By Victoria Hamilton
Buying a new saddle can be an exciting yet sometimes overwhelming experience, with so many different brands and models to choose from! Everyone has their own preferences when it comes to saddles, but at the end of the day the best option comes down to what suits you and your horse. Here are the key things you should consider when buying a new saddle:
Arguably the most important thing to consider when buying a new saddle is the fit for both horse and rider. A poor fitting saddle can cause a vast range of issues. Saddles that slip sideways or forwards over the horse’s shoulders, extend too far along the horse’s back or are too tight around the withers, can create pressure points and general pain and discomfort. This may result in unwanted behaviours such as refusal to move forward, resistance, unwillingness to work over back, breaking gaits, bucking, or bracing. Saddles that don’t fit the rider can cause discomfort, particularly for those with existing injuries or pain, poor balance, and insecurity.
If you have a young horse, a horse than changes shape from one season to the next, or a horse that struggles to maintain a consistent body weight, a saddle with a changeable gullet and generous panels and gussets to allow for a lot of adjustments through flocking, might be the best option. Discovery saddles and Max Benz One saddles are great options for horses that are likely to change, as they are adjustable over a large range of sizes.
If you are not sure whether a saddle is the right fit for you and/or your horse, seek expert advice from a saddle fitter or consultant.
There are so many disciplines now… including dressage, jumping, showing, eventing, working equitation, western, stock work, endurance, and trail riding. Multi-discipline riders need to decide if they are going to purchase a saddle for each discipline or use one saddle for everything. The best option really depends on the disciplines/activities and the level at which they ride. Also, riders need to consider the rules if they are going to compete, as they may not be allowed to use specific saddles for certain disciplines (for example EA Dressage does not permit the use of jump saddles). Eventers may need to consider a jump and dressage saddle if they are planning to compete at high levels, but for lower level jumping and cross training, all-purpose and forward-cut dressage saddles with moveable knee rolls, like Discovery dressage saddles, can be a great option.
If you’re planning to dabble in a bit of everything, the best place to start is working out which is your highest priority. Endurance riders will prioritise comfort since they spend so many hours in the saddle. Discovery and Max Benz offer large weight bearing surfaces which are fantastic for endurance horses. Working Equitation riders need security with enough freedom to perform the obstacles, with some saddles, include Max Benz Kenzie, designed specifically for this purpose. But Discovery Saddles can also be a great choice, as they offer great security and moveable knee rolls.
Discovery saddles are also fantastic for multiple riders such as if a mother and child are sharing a horse or someone else is campaigning your horse for a season. If both riders have very different body shapes, changeable knee rolls are ideal. A larger and thicker knee roll can be used for riders with shorter legs, with a smaller and thinner knee roll for long-legged riders, to allow both to find their ideal position.
A new saddle can be a significant investment, but it is so important to balance the initial cost of the saddle against the potential costs of ongoing treatments, lessons and training that may be required if the saddle is less that optimal. I have seen countless riders spend an astronomical amount of money on lessons and training for their horses, trying to solve issues caused by ill-fitting gear. Napping in young horses, cold-backed, late flying changes, irregular behind and hock issues, are all examples of problems that can be caused by a poor fitting saddle. Riders may blame their own riding for their poor balance and insecurity, or their horse for behavioural problems, when in fact it was something as simple as the saddle, and they have both been set up to fail from the start. A new saddle does not need to cost the earth. Discovery, Max Benz One and Jeffries saddles are all off-the-shelf options which will fit most horses and are very reasonably priced. Even if you are one of those rare horse/human combinations that requires a custom-fit saddle, like the VH Signature Saddles or Ryder Saddles, they may not be as much as you’d expect. And if it takes a little longer to save for the right saddle, then it will be well worth it in the long run.
4. Care and Maintenance
If you are someone who hates cleaning saddles, throws them in the back of the car after a ride and leaves them there until the next ride, you may be better off with a synthetic saddle over leather. Leather saddles are not difficult to care for, but they do need a little more TLC than a synthetic. There are significant differences between leathers too, with some tougher and more hard wearing than others. Memel and buffalo leathers, for example, are far tougher than calf skin, but calf skin is softer. Custom-made saddle makers, such as Ryder Saddles, offer a wide range of different leathers, but if you’re going for an off-the-shelf saddle, you can always ask what type of leather it is.
Other than caring for your saddle, you should also consider how often you are able to have the saddle checked by a saddle fitter. If you live in a remote area, and can only have it checked once a year, a saddle with felt-lined, flock-filled panels, like Discovery saddles, might be the best option. The felt keeps the horse’s contact surface area lovely and smooth, even if the packing inside is needing a check-up. It also might be advantageous to have a changeable gullet, so the saddle can be adjusted between fits. Often fitters who travel to these areas are willing to instruct owners on how and when to change gullets and may even link up via online videos to help with balance.
Even though there are so many saddles to choose from, the most important thing is the saddle fits you and your horse, suits your needs and your budget. If you need advice when selecting your new saddle, we are always here to help.
Dr Victoria Hamilton is an icon in the Western Australian Equestrian Community, with a wealth of experience as a veterinarian, coach, breeder and international dressage competitor. As one of Australia’s top dressage riders, her love of horses is contagious and apparent in everything she does.
Jenna Santos is a business marketer, events manager, writer, mother and an amateur dressage rider.