Buying your first saddle can be overwhelming as there are so many to choose from. You will want to make sure the saddle fits you as well as the horse. An ill fitting saddle will cause pain for both you and your horse. Here are some basic guidelines to get you started in the right direction.
Whether you buy a new or used saddle make sure the leather is of good quality. You will pay a higher price for good quality leather, but years later you will be happy you did. Good quality leather will feel smooth and supple.
Poorer quality leather feels like cardboard very stiff and coarse. Bend the leather where you can if you notice small cracks it may indicate dry rot. Check the edges too as a well-made saddle will have smooth finished edges.
Saddle Fit For The Horse
For the saddle to fit properly you will need to know the height and width of the withers and the back length. Knowing the height and width of the withers will help you when looking at the gullet of the saddle. The gullet determines if it will fit your horse. A gullet that is narrow will pinch your horse where as the wide gullet will press down on their withers.
Make sure that the cantle and pommel sit level on your horses back. If either tip forwards or backwards the saddle is not in balance and will create pressure on your horses back. When checking for balance make sure your horse is standing on level ground and don't use a saddle pad.
There are different tree widths such as full quarter horse, quarter/semi-quarter horse, gaited horse, Arabian and Draft horse bars. Keep in mind that trees will often vary among manufacturers. To find the perfect fitting saddle for your horse consult with a saddle maker.
Saddle Fit For You
Make sure you sit in the saddle and check your position. Are the stirrups too far forward or are they too far back? Stirrups that are hung too far back will throw you forward. Stand up in the stirrups and notice your balance as you should not fall forward or backwards. The rule of thumb for fit is you should be able to place three fingers width in front and behind your seat when sitting in the saddle.
Look at the fleece on the underside is it in good condition? Are there any nails coming through the fleece? Check all of the straps to make sure they are in good working condition. Is any of the stitching missing?
The metal fittings should not be bent or have any rust. Check to make sure the tree is not broken. To check the tree hold the saddle against your hip then with one hand grasp the pommel and try to bend the saddle towards you. The tree should flex very little when doing this.
No matter what you choose new or used just remember that no amount of padding will make up for a poor fitting saddle. Horses were not designed to carry the weight of a rider so you owe it to them to find the best fitting saddle.