Saddle Shopping : Prepare Yourself

I want to share some of the things I learned, or wish I had known, while searching for my rockstar horse, Frye’s, jump saddle.

PSA: This isn’t a post about which brand you should choose, but how to navigate fitters, friend’s opinions, and of course pick the right saddle!

PSA II: The way in which I shop is very obscure. When I purchased my first vehicle, I went to over twenty car dealerships… I take a notion that I MUST maximize the quality within my limited budget, and then I go a step further.

Preface: I received a larger tax-refund (Yay, horse business) so essentially paid off what credit-card debt I had, and had some funds left over. This was just the push I needed to upgrade my seventeen year-old monoflap that I was aware poorly fit my horse. I started officially saddle shopping a month ago.

Budget: So I started with a very wide spending frame. I made it my utmost goal to find the best fitting saddle for my horse within the funds I had, but IF that saddle exceeded the funds I had on-hand, because my credit card was completely paid off (see Preface) I would slice the excess to the credit card which put me just in the realm of affording custom if that was the route I went. But, I was leaning to avoid maxing the credit card again. Let me preface, I had no idea what the right-saddle would cost. So, if the only right one, was $X.XX amount, in the moment, that felt like what must be done.

What I wish I knew: As the search went on, my awareness of what my budget actually was became more prevalent and important. As a young professional maxxing the Credit-card really wasn’t what I wanted to deal with (again). If I had established that budget a little sooner, I would have saved time reviewing custom/new saddles with fitters. BUT, on the other hand. During my search I didn’t know if the right saddle, either used or demo at a lower price point, existed.

Custom or Used ? So when I refer to custom saddle, I refer to a brand-new saddle. There are a few brands that have non-custom stock models, but buying a new saddle within the brands I was looking involves a brand rep assessing you and your horse and sending specifications back to a saddle maker.

Then, there are used saddles. I purchased my last two saddles used. This is an amazing option (like car-shopping) if you know what you are looking for. These saddles are marked down twenty-five to fifty percent of the new price. Even a saddle which is a year-old and a few rides is often a grand less than new. This is obviously a much preferable route, BUT again this saddle was initially made for one horse and will it fit yours? Then, while a used saddle is less than new, (again like car shopping) some hold their value more than others, so specific saddles models upwards five to seven years may still cost a nice penny.

Lastly, there are “demo” saddles. I put the “demo” in the same category as used. But, the “demo” is the saddle the brands reps carry with them for other riders to try. So yes, it has been sat on a few times but appears practically new.

What I wish I knew: I ended up with a lightly used for a few reasons. First, there wasn’t a demo available with the specs I wanted. Then, timeline was definitely a heavy consideration. The season is now, and customs were going to take eight to ten weeks. Hoping to trade my saddle in and not wanting to continue riding my mare in it, not having a jump saddle and/or waiting was something I really didn’t want to do either.

Then, there were the stories of persons receiving “brand-new” saddles that didn’t fit. There are warranties, but it still takes additional time and possibly more money to send a saddle back. Plenty of my friends have ordered new saddles, and of those, a few have had those experiences. I received the best advice of: “Sit in the actual saddle you’re going to buy.” Had my timeline and final budget been different, I wouldn’t completely write off ordering new. But, at this time with those restraints decided to look for used or demo.

Before I get to the portion on navigating fitters and saddle reps which I will use interchangeably, I would encourage you to sit and try as many saddles as you can. Even if you just try friends or other boarder’s first. I can’t help but feel uneasy that I didn’t purchase all the saddles I sat on after working with a rep who gave me their time. But, as a buyer, you want to find the right saddle for you. Each brand gave me a slightly different feel, and having a history of riding in different brands and meeting saddle reps gave me a further education on what was available.

The Fitter: So I found fitters, let me call them brand-reps, a few ways. Most brands have a website which will list dealers in your area. Then, just from the extensive network of social media was sent brand-rep contacts in my area. Lastly, once I posted about my saddle search online, several reached out to me directly.

The really tough part, is that fitters make their income off selling saddles. Some will charge a fee to come out and fit your horse, but none of the ones I worked with did this. So, they obviously have a lot of skin in the game if they spend their day driving to you. To be fair, I believe every brand-rep that I worked with represents their brand for a reason. Each stands behind the quality and reputation of their brand. Each brand has different models, so they want to find the best model within their brand for your horse. But, I will say, because I’m writing to you buyer, learn all the you can from each fitter but also hold your ground on finding the best fit for YOU. I am not even joking that I met three fitters in one afternoon, and after each, was convinced I was going to buy their saddle. I had some tell me all the negatives of other brands I was considering, but then the other brands I was considering told me the same about those!! Who to believe! It was too much for me.

What I wish I knew: There is NOT only one perfect brand or saddle, despite what some reps tell you. I believe within my final few saddles and brands that I considered, multiple would have been comfortable for my horse. I started my search so anxious that I would make the wrong decision and cause my horse’s spine to break. Breath, let me reiterate. Your brand-rep believes in their brand for a reason, and they do want your horse to be comfortable so that you’re a return customer.

Adding, a crabby brand rep would definitely throw me off a particular saddle, all other things equal. If you are spending a considerable amount of money, you want a rep who will help you if you need any future repairs or adjustments. I only encountered one rep which left a bad taste. Fortunately the second I sat in the model on sale, I knew it wasn’t for me. This is unfortunate because the brand quality and history riding in other models, made it a top contender. (Unfortunately for her, she didn’t even discuss the other models!)

And I don’t think I still comprehend the best protocol for interacting with saddle reps. If you are unsure of the model and saddle you want, you do need to meet with them to learn about what models are available. Yet, as you begin making decisions, the mature action is to make the fitters aware if you have moved on.

Politics: My saddle-hunt brought about a completely new level of left-side/right-side politics that I didn’t even know existed. Everyone has an opinion. There are some who will only buy wool-flocked. Some only buy foam. Some brands will possibly cripple your horse per one friend, but the owners of those saddles will tell you about their experience with the other!

What I wish I knew: Keep your mouth shut. No, but I accepted all suggestions and attempted to filter through the mass advice. But again, when you sit on a saddle that you feel comfortable in and your horse goes well in, that’s yours and no one else’s. I’ll list my specs below, but follow your gut a bit on the advice to heed and when to think inwardly, “Your saddle looks miserably uncomfortable.”

The fun part! What I wanted and what I got!!

After budget and horse-fit, I had a few particular style and sizing standards that I wanted. I am 5″4 and fairly petite. (I’ve got no bum.) Yet, my femur is really long. I must have a really short torso and neck or something. So I had to have an extra forward flap or my knee would just go right over these standard flaps! Then, and this is particular to my style. I’ve ridden in an 18″ for over five years. Sitting in the 17-17.5″ felt very off to me. It’s as if the saddle wrapped around me, and I didn’t like the feel. So I stayed with the 18″ seat, despite ordinarily the “size” of a 17/17.5You have to be careful with this as if you go too large, you could be placed in the wrong position. This sizing just felt right for me.I knew I wanted a light saddle. As a working-student, had ridden in client’s saddles that were heavy so avoided there. I didn’t want a lot of excess knee or thigh-blocks. I grew up riding in a close-contact and/or with nothing, so personally prefer to have a bit more freedom or less restriction. Other than that, I do walk a lot, so sitting in a comfy seat would be nice.

The final that I purchased came from Sagmae. It is a 2018 model Butet monoflap, previously owned by one of their sponsored riders. It met every one of my standards for my horse and myself. I haven’t shared this with anyone, EVER, so if you made it this far… When I was in high-school I was a working student during the summers at a very high-end barn. I would tack up the horses for their owners before their owners arrived for their lessons. Sometimes, I’d hack or flat the horses, and one of the owners owned a Butet. To me, as a country bumpkin with a three-figure saddle, it was the dreamiest and most lush saddle I’d ever sat on. Funny ten, years later it stuck with me, and I was just hoping that in my new search that somehow I may end up with one.

The fitters really did exceed my expectation and helped me find something that worked. They answered my questions within a few minutes. Personally requested one of their sponsored riders to let me sit in hers, before meeting with me personally with the exact model I ended up with. They also reached out to a consignment shop, so that I am receiving ample amount for my current model to fund this one.

Consignment Shops:

  • Sagmae Used Saddles
  • Middleburg Tack Exchange – I have purchased two saddles from this shop. You can find almost any brand, and check often because when the higher-end saddles come in they don’t last long! If you’re not local to Middleburg, email them you specifications and they may even have something not yet on their site. (This is a destination shop you must go to.)
  • FrenchUsedSaddles.com -If looking for used Antares, this is your shop!
  • Olsons Tack – Carry wide range of used saddles and new Butet & Prestige. I contacted owner about specific used model and received thorough response.
  • HighEndUsedSaddles.com
  • Equitack.Com
  • Pelham – Saddlery
  • MDTackExchange – This consignment shop will actually buy your saddle.

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