller a question if you want additional details. Visit the Buying Tips page for more information.

Once you’re ready to buy, either place a Bid, Buy it Now, or put down your Best Offer. Buying with PayPalwill ensure the transaction will go smoothly. eBay users are protected by the Buyer Protection Program.

If it transpires that the saddle does not fit, some saddlers on eBay will adjust the saddle if provided with photographs and a home-made template of the horse or pony’s back.

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