Finding a saddle that fits well is hard even when you can see it in person. When you can’t, there’s a lot of extra legwork you need to do.
Buying a used saddle from Ebay or a Facebook group seems like a great deal. The seller doesn’t have to pay a 25%+ commission to a tack shop, and the buyer can peruse thousands of saddles online to find the perfect one for way less than it retails new. But if you fall in love with a saddle that doesn’t end up fitting your horse, there’s no return policy, and all of a sudden it’s your $800 problem. (Ask me how I know…)
The ideal would be to get a saddler to come out to your farm with several different options, or to take a saddle on trial, as you can do with SmartPak’s Test Ride Program or your local tack shop. But say your budget doesn’t allow for a brand-new saddle–or you live in the middle of nowhere, and you won’t be able to get back and forth to the tack shop easily to pick up and return trial saddles. Buying used online can work–but what you’re not paying in price, you’ll make up for in time spent researching.
Here’s how to do it:
Learn a little bit about saddle fit. If you don’t know much about saddle fit, consult with someone who does–an improperly fitting saddle can be painful to your horse, leading to you becoming a lawn dart at best or long-term layup and rehab at worst. You definitely want someone at your side who can see problems with the fit that you might not be able to–but it certainly doesn’t hurt to educate yourself as well. One of my favorite resources is Schleese Saddlery’s Youtube videos.They’re short, simple, and it’s easy to see what they’re trying to show you.
Test out as many similar saddles as possible. Even if they’re not the exact type you’re looking for (or if you don’t know what you’re looking for) borrowing saddles from your trainer or your friends to see how different saddle brands fit your horse can help to figure out what your needs and wants are. On a basic level, you’ll want to find out what type of saddle you want (close contact, jumping, all-purpose?), as well as the tree and seat size you and your horse need. From trying several different saddles, hopefully you’ll also start figuring out which features and brands you prefer (forward flap, knee rolls, deep seat, etc.).
Keep in mind though, that even if it’s the same brand, the fit can vary depending on the age and make of the saddle. Sometimes a medium tree for one brand is a narrow in another. And sometimes saddlers switch manufacturers, which can change the quality for better or worse. Which brings us to…
Obsessively research online. Once you’ve narrowed your search down a little bit with the size and type of saddle you need, start looking up more about your preferred brands. Look far and wide–from the company website to online reviews on sites like SmartPak or Dover, to online forums and even sites dedicated to tack reviews. Is the saddle you’re looking at one that people either completely love or completely hate? Are saddles made after a certain year significantly different from older saddles for a particular brand? Do they fit narrow Thoroughbreds, but not round-barreled Arabians? These are things you’ll need to take into account.
Start searching. This is the fun part. Once you’ve decided on a brand and make of saddle to look for, set up a watch list on Ebay, put an “in search of” ad up on Facebook groups, and find out if there’s a local equine classifieds site for your area. Make sure to specify the tree, seat size and make that you’re looking for, and any other specifications–like only saddles made after a certain year, or saddles with a gullet change system.
Don’t fall in love at first sight! Remember when I said that you’ll make up the money saved with time spent researching? This is where it becomes really hard to wait. Gorgeous saddles will be flooding your inbox and your newsfeed, and you might see one that isn’t quite what you were looking for…but you can round up, because it’s such an amazing price, or because you can try to squeeze your butt into a 16.5″… Better to stick to what you know will fit you and your horse.
Don’t fall for a scam. If someone insists that they need your personal information, refuses to use PayPal or a money order, or uses pressure tactics to get you to make a decision right away, steer clear. And if the ad seems to be written by someone who has no idea what they’re talking about–using terms like “foot rests” instead of stirrups, or “straps” instead of billets–the seller may not have bad intentions, but clearly has no idea what they’re selling, and neither will you.
Ask A LOT of questions and get A LOT of pictures. Once you do find a saddle that you want to investigate, you need to be even more patient–first, to make sure you’re not going to get scammed, and secondly, to make sure the saddle is a fit for you and your horse. Some recommended pictures:
A side view is the bare minimum!
There is no standard way to measure tree size, but a point-to-point photo like this one gives an idea of the saddle’s width.
A view from the back should be perfectly symmetrical–if it isn’t, the tree may be twisted.
A bottom view of the saddle could reveal lumps and bumps in the flocking. This saddle, for example, is a little under-stuffed and could use a reflocking.
An under-the-flap shot can show if the billets are in good shape, and what the knee or thigh blocks look like.
Know the right questions to ask. An honest seller will be happy to answer any questions you have. However, even well-meaning sellers could be just plain wrong…like when they say their saddle will fit any horse. This is a common selling point, but bad news–no saddle can fit every horse, so you’ll be glad you have pictures to try and check their claims. Here are a few questions you should ask:
- What year was the saddle made?
- What has it been used for?
- Where has it been stored?
- Does it have wool or synthetic flocking?
- When was it last flocked?
- What kind of tree does it have?
- Does it have a serial number? (If so, you can contact the company to find the exact year, make and size of the saddle)
Protect yourself. If possible, ask if you can write up a contract to take the saddle on trial. Not all sellers will be willing to do this if they don’t know you, since it’s possible you could just take the saddle and run! But it’s not unheard of, and worth a shot. Other ways to protect yourself include paying only through PayPal for their buyer protection, and making sure your seller gets a tracking number when they ship the saddle to you.
After that? Hopefully you’ve found the saddle of your (and your horse’s) dreams! If not…well, stay tuned for How to Sell Your Saddle Online.