Synthetic saddles have come a long way in their relatively short time in English riding history. The first synthetic saddles sported nylon coverings in vivid colors that proudly announced their man-made status to anyone within fifty yards of them. Today’s versions use artificial materials in subtler hues designed to mimic natural cowhide, and industry advances have made them look much more like the genuine article.
On the Plus Side
Even the best of these synthetics cannot match the comfort, durability, flexibility, and plain old-fashioned charm of real leather. Despite their limitations, however, saddles made partially or completely of man-made materials do offer some distinct advantages:
- Price: This is the biggest selling point for synthetic saddles, which cost less than their leather counterparts. There are many levels of quality among man-made hides, just as there are among leather ones, and prices will reflect these differences. If your budget is tight, it is better to buy a high-quality synthetic saddle than a low-quality leather one.
- Lighter weight: The lightweight nature of artificial materials makes them easier on the rider who handles them as well as the horse that carries them.
- Ease of Care: Imitation leather demands much less time and effort than the real thing, usually requiring only a wipe with a damp cloth.
- Weatherproofing properties: Faux leather resists moisture from rain and snow.
- Break-in time: Unlike cowhide, synthetics do not have to be broken in and are good to go right from the start.
- Improved Looks: The highest-quality synthetic saddles sold today look much more like leather than their predecessors, making them acceptable for use as show saddles.
- Suitability for certain riders:These saddles are good choices for the following categories of riders:
- Casual recreational riders who spend only an hour or two in the saddle every week.
- Novice riders who want to postpone the purchase of a leather saddle until they gain enough experience to know exactly what they want and need.
- Children, as they quickly outgrow saddles and have trouble lifting the heavier bulk of leather saddles.
- Riders with physical challenges that make lighter saddles more practical.
- Riders with limited money to spend on saddles.
On the Minus Side
For those who love the look, feel, and smell of leather, an imitation will never be quite the same. If you decide to purchase a synthetic saddle, there are other disadvantages to consider:
- Although they are available for virtually any saddle type, synthetic saddles are not working saddles and cannot withstand the rigors of hard use. This limits their optimal use to recreational riders who do not engage in strenuous activities.
- Even the costliest imitation cowhide will not last nearly as long as leather.
- Manmade substances are not as comfortable as leather, especially to your horse.
- Artificial materials do not breathe as leather does, so they cannot dissipate moisture. This makes them very uncomfortable in hot and humid weather.
There are many companies that specialize in synthetic saddles, such as Thorowgood and Wintec. By shopping around, you can find a good selection of saddles that feature artificial leather products such as Equileather, Equisuede, Bio Thane, Beta Bio Thane, and Cordura. Just keep in mind that quality is every bit as important in a synthetic saddle as it is in a leather one, so never base a decision solely on price.
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