A riding saddle is a supportive structure made out of leather that is fastened to the horse's back to support the rider. Modern saddles are available in a variety of styles and designs; they require a careful fit for both the rider and the horse. With proper care, saddles can be used for decades.
Saddles range in price from a few hundred to thousands of dollars. Reputable saddle companies sell standard saddles in a variety of styles, fits, and specifications. These companies typically do not sell custom saddles; you will need to purchase what is available from their inventory. Off-the-rack styles are often priced in the hundreds of dollars. New saddles can be found for less than $500, but they are often poor quality, especially the leather and fittings. Custom-made saddles are more expensive and can sell for thousands of dollars, depending on the design and details of the saddle. Used saddles are an affordable option with a wide variety of price points. They can often be found at yard sales, equestrian centers, or saddle stores selling refurbished used saddles.
While many companies do have websites and sell saddles online, it is recommended that a saddle expert helps to determine proper sizing. For comfort, safety, and durability, you’ll want to buy the best you can afford. Don’t be fooled, especially on Western saddles, by ornate carving and fancy silver accents. Very expensive show saddles have real silver fittings and tooling done by craftsmen. Cheap nickel fittings and leather with machine stamped designs can distract from a poor-quality saddle. Good-quality saddles are made from fine grain leather. The leather pores are small, and the saddle feels smooth and supple. A lower-quality leather has visible, coarse pores and feels more like cardboard.
Custom saddles are made by professional saddlemakers. These craftsmen take casts of you and your horse to ensure that the fit of your saddle will be as exact as possible and to your specifications. Custom saddles are priced in the thousands of dollars. If you have a difficult to fit horse or are a serious equestrian, a custom-made saddle may be worth the investment.
Types of Modern Saddles
The two most common types of saddles today are the English saddle and the Western saddle. English saddles are used for horse racing, polo, horse events, show jumping, and all Olympic equestrian events. This type of saddle is distinguished by its flat appearance, the self-padded panels that rest on the horse's flanks, and no horn on the saddle. Western saddles were originally designed to be used on the horses working cattle ranches. They are still used today on ranches, in rodeos, and for other western riding activities. This type of saddle has no padding, so it must be used with a pad or saddle blanket. The horn on the front of a Western saddle is the most distinctive feature and is what distinguishes it from an English saddle. The horn was originally used with a lariat to rope cattle.