This is a frequently asked question. The individual who asks is usually searching for confirmation that they do not have to spend a lot of money to have a good western saddle. These people frequently do not like my responses.
What should you expect to pay for a good saddle? I am going to share my thoughts on what the price minimums for good quality new and used western saddles should be.
I would not buy a new leather saddle for less than $600 as a bare minimum, with $750 being a better starting point. New synthetic saddles are less expensive than leather saddles, but for a high-quality synthetic saddle, you should spend at least $400. There has been a rush of new, low-cost, glossy saddles on the market in the last ten years. Many people have made the mistake of purchasing one of these $299 wonders since they appear to be rather “beautiful” to the untrained. The materials and construction processes can not possibly be of any quality at these costs. As a result, the saddle will not endure and, more importantly, it may cause serious problems for the horse.
The minimum price to purchase a good quality saddle on the used market can be more difficult to determine. Because individual vendors establish their own prices, there is a lot more variation. In general, I would advise you to avoid any used saddle that costs less than $300 in leather and $200 in synthetic. The majority of saddles on the market for less will be of poor quality or on their final legs.
Brand is perhaps the best indicator of quality when shopping in the used market. You can occasionally find beautiful handmade saddles produced by obscure saddle builders, but determining their value requires some tack knowledge.
Sticking to well-known brands with a good track record can increase your chances of finding a good saddle. Older saddles from well-known brands are sometimes the greatest values. Saddles from companies like Circle Y, Tex Tan, Big Horn, and Simco were better ten and twenty years ago than they are now.
I would rather get a used (well-cared-for) model from any of these manufacturers than buy one of their new saddles.
So, if your budget is less than $500 (or even &750), I would look for a nice saddle on the used market. I would keep saving if your budget is less than $300. A saddle for less than $300 is not a good deal.
eBay is a terrific place to look for the largest range of used saddles. We have built a unique eBay western tack shop curated by and for horse people. You will find a large assortment of tack in addition to saddles.
Take a look at our article on buying your first saddle as well.