Before I get started I feel there is need to clarify a couple of points. A Master saddler is one who makes, repairs and fits saddles. There are also Saddle fitters whose job is to do exactly that, fit saddles. The Society of Master Saddlers (U.K.) Ltd and the Master saddler’s association are two recognized bodies where a person can train to fit saddles. With either training a person becomes a qualified saddle fitter not a Master saddler fitter, there is no such title. The title Master is only given to the afore mentioned maker of saddles.
Buying a used saddle
A lot of what I’m writing will apply to new saddles as well but for now I wish to concentrate on used.
The used saddle market is very active and rightly so, here you have the ability to find the saddle you need without the new price tag, much like buying a vehicle. But there are some facts that need to be taken into account.
Firstly who are you buying from? Over the past few years we’ve seen an increase in internet based businesses. These are set up often in peoples home office, basement etc. Many of these people have little to no proper knowledge of saddles, be it the sizing, models within brands or how to fit. They are often guilty of picking up bits of misinformation and regurgitating them as fact, thus muddying the water of education. Some even go so far as to calling themselves professional saddle fitters when in fact they have done no formally recognized training.
Then we have the private seller, often someone in your barn, a friend or a private ad such as the chronicle or e-bay.
Tack shops often will offer used saddles along with new. Some shops are excellent in having properly trained staff members able to answer your questions in an educated manner or will offer someone locally who would be able to help.
On all accounts the following has to be thought about:
You have no way of knowing the history of the saddle. Remember saddles get used in a variety of disciplines, some harder than others. For instance, an Eventing saddle is quite likely to have had some trauma to it whereas Dressage saddles not so much, but that doesn’t mean they don’t get damaged. The older the saddle, the more wear and tear it’s likely to have had and it isn’t always easy to find the age of the saddle. Where the saddle was originally made can be misguided either innocently or otherwise . What work/alterations have been performed on the saddle and by whom?
Here are a few basic checks to make before proceeding with the trial of the saddle; What is the overall condition of the saddle? Is the leather supple or dried out. Hold the saddle with the cantle resting in your tummy or hip and pull towards yourself. In most cases it will flex some as they are mostly spring trees. If it flexes too easily, be wary as it could be broken. Next hold each side of the pommel and try to push in and pull apart the tree points. There should never be any movement here. Next try twisting the saddle on the diagonal. While you can get some movement here, too much can cause undue pressure on the spine. Is the cantle/pommel marked/dented? This can be an indication that the saddle has been flipped over on. What does the seat look like? Are the seams showing wear, is it dented from seat bones, padding flattened? Check the stirrup bars, make sure they do not move when wiggled. Is the seam along the knee inserts (padded part for knees on flap) showing wear? Or padding /leather needing to be replaced? Check the billets, are they all there, what condition are they in. Pay attention to the underside where the tong of the buckle runs along. Is the stitching in good order? Is the webbing that the billets are stitched to showing wear, fraying or ripped? Look at the panel (the underside that sits on the horse) The job of the panel is to protect the horses back, from the tree and act as a shock absorber. Is it wool flocked, pre-formed, foam or one of the air types of filling? My preference has always been wool flocked, as I feel it does the best overall job Pre-formed or foam gives a closer feel but harder to make adjustments to if needed so often have to use thick pads thus losing the close contact feel. Air types can leak, need special tools and experts to adjust, can be bouncy. If wool flocked check that the flocking is soft and yielding not hard and lumpy? If the latter it will need a complete reflock i.e. removal of all the old wool and replaced with new. Each side should be even, regular in shape and padding. If one side is flatter than the other it will need to be adjusted in the case of wool flocked, replaced if foam, pumped up if air. Is the stitching holding the panels on tight? Are they sewn on evenly? If not they will throw the saddle over one way. In most cases the saddles can be repaired but the cost of these repairs has to be offset against the sellers price.
So how do you the consumer protect yourself? Whether it is through a business or a private sale the following should apply:
Before any money changes hands the consumer must be able to try the saddle to make sure it fits both horse and rider. A few days trial is ideal as this will give you time to ride a couple of times and judge how your horse goes and how you feel. However it is expected to give the seller some form of security.
- Should you be interested in buying the saddle, have it checked over by an independent experienced saddle maker. The money this costs could save you thousands in the long run, I have had many a saddle come into the work shop after it’s purchased only to find the tree is broken.
- Get in writing the terms of the sale. Both parties need to be protected so it’s worth spending the time it takes to draw up a simple agreement.
The bottom line is you are responsible for the saddle you purchase but a few simple steps could save you from making a costly mistake. Don’t be afraid to request an agreement and if something sounds too good to be true it probably is!