A horse rider’s guide to buying a saddle

Finding the right saddle that fits your horse well will give you peace of mind

Finding the right saddle that fits your horse well will give you peace of mind

Buying a saddle isn't easy - the choice of saddles for horses is huge and it can be quite confusing too.

So, before you buy a new saddle take a bit of time to consider exactly what it is you want.

Ultimately it won’t be until you actually ride in the saddle that you’ll know whether it’s the one, but here we have some useful advice that should put you on the right path towards your perfect saddle. 

Before you continue we strongly recommend that you set your budget now, then stick to it - it’s so easy to get carried away in the moment and end up spending far more than you want to.

Budget decided, you then need to decide what type of saddle you’d like. Here's a run through of what's available.

General purpose saddles

General purpose are designed so you can do most disciplines in them from hacking to jumping.

Most leisure riders will go for this option, you only need one saddle, but if you compete regularly you may be better looking at a discipline specific saddle to give you the support and security you need.

Dressage saddles

As the name suggests these are designed for dressage and flatwork.

The saddle flap is longer and straighter encouraging you to ride with a long leg position and the seat tends to be deeper to help you maintain a correct position.

There’s the option of having large fixed knee blocks through to smaller moveable blocks so you can find the most comfortable position for you.

To allow you to have a closer leg contact the girth straps are long and you use a short girth to remove any bulk under your leg so there are no buckles under your leg.

Jump saddles

These are more forward cut so you can ride with shorter stirrups.

They’ll normally have knee and thigh blocks are positioned to help you stay secure and supported when you’re jumping.

Often they have a flatter seat allowing you a little more freedom if you’re riding cross-country.

Showing saddles

These are designed to complement your horse’s conformation. They tend to be straight cut and basic in design so they allow total freedom of movement and show your horse off at his best.

Leather or synthetic saddles?

There are many types of saddle to choose from

There are many types of saddle to choose from

The next step is to decide what material you want your saddle to be made of, leather or synthetic.

Leather saddles: These would be most people’s first choice.

You can’t really beat the look, feel and smell of leather.

It may take a little more looking after, but many would say it’s worth it.

Traditionally most English saddles are made in Walsall - the town has long been the home of the English saddle manufacturing industry and is famous for being one of the only places in the world to have the expertise and skills to produce the very best handmade English saddles.

Synthetic saddles: These have improved massively in recent years making them much more desirable – in fact, some have become so good that they can easily be mistaken as leather.

What’s more, there are a number of benefits to synthetic saddles - the biggest being the price.

They are considerably cheaper than leather saddles and so if you’re on a budget they’re definitely worth a look. In addition, they tend to be lighter and much easier to clean.

Saddle accessories

Changeable gullets

A fairly new addition to some saddles is the option to alter the gullet width of your saddle, a great idea if you own a young horse as you can have your saddle altered as he matures.

Flair saddle panels

These air panels are extremely adjustable – this is a system of four air bags, which replaces flocking.

There are two air bags at the front and two at the rear. You can have flair air bags that provide a soft, flexible and event bearing surface.

Flair can be fitted to all conventional saddles and each individual air bag can be adjusted allowing you to add or remove air to give a customise fit for you and your horse.

This is done via two valves that are fitted under the skirt of the saddle.

Flair gives your saddle a constant flexible layer of air that’s great at absorbing shock allowing your horse to move more naturally as the muscles of his back and shoulder aren’t restricted.

Cair saddle panels

These are another type of air filled panel that are found in the range of saddles.

The Cair Cushion System replaces the traditional filling in your saddle with air.

There are two independently sealed air cushions within each saddle panel – the air in the panels can’t be adjusted.

The concept behind this system is the air within the panels constantly adapts to your horse’s working muscles allowing your weight to be more evenly spread across the saddle, virtually eliminating pressure points so your horse is more comfortable.

Traditional saddle flocking

Traditionally saddle panels are flocked with wool and this is still the most common choice today.

Your saddle is a shock absorber between you and your horse and wool is used as flocking because it’s a natural fibre that breathes and maintains its elasticity.

Also, your saddler can add or take flocking out of the panels to alter the fit of your saddle if your horse changes shape.

There are a number of types of wool used as flocking but a popular choice is Jacob wool - it has good recovery properties and remains soft helping to keep your horse comfortable.

A flocked saddle still needs regular maintenance, over time and with use wool becomes hard and lumpy – regular checks by a qualified saddler will help to keep your saddle in good condition.

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