Other than your horse, your saddle is likely to be the most expensive item you'll purchase. The type of saddle you choose depends on the riding you plan to do, as well your size and the size of your horse.
An English saddle features a low pommel and cantle with a flat seat. Stirrups attach to the saddle by thin leathers. The underside of an English saddle has panels, which are a pair of pads traditionally filled with wool, called flocking. The panels run parallel to the horse's spine, which allows the spine to move freely.
Of all the equine sports, dressage holds most closely to the traditional skills of war and so does the saddle used by dressage enthusiasts. This saddle has a broad, welcoming cantle to keep the rider in contact with the horse's back and thin, flexible saddle flaps to facilitate communication by leg cues. The stirrups are placed to keep the rider's legs under his center of weight and allow for a natural position for the leg. Many dressage saddles are built for larger horses, so have some care when shopping if you have one of the slimmer breeds.
- EquineNow - New show quality dressage saddles run around $2,000 to $4,000. However, you can buy those same saddles used for considerably less. For example, a new County Fusion model that costs $3,600 new, can be found for $1,700 used on EquineNow. This site carries listings on a vast array of horse needs, including the horses themselves, and currently lists over 500 dressage saddles. Unlike general commerce sites like eBay, EquineNow gives the physical locations of the items for sale, so the shopper can quickly ascertain whether she can go see the item. The site also has an online store that sells new items of riding attire and horse supplies.
- Pelham Saddlery - A dressage saddle needs to be as close to perfection for both horse and rider as possible. An online venue should have the tools to help you do that. Pelham Saddlery, for example, lets you sort its saddle offerings by tree size, seat size, newness and price, allowing you to dial in on the perfect saddle for your needs and budget. Each sales entry for used saddles includes a detailed listing of the saddle's technical attributes. Equally unusual in online sales is the site's inclusion of videos that show those attributes in detail. New saddles are reasonably priced at between $1,000 and $3,000, though you can find a quality synthetic saddle for well under $1,000.
Jumping saddles, also called forward seat saddles, are made for show jumping, but also serve in other sports that call for jumping, such as fox hunting and cross-country events. Jumping saddles are called "forward seat" for a reason. The saddle flaps, leg roll and stirrups are set forward of the rider's seated center of balance, and the stirrups are a bit higher, encouraging the rider to keep her weight forward - the ideal position for getting above the horse's shoulder during a jump. The seat is tilted to push you forward as well as help you avoid sliding backward on take-off.
- Stateline Tack - Stateline Tack offers a full array of new saddles and equipment. A jump saddle on this website costs anywhere from $300 up to $2,700. One of the advantages of shopping at an online emporium like Stateline is the "one-stop shopping" advantage. The site carries stable supplies, medications, grooming products, clothing, boots and anything needed for tacking up your horse.
- Equus Now - The Equus Now consignment store specializes in gently used, brand name saddles. Most used offerings are under $1,000. The store offers a seven-day trial period, giving buyers the opportunity to use the saddle and ensure it is a good fit for both horse and rider. The website also carries a broad array of new clothing and equipment for horse and barn. If you are fortunate enough to live in Ohio, you can visit the brick and mortar store to browse saddles and clothing in person.
All-purpose English saddles, sometimes called hybrid saddles, can be used for non-competitive jumping, low-school dressage and various types of pleasure and trail riding. The positioning of seat, flaps and knee pad fall between those of dressage and jump saddles, for a comfortable traveling seat. These saddles are used for almost anything, from horse training to trail riding to showing on the flat.
- Equestrian Collections - Because it's so useful for a broad range of activities and riding styles, you're going to get your money's worth from shopping quality saddles. When scrolling through offerings at a site like Equestrian Collections, you'll find offerings as low as $160 for a new, youth-sized, all-purpose saddles. This type of quality may be okay for children, who might lose interest or quickly outgrow the saddle, but not for an adult seeking to expand her skills. A mid-to-high grade all-purpose, however, is still pretty affordable at $500 to $2,000. When shopping in the lower price ranges, make sure to look at reviews for the model you're looking at.
- Trumbull Mountain Tack Shop - Some regions are blessed with brick and mortar saddle shops that can bring real expertise to saddle fitting. If you live in Vermont, you can visit Trumbull Mountain Tack Shop, which offers both new and used options. Trumbull Mountain does personalized saddle fittings, using wither tracings, photos and video of your horse, as well as a questionnaire and discussion with you. The store has a full-service website where you can see all their offerings, but orders must be made by phone. The company wants to talk to customers directly to ensure that everyone gets a well-fitted saddle. Most used offerings come in under $1,000, but a few range up to $3,000. New saddles start at just under $1,000 and may go to just over $5,000.
Western-style saddles are a uniquely American creation and were primarily developed as a practical tool for ranch work. Western saddles have a horn on the pommel, stirrups attached to the saddle by fenders, and either round or square skirts, depending on the style.
The roping saddle is beefed up with heavy-duty everything so it can stop a thousand-pound steer on the run. The foundation is a bull hide-wrapped wood tree, and the cantle is lower for fast dismounting. Riders wrap the wide horn with leather or rubber to prevent wear when dallying a rope. The flank cinch adds extra security.
- High Country Cowboy Company - At the high end of Western saddlery are custom-made offerings, such as the High Country Cowboy Company. Companies like this one guard their reputations with top quality everything, from perfect sizing to near-flawless stitching. Not surprisingly, the base price starts at around $3,500, but nothing you buy is likely to end up at that price. About 20 customization options each come with a price tag, from $35 for a rope strap to $1,995 for floral pattern tooling. Replaceable goods like stirrups and saddlebags are sold separately. This is a saddle you can expect to last decades, with proper care, and to keep a high resale value.
- Teskey's - Teskey's sells a variety of roping saddle brands for all budgets, ranging from the $3,000 Cactus Relentless roping saddle to the $1,100 Teskey's brand saddle. Sizes range from 12.5-inch youth saddles to 16-inch adult saddles.
Cutting is an exciting sport with sharp, fast stops and turns as the horse follows a cow, so the cutting saddle's design allows the rider to move with the horse with a long, flat seat, wide swells, and a low cantle. This saddle has a narrow horn designed for easy gripping. A flank cinch keeps the saddle securely in place.
- Chick's Discount Saddlery - For the entry level cutter, check Chick's Discount Saddlery for low prices on name-brand and off-brand cutting saddles. Prices range from $473 for a 16-inch Circle S cutting saddle to $1,220 for a Billy Cook.
- Jeff Smith's Custom Saddles - For those dedicated to the sport and ready to invest in a custom cutting saddle, Jeff Smith's Custom Saddles are both beautiful and practical. Prices range from $2,500 for a basic roughout cutting saddle to $4,000 for a fully tooled saddle made with Hermann Oak leather and custom conchos.
A reining horse runs, spins and slides, and the rider needs to stay centered through all the horse's movements. The reining saddle has a close contact seat so that the rider can subtly communicate with his horse. The free-swinging fenders allow the rider to reposition his legs easily through the horse's movements. Unlike roping and cutting saddles, reining saddles do not have a flank cinch.
- Horse Saddle and Boot Shop - The Horse Saddle and Boot Shop emphasizes quality and affordability and retails a wide range of new and used reining saddles, and highlights its offerings from brand-name saddle makers. New saddles run $1,000 and up, while a used saddle, depending on specialty and brand, may be as little as $400, and rise to as much as $5,000. It has an unusual tool called "Bluebook" that shows the "sold" prices of various saddles based on factors such as brand, condition and size.
- Kyle Tack - For buyers looking for used custom saddles, Kyle Tack offers an excellent selection of reining and other Western saddles. Because these are custom saddles, prices are on the high end, ranging from $2,000 for a work-quality Eagle Mountain youth saddle to $8,000 for a show ring ready Donn Leson saddle. Kyle Tack also takes orders for their own brand of custom saddles, with prices starting at $2,700.
Barrel racing is all about speed. The barrel saddle is the lightest-weight leather Western saddle available. It has a high cantle, deep roughout seat and wide swells that keep the rider securely in the saddle. The horn is taller than other saddle types so that the rider can grip it through the turns, and the skirts are round to prevent interference with the horse's movements. Like the reining saddle, the barrel saddle does not use a flank cinch.
- Corriente Saddle Company - For those who want a few custom options on a saddle without paying a custom price, visit Corriente Saddle Company. Prices range from $570 to $1,100. Custom lettering starts at $30, and a custom concho set costs $100, making this an affordable option for creating a unique saddle.
- Circle Y - Martha Josey is a legend in the barrel racing world, and her saddles made by Circle Y are top quality. Circle Y builds these saddles on a DuraHide tree with regular and wide fit options. Base prices range from $2,500 to $2,900, and buyers can customize the leather color and seat color for a unique look.
The trail saddle's design maximizes comfort for the rider with a well-padded, deep seat and forward fenders to keep the rider in the proper position. This saddle is lightweight with round or cutout skirts to minimize the horse's fatigue and to prevent movement interference over a variety of terrain. It also has extra rings for attaching a breastcollar, crupper, and saddle bags.
- Schneiders - Schneiders sells a variety of trail saddles for all budgets. The child-sized synthetic saddles range in price from $139 to $239. Adult saddles start at $355 for a Wintec synthetic saddle and go as high as $1,700 for a Billy Royal brand saddle, but Scheniders has several options priced under $500.
- SmartPak - SmartPak also sells several trail saddle brands on its website. Prices range from $899 for the High Horse Mineral Wells Trail Saddle to $2,500 for the Circle Y Julie Goodnight Wind River saddle.
Western Pleasure and Horsemanship competitors are all about bling, and the show saddle brings extra dazzle to the arena with its silver trim and extravagant leather tooling. The show saddle has a deep, square skirt, low horn, and a well-padded suede seat. The equitation style show saddle has an extra deep seat to keep the rider in the proper position.
- Blue Ribbon Custom Tack is the "name brand" in show saddles for Western Pleasure and Horsemanship events. This company is located in Phoenix, Arizona, and buyers should call to place an order. These saddles feature extravagant tooling and silver accents. All of this bling comes at a steep price. New in-stock saddles cost between $14,000 and $17,000, while used saddles cost between $3,500 and $10,000. All Blue Ribbon saddles are hand-made and hand-tooled in their Phoenix store.
- Skyhorse Saddles - Every Skyhorse saddle is one-of-a-kind, handmade by Loren and Lisa Skyhorse in Durango, Colorado. They hand tool all of their saddles and custom forge the silver accents. The options are limitless. Prices start at $6,500.
Like America's western saddles, the Australian saddle was purpose-built. Used for long-distance travel and ranch work, it is lighter than most traditional western saddles and often has no horn. The signature Australian invention is the poley, a padded thigh brace on the front of the saddle that increases rider security. Australians have skyrocketed in popularity in the United States where they have been adopted by endurance and pleasure riders alike. In fact, some western saddle companies now make saddles modeled after Australian saddles, called "hybrids," and marketed to endurance riders. The Australian saddle has a deep seat with a supportive cantle behind. It allows the legs to fall into a natural position, much like a dressage saddle.
- Down Under Saddle Supply - Located in Aurora, Colorado, Down Under Saddle Supply offers all things rural Australian, from a broad range of Australian-style saddles to accessories, boots and Australian range wear. The company bills itself as a source of expert advice on Australian saddles and includes links to educational materials and videos. Prices for saddles start at $280 for a child-sized saddle, but you can spend over $3,500 if you're so inclined. Non-used "scratch n dent" clearance saddles come with the company's full warranty - an astounding 10 years. Fitting guidance is among the services it offers customers.
- Horse.com - Horse.com carries many of the same Australian brands as the specialty houses but you may be able to find a better discount here. Prices start at around $270 for a lightweight, synthetic model to just under $700 for fancier models. Some come as packages that include a bridle and fittings, such as a cinch. Packaged extras will be basic items, rather than high end. You can find some pretty good deals here, especially if you've done your homework on saddle brands, but don't expect all offerings to be top quality, and do expect to shop separately for various parts, such as stirrups and cinches. The store offers emporium-style shopping; you can find clothing, boots, stable supplies, medications, supplements, grooming products and bridles here.
All saddles need to fit both you and your horse. A poorly fitted saddle and girth can cause painful ulcers on your horse, or contribute to back pain and joint debility. The tree should be the right size to distribute your weight over a broad area of his back, and the center front of the saddle should not be touching his withers. Fitting the saddle to you is as simple as sitting in it to ensure it isn't too constrictive and doesn't force you into an uncomfortable position. Seat sizing is a little different on English and Western saddles.
Buyers can find saddle shops in small towns and major metro areas, but in-stock selection may be limited in more rural areas. The next best thing to a good saddle store is a custom saddlemaker: a craftsman you can deal with directly to get exactly the type of saddle you need. Look for a saddle maker that specializes in the type of saddle you want and has a reputation for quality. When shopping on the Internet, stick to branded saddles -- saddles made by companies that take pride in their quality, and have a solid reputation.