Are you looking for a saddle? Here’s what you need to know before taking the plunge
It often happens, that I work with clients who have recently purchased saddles, and shortly after that saddle is either not working for them, their horse, or often both! When we go through the steps of what they need for their comfort, and what the horse needs to ensure fit, the saddle typically falls pretty short. So, to try and curb the epidemic of buyer’s remorse among equestrians, I’ve put together my top ten questions to ask before taking the plunge and buying a saddle.
How is it made/What is it made of?
Like many things these days, the trend is towards cheaper methods and machine made products. Unfortunately, these methods often mean that the end result is compromised in fit or quality. The best-made saddles are still handmade, and use a real Beachwood laminate tree, with a wool-flocked panel. These will provide the best quality fit, can be maintained over time, and will be a long term investment.
How will it fit my horse’s asymmetrical components?
Asymmetry is very common in horses. Most of us have a strong and weak side, as do our equine partners. It makes sense then that we must consider this aspect when fitting our saddle, so that it stays balanced and straight. Doing this will allow us to improve our horse’s ability to work evenly, in either direction, and help us to strengthen our position. This is accomplished by adjusting the flocking to match the horse’s current shape, supporting the asymmetrical aspect. As the horse develops, this flocking can be removed when the area has been strengthened. It is important to note, that adjusting the tree asymmetrically to accommodate a horse’s shape, will cause that asymmetrical aspect to be permanent, and should never be done.
What warranty is offered?
A saddle is a large investment, you want to make sure it is going to last you for a good amount of time. The standard for a quality saddle is typically ten years towards the life of the tree. Some saddlers may also offer you a one-year warranty on the leather, when the saddle is bought new. It is important to know what warranty you have when you buy a saddle, as some companies do not offer any!
What fit guarantee does the company have?
Ideally, any saddle you order for your horse, particularly a custom one, should fit you and your horse perfectly. However, if your saddle comes, and this isn’t the case, what is the company’s policy, and how much time do you have, to register a complaint?
What kind of maintenance service does the company provide?
Saddles that are ridden in five to six days a week, on one horse, should typically be re-flocked once a year. This compensates for any change in shape due to development, weight fluctuation, or condition. The flocking is also responsible for shock absorption, and compresses under the weight of the rider to protect the horse’s back. This can result in bridging, or loss of contact under the seat. Re-flocking replenishes this, and maintains the fit.
What kind of reputation does that company or fitter have?
Like any industry, there are some great fitters out there, who are thorough, knowledgeable and are willing to go the extra mile. But along with them, come some who perhaps do not have enough training, are misinformed, or are just in a hurry to make a sale. When researching who to work with, ask other locals about their experience with that person, or company. See how they are represented online, is their website professional? What kind of training do they have? Which brings us to…..
What kind of training does the representative or saddle fitter have?
You’ll notice that I do not use the terms representative and saddle fitter interchangeably. A saddle representative, is hired by a company, and is then provided with training. This training is often limited, and sometimes does not cover any aspect of fitting at all. A saddle fitter will have been trained independently, and should have received a designation. However, designations do vary, a Certified Saddle Fitter will do six months of training including an apprenticeship and volunteer hours. However, some courses are as little as two days, and produce much less qualified individuals.
Is it in my budget?
This seems like an obvious question, but many people end up having to change their budget through the saddle buying process. When you buy a horse it is important to research and take into account how much money is required to buy proper tack as well as the horse. The rule of thumb is, if you have a $20 000 budget, buy a $15 000 horse, so that you are able to get a properly fitted saddle, and other equipment you may need.
What is the resale value?
Different brands hold their value better than others. It is worth looking at the resale value of the saddle you’re buying, in case you do end up needing to trade it in. It is also worth noting if there is a representative or distributor of that brand near you. It is much easier to consign a saddle with someone who is already marketing that brand, and is much more likely to find that saddle a new home, at the right price.