Western Saddle Guide

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Choosing a Western Saddle

Do you feel overwhelmed at the thought of choosing a western saddle? There are a tremendous variety of styles available with an endless set of options and features. While choice is good, it can sometimes be intimidating. How do you decide which saddle is right for you? The following information will help guide you through the many decisions you should make before choosing a western saddle. And once you've choosen your saddle, visit the Saddle Buying Guide and Common Saddle Buying Mistakes for tips on purchasing a saddle.

If you're looking for a great place to shop for saddles online, look no further than the HorseSaddleShop.com. They have an extensive inventory of new saddles in a wide variety of types and quality brands including Crates, Circle Y, Billy Cook, Tex Tan, Dakota, and Fabtron. They also have a great selection of used western saddles for sale.

And you'll find lots of great bargains on both new and used saddles in our eBay Tack Shop.

Intended Use
The first decision in choosing a western saddle is what type of saddle you'll need. This will be based mainly on the activities you and your horse will be participating in. There are saddles made for just about every horseback activity out there. [Read more on types of saddles] Different activities place different demands on the saddle. A roping saddle has double rigging and a large diameter and well-anchored horn. These will allow a cow to be dallied or tied off to it. A trail saddle is lighter with a smaller horn. A reining saddle has forward hung stirrups that allow the rider to sit back and deep during fast starts and stop.

It's not necessary to have a different saddle for every activity in which you participate. However, you will find that if you're involved in any one activity with any regularity, having a saddle designed for that activity makes it easier for you and your horse. You wouldn't barrel race in a heavy roping saddle if you wanted to win the race. And you wouldn't dally a cow to your show saddle unless you wanted to go head-over-heels off your horse.

If you’re looking for the most versatile of all western saddles, the Ranch saddle type is a good choice. It has become popular as a general-purpose stock or ranch saddle.


Horse Fit
It's crucial that you choose a saddle that fits your horse properly. Ill-fitting saddles cause both health and training problems in horses. Often, what appears as a behavior problem with your horse can be traced to a poor saddle fit. When you're uncomfortable you get cranky too, don't you?

Trying to find the "perfect" saddle, or having one created just for one horse, however, is not the answer. It's like searching for the Holy Grail. The "perfect" saddle can't be found. Horses change throughout their life, and even throughout the year. Have the "perfect" saddle made and a few years later it's not so "perfect" anymore. Unless you have a horse with unusual physical characteristics (i.e. very high or no withers), it's really not that difficult to buy a western saddle that will fit your horse. The breed (Quarter Horse, Thoroughbred, Arabian, etc.), overall size, and any special physical features are all factors to consider. You want a saddle that comfortably clears a horse's withers, allows for free movement in the shoulders and is balanced to provide a good weight distribution. In our Saddle Fit section, we go into more detail on this topic.

Most reputable saddle shops (including those online) will allow for a trial period for you to test the saddle on your horse. However, a restocking fee is usually charged for a returned saddle and the saddle must be returned in new condition.


Rider Fit
If you're horse is comfortable but you're not, you'll be the one who's cranky. A saddle that doesn't fit you will not only be uncomfortable, but it won't put you in the correct riding position. The best advice is to test as many saddles as you can. Don't pass up an opportunity to hop on a saddle in a saddle shop or try out a friend's saddle on a horse. You'll begin to notice which type of saddles fit you best and put you in the proper riding position. When you're in a saddle that fits you correctly, it feels like an old glove. Everything is the right size and in the right place.

Seat size and angle, stirrup position, cantle height, fork height and angle, and weight all affect your perception of comfort. More information is available on rider fit in our Saddle Fit section.

Saddles can range from a few hundred dollars to thousands of dollars. How much should you spend? As much as you can afford. Saddles are vital both for your safety and your enjoyment while riding. You should never settle for an inferior product. For the most part, the higher priced saddle is a better-made product. The quality of leather and the expertise in the craftsmanship come with a price. You can cut some of the cost by eliminating details and expensive bells and whistles (i.e. tooled or stamped leather, silver, etc.), but saddles are one product where you definitely get what you pay for.

We recommend sticking with the major saddle brand names. While brand is no guarantee of quality, you're on much better footing than with most off-brands or no-name saddles. This chart on saddle brands and their price ranges will give you an overview. The good news is that a well made saddle will last a lifetime...and more! As a result, there is a very strong used saddle market. Many quality saddle shops stock used saddles and there is a sizeable online used saddle market. Buying a used saddle is a great way to keep expenses down while still buying a high quality piece of equipment. When choosing a western saddle, quality used saddles should definitely be in the mix of prospects.

Always fully inspect a used saddle to ensure it's in good shape. Is the leather soft and supple? Is the underside fleece in good condition? Are all the parts there? Is the saddle tree solid and unbroken? To check a tree, set the saddle on the fork, nose down. Press down hard on the cantle and look for bending which is an indication of a broken tree.


Personal Preferences
Now, way down at the end of the list of factors to consider when choosing a western saddle comes the issue of your individual preferences. The good news is that because there are so many options out there, it's possible to still incorporate your personal preferences into your saddle choice. There are a wide variety of features and options that you can choose from - tooling/stamping, leather color, silver, rigging, skirt shape, stirrups, seat style. This is where a saddle becomes uniquely yours.

Before you make the purchase decision on this very important piece of equipment, we recommend that you spend some time talking to a knowledgeable saddle maker or saddlery who can answer your questions and guide you through the process. This will make choosing a western saddle a less intimidating task.



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