The Ultimate Guide to Buying a Leather Saddle

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The Ultimate Guide to Buying a Leather Saddle

Apart from the horse itself, the saddle is probably the most expensive piece of equipment a horseman, woman or child can buy. eBay has a wide range of leather saddles available and provides a very convenient way of buying the right saddle while sticking to a specific budget. The saddle has to be chosen very carefully, with careful consideration of:

  • Cost and available budget
The purpose of the saddle must be taken into account, as the shape of the saddle varies according to its use. For example:

What is a Leather Saddle

A leather saddle is placed on the back of a horse, and fastened by a girth which runs under the horse’s belly. The saddle’s structure includes:

  • The tree is the base of the saddle, which protects the horse’s spine, and is usually wooden, or made from a synthetic equivalent, then covered in leather. The size of the tree determines the fit both for the horse and rider.
  • The seat is the part of the saddle in which the rider sits.
  • The pommel is the front of the saddle, slightly raised above the seat; while the back of the saddle is the cantle.
  • The girth is the strap which fastens the saddle in place on a horse’s back
  • The stirrups are attached to the saddle tree by stirrup leathers
  • D-ring is a ring at the front of the saddle, for attaching other pieces of equipment
  • Panels, Lining and Padding all refer to the saddle’s internal cushioning which rests on the horse’s back and provides comfort and protection for both horse and rider.

Leather is the traditional material for saddles and when buying a leather saddle, it is important to make sure that good quality leather is used. Though there may be genuine bargains available, there is a real concern that they may reflect that poor quality imported leather has been used.

It is also essential that the stitching and the finishing of the saddle should be checked as well as the leather straps, and girths. If the stitching breaks, the saddle will slip off the horse taking the rider with it.

Why Buy a Leather Saddle

  • They develop an attractive patina
  • They break in for a rider's seat
  • Some leathers offer enhanced grip
  • Good resale value if properly maintained
  • Durable with proper maintenance, and can last a lifetime

Cleaning and Maintenance of a Leather Saddle

While traditional wisdom says that saddles should be cleaned every time they are used, that may not always be necessary or practical. How often a saddle is cleaned may depend on how it is used. If it is only used at weekends for leisurely pleasure rides it might not be necessary for the saddle to be cleaned as often as when it is used to participate in a sport where the saddle is exposed to sweat, mud and dirt on a regular basis, for example playing polo, hunting, or show jumping.

It makes sense to clean saddles before storing, before a competition, or before selling one.

For cleaning a saddle the following equipment is necessary:

  • Mild saddle soap (glycerine)
  • Non-detergent leather conditioner
  • Small sponge
  • Towelling (3 to 4 pieces)
  • Small bucket or bowl of water (not hot)
  • Stiff bristle or wire brush (optional)
  • Cotton swabs

The damp sponge should be dipped in the saddle soap and worked up into lather, which should be applied to the leather, working in small circles. Frequent re-lathering and rinsing is required. The lather should be worked over all surfaces of the saddle, top, underside and between the flaps.

Neither soap nor water should be applied to suede or rough-out leathers found on seats or knee rolls.

After lathering, the saddle should be wiped almost dry with a damp towel and then a dry one. All residual soap from the leather needs to be removed to avoid damage to the leather. Dampened cotton swabs on the corner of a towel will get all the soap out of tiny stitching channels and crevices.

The next step is conditioning which is most effective on very slightly damp leather. Neatsfoot oil, lanolin or beeswax conditioner should be used sparingly to avoid clogging up the pores and giving dirt a place to cling too. Always test for colour variations on an inconspicuous place.

Very occasionally to make suede or rough-out seats or knee rolls look nice a stiff bristle brush can be used to brush up the nap. This should be done very infrequently as too much brushing will wear through the suede and it will end up in holes. This stop should perhaps only be used for making the saddle look extra good for a special show or for selling the saddle.

Researching Saddle Prices Against Budget

Before buying a leather saddle it is very important to research the costs. It is too easy to find what looks like the perfect saddle only to find that it is simply unaffordable. It is always helpful to get as much information as possible from those who have experience of buying saddles or from professionals before taking the plunge.

The advantage of buying from eBay is that it is possible to research and identify the appropriate saddle, see how much it may cost, and ensure that the budget is met. The cost will vary depending on whether a new or used leather saddle is selected. The different methods of buying from eBay, such as eBay auction, Buy it Now or Best Offer may also help lower the price.

Benefits and Considerations of Leather Saddles

Leather saddles are traditional, comfortable and good looking. Some of the key considerations are:





Traditional and aesthetically pleasing

Absorb heat and sweat which can provide greater comfort to the horse, particularly when eventing

Very high quality leather saddles can last a lifetime

Mould well to horse and rider especially with wool flocking

Relatively expensive and heavier than synthetics both for horse and rider

Regular cleaning and oiling are essential to extend life of saddle. Maintenance equipment is available from eBay.

Damp conditions, from sweat, rain and poor storage will destroy a poorly looked after leather saddle

Always ensure that high quality leather has been used

What Type of Saddle Should be Selected

The choice of saddle should reflect its purpose. The English saddle is versatile and is used both in everyday riding with some jumping.

There are a number of variations on the English saddle available from eBay, as are a broad range of accessories which may or may not be included with the saddle. The variations are designed for the specific discipline for which the saddle is being used, and the posture of the rider. The differences are primarily in the position and balance of the seat, and the shape and length of the flaps. These variations include:

  • General purpose (Eventing / All Purpose) saddle
  • Dressage saddle
  • Jumping saddle
  • Racing saddle
  • Polo saddle
  • Endurance saddle

Type of Leather Saddle

Seat and Padding

Flap and Padding

The All Purpose saddle

This saddle is versatile and can be used both on flat and jumping, for endurance and hacking.Also useful for unpredictable, young or nervous horses

Eventing variations have better balance and higher quality both workmanship and material

Deep seat

Long and more forward

Padding under leg for support when jumping

Dressage saddle

Very deep seat close to the horse’s wither, sometimes wider than general purpose saddle

Designed for correct posture of the rider in a relaxed position

Pommel is relatively high

Long, straight flap allows for longer, straighter leg position.

Very little padding to allow closer interaction with the horse

Jumping saddle (also known as forward seat or close contact saddle

Used for hunting, show jumping and cross-country

Comparatively flat, with seat and balance further back towards the cantle.

Low cantle and pommel to avoid obstruction when jumping

Shorter, forward flap, allowing shorter stirrup length

May include padded knee rolls for extra support

Racing saddle

The seat and balance is very long, flat and further back to the cantle than even a jumping saddle

Built on a half tree to reduce weight

Designed to be as light as possible, weights range from 8 oz. to 1 ½ lb.

The design allows the horse to achieve fastest possible speed with minimum interference from saddle or rider

Racing saddles are entirely unsuited for general riding

Very short and further forward than the jumping saddle to accommodate extremely short stirrup length

Stirrups are looped directly over the wooden bars of the half tree to reduce bulk and weight

Polo saddle

Relatively flat seat

Long, straight flaps for longer leg position, though more forward than a dressage saddle

No padding under the leg to allow flexibility of movement

Endurance saddle

Quilted or padded seat for comfort and balance over lost distances sometimes over rough surfaces.

Panels are extended to increase area of contact with the back and distribute the pressure more extensively.

Additional D rings for attaching required items.

Lighter weight to provide extra comfort for the horse.

Wide stirrups for comfort and reduced fatigue

Leather Side Saddles

In addition to the specific types of saddle commonly used today, it is also possible to buy leather side saddles on eBay. In Victorian times, women always rode side saddle, whether hacking or hunting, wearing long skirts with hats and veils. It was a magnificent sight, and very elegant, designed so that women did not need to ride astride the horse.

When riding side saddle, the rider sits with both legs on the same side (generally the near side) of the horse, so there is only one stirrup leather, and the stirrup is shorter than a conventional saddle. In addition, the near side flap is normally cut forwards to prevent the rider’s right leg from touching the horse’s left shoulder.

Modern side saddles are still manufactured, but it is a very small niche market which makes new models expensive to buy. eBay provides a range of side saddles, both new and used. They are usually based on Jules Pellier’s two-pommel design, where the saddle has the fixed pommel (also known as horn or head) and the leaping horn. In addition, the cantle may be raised on the off side. These structures help the rider stay securely on the horse while facing forwards.

For added stability, the side saddle also has, in addition to the regular girth, an over girth which holds the flaps down, and a balancing girth which ensures the back of the saddle is firmly held down.

How to Choose a Leather Saddle to Fit Horse and Rider

All horses’ backs are different in size, ranging from the prominent withers of thoroughbreds to the rounded withers often seen in Arabs and Quarter horses. A saddle which doesn’t fit the horse properly can cause health problems. If the saddle doesn’t fit the rider properly, it will cause an uncomfortable ride, which will throw the rider out of position.

The key areas of consideration for choosing a leather saddle to fit the horse are:

Width of the gullet: If the gullet which is too wide, the saddle will press down on the withers. If the gullet is too narrow then the saddle will pinch.

Balance of the saddle: when a saddle is place on a horse, the pommel and cantle must be level to avoid the saddle tipping backwards or forwards. A saddle which does not sit level will cause uncomfortable pressure for the horse as well as making it difficult for the rider to keep their position.

As well as fitting the horse, the saddle must fit the rider – if it is too small it will be uncomfortable and the rider may bump against the pommel at every stride. If the saddle is too large they will be moving around all over the place and not feel in control. Ideally it should be possible for there to be room to place a flat hand between the rider and the cantle when seated in the lowest part of the seat.

Buying a Leather Saddle on eBay

Once you have found the leather saddle that meets your needs, it’s time to consider how to buy. There are three choices:

  • Place a bid in order to buy at auction by the date that the seller has advised if you are the highest bidder
  • Buy It Now allows immediate purchase of the saddle
Best Offer means the seller is prepared to accept Best Offers from buyers, possibly at a lower price than the Buy It Now price
Delivery and shipping information is provided by the seller and needs to be considered at point of bid or purchase, along with delivery insurance information. It is recommended that you only purchase from sellers who are authorised through eBay. For greater comfort, research the seller’s Feedback rating and buyer comments, the number of completed transactions, and the percentage of positive responses.

It is always good to buy through PayPal who will ensure the transaction proceeds directly

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