The right time to learn about your English saddle is before you buy it.
Too many of us use a backward approach when selecting an English saddle. We let a single criterion—usually price or appearance—rule our buying decisions, and it’s only after we’ve parted with our money that we truly get to know the saddles we’ve chosen. All those important factors we’ve ignored suddenly become painfully obvious as we realize too late that our saddles don’t really work for us.
The Better Way to Buy an English Saddle
Luckily, you can avoid this unpleasant and expensive situation by putting more time and thought into the saddle selection process before you make a purchase. You need to be as well-versed about English saddles as possible while you shop, especially with the staggering number of saddles available today.
Anyone looking for an English saddle today is at risk of suffering a nasty bout of consumer overload. One side effect of this malady is that you can get so overwhelmed that you lose sight of what is truly important and start making unwise decisions.
That won’t happen if you have a thorough understanding of exactly what you’re looking for in a saddle. It’s not enough to visualize your possibilities in a certain style or pigeonhole your choices within a particular brand. You need to consider all the many individual elements that combine to create one saddle that’s best for you and your horse. Then you need to find the saddle that comes closest to matching those specifications.
Sore Spots of Saddle Shopping
The following section describes the most common potential trouble spots that you need to address when selecting an English saddle. Failing to consider all of these issues can lead to a poor buying decision, so give each one the attention it deserves as you narrow down your English saddle options.
• Stretching Your Dollars in the Right Direction: We’ve listed this consideration first because many people wrongly select a saddle based on price alone. Although you may have little control over how much money you can spare for a saddle, you have complete control over the way you spend it. Quality should be your number one priority at all times, not the cheapest price. If you cannot afford to purchase a squeaky-new, top-notch leather saddle (and you’re not alone here), think about sacrificing newness for quality. A used but otherwise first-rate saddle is much better than a spanking new but poorly-made one. If your budget is extremely tight (again, you’re not alone here), it’s better to purchase a well-constructed synthetic saddle than a low-end leather one.
• Ignorance Is Not Always Bliss: With all the resources available in today’s global marketplace, there’s no excuse for shopping in ignorance. Read everything you can about English saddles and get advice from any and all knowledgeable people you meet. Treat every shopping excursion as a learning experience and shamelessly exploit the know-how of others. People are generally more than willing to demonstrate their expertise, so take advantage of this convenient human trait.
One facet of this education must be self-taught and hands-on. Seize every chance to test a saddle for yourself by climbing onto it and taking a ride whenever possible. It’s always preferable to sit in a saddle before you buy it, but that’s not an option when ordering long-distance via catalogs or the Internet. In that case, your education includes ensuring that you are dealing with someone with a reasonable return policy.
• The Name Game May Be to Blame: There’s nothing wrong with zeroing in on specific brands with well-deserved reputations for quality, but even the best saddle companies usually have several lines of goods with differing levels of quality. Don’t automatically assume that every saddle made by an industry leader will feature the same materials and workmanship. Do enough research and testing to make sure of it yourself.
Use this same common-sense approach with saddles that achieve prominence from celebrity endorsements or big-name associations. In most cases, the motivation for such sponsorship is financial gain and not true merit. In either case, you still need to check out every saddle you consider, regardless of any real or contrived affiliations.
• The Myth of the All-Purpose Saddle: No single saddle can fulfill all the demands of various riding activities. The all-purpose (or general or eventing) saddle works well on the flat or in the rough, making it suitable for the dressage, cross-country, and show jumping needs of eventing. Yet even this general-purpose saddle has its limitations, especially at the highest levels of competition, and most serious eventers own more than one saddle. If you regularly engage in riding activities or disciplines that have very different requirements in terms of saddle shape, size, and features, you will probably need to buy more than one saddle.
• There Are Two Sides to Every Story: Every riding experience involves two parties: one above the saddle and one below it. Riders often spend so much time finding a saddle that meets their needs and fits their bodies that they forget about the other half of the equation. Your horse’s comfort and safety are every bit as important as yours—in fact, some would argue that it’s even more so. Keep your horse’s welfare in mind by making a saddle-up-and-go trial run part of your decision process.
• Reality Is One Mean Image Buster: Like many people, you may associate English saddles with demure Victorian ladies riding sidesaddle or old-fashioned gentlemen urging horses toward a pack of hounds. The mental pictures we form are wonderful tributes to our lively imaginations, but they offer little practical assistance when we’re choosing our saddles. Select your riding gear according to the way you intend to use it in the real world.
• Looks Can Be Deceptive: We’ve made this the final aspect because it really should be the last thing you consider. Unfortunately, appearance often sells a saddle. Just as a pretty face can hide a questionable character, a pretty saddle can hide a multitude of sins. Basing a decision on looks alone is as unwise when choosing a saddle as it is when selecting a mate. The most important considerations are the quality of the materials, the method of construction, and the level of workmanship. Find the saddle that measures up in those respects and then worry about cosmetics.
Begin your English saddle shopping education by reading the following sections for useful information and tips about purchase options.