Savvy Saddle Shopping Tips for Riders

Stop the Saddle Shopping Woes for You and Your Horse

Updated August 23, 2023
black dressage saddle

Shopping for a new saddle may sound like fun, but for many riders the sheer mention of it will put fear into their hearts. Questions like “Does it fit me? Does it fit my horse? Does my trainer like it? Does my bank account like it?” may run through your mind. 

Saddles are a big investment and the process of finding one that passes all of your tests can be stressful. Here are some tips and tricks to make your next shopping experience less woeful and more hopeful!

Be Realistic About Your Needs and Budget

There are so many saddles to choose from—different brands, styles, makes, models, and price points. It can be extremely overwhelming! Before you start seriously searching, figure out what you can afford and what your riding goals are for the next several years. If you have a jumping saddle that fits well but you won't be jumping for the next year, you might want to search for a different type of saddle.

western saddle

Expert Tip: Don’t test drive a Mercedes if you’re on a Mazda budget. It’s a waste of time and sets you up for heartbreak. Once you figure out your budget, you can pinpoint which brands you can afford, which helps narrow your focus.

Research, Research, and More Research

Some buyers may spend weeks comparing product descriptions, reviews, and prices before buying anything. Knowledge is power! You may be fortunate to have ridden in different types and brands of saddles over the years and know exactly what you want. If it’s not so clear to you, try to use every resource available to you when researching. 

Learn about different brands by reading what people say on the reviews, talk to professionals like your trainer, and become familiar with new and used prices. All of this information will help you as you start to narrow down your choices and find saddles to test. 

Get Help from Knowledgeable Resources

hands feeling underneath saddle flap

The knowledge is out there. Use it so you don’t end up with a very expensive leather sculpture that is uncomfortable and poorly fitted to your horse. If your barn has trainers, barn managers, and fellow riders with years of experience, they may help you narrow down the choices and get to one or two viable options. 

A saddle fitter may seem unnecessary, but having someone with the training and practical experience of looking at thousands of saddles on horses could save you time and from undue stress. If you are in a remote area without access to a saddle fitter, you can send pictures and talk through saddle fit with someone over the phone or via email. 

Another professional you could speak with is an equine chiropractor. They have a deep knowledge of the horse's anatomy and spine curvature. Like saddle fitters, they have an eye for this and do it regularly. 

Test Ride Saddles and Pay Close Attention to Your Horse

Horse and rider walking in field

It’s crucial to put a saddle on your horse’s back - while you’re on the ground and in the tack - before buying it. SmartPak’s Test Ride Program allows you to try different saddles before deciding to keep them to make sure the fit and feel is just right. During the 5 day test ride period, you can assess whether the saddle fits both you and your horse. 

Correctly fitting a saddle is an art. Obvious fit issues may be fairly simple to spot, while a slight bridging or small pressure point could be challenging to figure out. Our saddle fitting guide is a great resource with step-by-step instructions and videos with an expert saddle fitter to help you learn how to fit a saddle correctly and recognize when the fit isn't quite right. 

Being able to recognize signs of discomfort in your horse and knowing his normal behavior is key at this point. Some horses may be very sensitive and show more overt signs of discomfort from a poorly fitted saddle like turning to bite or kicking out when you’re trying to put the saddle on. Other horses may show subtle signs like poor performance or slight changes in their gait. 

Your horse may even tolerate a saddle well for a few days and then decide it’s not right. During the trial period with a new saddle, palpate your horse’s back at least once a day. If you detect mild soreness and discomfort, stop using the saddle before it causes serious issues. 

Know When to Compromise

The most important part of successful saddle shopping is finding a saddle that you and your horse are comfortable with. The goal is to have a saddle that allows your horse to move freely in, while supporting the correct and safe balance of your body so you can influence your horse effectively. 

If those things are true about a brown saddle when you had your heart set on black, you may need to compromise.  If you fall in love with a certain brand, but your horse pins his ears and isn’t moving as well as he usually does, it’s probably not the right choice. Keep looking, and don’t get discouraged! 

Some riding disciplines require specific saddles or attributes of saddles, either officially through a set of rules or unofficially as traditional practices dictate a particular aesthetic. If you compete at recognized competitions be aware of your organization's rules and ensure your saddle complies.

The information provided in the Horsemanship Library is based solely on our SmartPak authors' opinions. SmartPak strongly encourages you to consult your veterinarian or equine professionals regarding specific questions about your horse's health, care, or training. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any disease or behavior and is purely educational.