Updated: Feb 18, 2021
Several LGD team members are in the process of searching for a new dressage saddle and I just recently purchased a beautiful "new to me" saddle for my mare, Stella, so I wanted to take some time to talk about how to decide what saddle is right for you and what qualities to look for in a dressage saddle.
A dressage saddle is a significant piece of equipment in your riding career. You and your horse will log many miles and many movements in it over the course of your dressage journey. Before you can even begin to think about where to start in terms of what saddle to purchase, you have to define your own dressage goals.
Things to consider...
Are you new to dressage? Is this your first dressage saddle? Will this be your first real experience riding primarily in a dressage saddle?
Are you an experienced dressage rider? Have you already ridden in a variety of dressage saddles? Do you know what qualities you like and dislike in a saddle?
Is your horse older and established in their dressage career (think schoolmaster-type)? Is your horse younger and still growing? Is your horse new to dressage? Is their musculature and physique likely to change significantly?
Should you buy new or used?
Regardless of whether you ultimately decide to purchase a new saddle or a used saddle, one thing I urge all LGD team members to do is purchase a QUALITY saddle.
What makes a quality saddle?
-have a strong reputation, usually endorsed and (most importantly!) currently in use by multiple professional riders.
-are built with quality materials and designed to last a lifetime.
-are easily repaired and can be adjusted. Whether that be a simple reflocking, an adjustment of the tree or flocking to fit a new horse, or even a simple leather repair (new billets, etc), quality brands have representatives who are happy to come to you to make these adjustments.
-hold their value. Unlike selling a car, should you ever decide to sell your saddle, if you invested in a quality brand and took care of it, you can usually expect to get a fair amount of your money back out.
Also, when buying a saddle, whether it be new or used, be sure to involve your trainer in the process. They have usually sat in way more saddles than you have and can offer advice. You will also need educated eyes on the ground to watch you ride in prospective saddles.
Someone to observe:
-Does the saddle seem to move forwards or backwards while you ride?
-Does the saddle shift to the right or to the left as you ride?
-Does the saddle "bounce" on the horses back when you ride?
-Does your position change from how your normally ride? How so?
-Is your leg more or less secure?
-Is your seat more or less secure?
When to buy new:
New saddles from quality brands are expensive. They're expensive for a reason. A great deal of time and care is put into the initial fitting, building, and making of the saddle. Quality brands usually always have representatives available to "back up" their work, should you need anything adjusted after your new saddle arrives.
If you decide to buy new, you need to do it the right way. Work with your trainer and a quality brand representative to find the make and model that best fits you and your horse.
DO NOT go online, "point and click" and buy a brand new saddle from your favorite discount equine supply website or local tack store. It can be tempting. The cost of a new saddle from one of these places can be much less than a used "quality" saddle.
The reality is, these saddles do not hold their value. They are not easily adjusted. If your horse grows and develops (and we hope they do!), these saddles often cannot be adjusted or reflocked to fit your horse. You will be left will a saddle that doesn't fit and cannot be used safely and comfortably. If you try to resell it, you will be very lucky if you get back even half of what you paid.
Why I love used saddles:
When you buy a quality used saddle, you get the most "bang for your buck." These saddles are made with quality materials, made to last a lifetime, can usually be adjusted easily to fit your horse, and hold their resale value should you ever need to sell it.
The downside to buying a used saddle is that often, it's unclear what you're getting until you actually have the saddle in your hands, and depending on the sale, that can be too late.
Where I look for saddles...
Often your local brand representative will have demo and used saddles on their truck. Be upfront with your budget and ask how they can help. Usually, they are willing to work with you and will help you find something.
Trainers accumulate loads of stuff over the years, and if your trainer is any good, it's probably good stuff. If they don't have something in their tack room, they may know another trainer friend who does. Don't overlook this valuable connection!
Reputable Used Tack Websites
My favorite is www.fineusedsaddles.com. This is a professional consignment service. They only sell quality, reputable brands, which takes the guesswork out of which brands are "good." Most importantly, Fine Used Saddles offers a very generous trial period. I'm a firm believer that anyone selling a used saddle should allow a trial period (we'll talk more about that in a minute). Fine Used Saddles handles trials extremely well and makes the process easy to understand. They're quick to answer questions via email and on the phone. I've had several clients find beautiful saddles through this website and the process was smooth and easy.
This gets a little trickier because now you're likely buying from someone you don't know. If you see a saddle that interests you, do your homework. Ask for LOTS of pictures! Be sure to ask for pictures of the saddle's "specs". Most saddles will list on the underside of the flap the saddle's exact specifications: the tree size, the seat size, and sometimes the flap length. This will help you ensure you know what you're getting. Not every saddle feels the same. A 17" seat in one brand feels different than a 17" in another brand, not to mention not every seller knows how to use a measuring tape.
In addition to looking at pictures, spend some time talking to the seller. Ask what kind of riding they did in the saddle, beyond the obvious, "Well, dressage, duh!" answer. Did they casually ride training level and mostly trail ride or were they an FEI competitor? Finding out a little about the seller's riding and horse care habits will give you a little insight into how the saddle may have been maintained and cared for.
Check out your local USDF Group Member Organization, local horse publications and their corresponding online classifieds. These are great resources to find saddles for sale in your area. Finding a saddle from a local private seller is usually less risky than buying from someone you don't know halfway across the country. If you find something you like, run it by your trainer (maybe they know the seller) and follow the steps listed above to ensure you know what you're getting. And, of course, TRY the saddle. Trials on local saddles are usually easy to arrange because the seller can bring the saddle to you.
I DO NOT recommend Ebay for two reasons:
1) It is quite difficult to communicate with the seller, ask questions, request additional photos, and have a discussion about the saddle.
2) Most sales are final and trial periods are not allowed.
As I mentioned above, I am a firm believer anyone selling a used saddle should offer a trial. Saddles are very horse and rider specific. They only way you'll truly know if the saddle will work for you is if you ride your horse in it.
What you can expect from the seller:
Allow you to ride in the saddle for a time period you both agree upon ahead of time. If the saddle is local, this could be one to three days. If the saddle is being shipped to you, this could be three to seven days from the day you receive the saddle. Be sure you're going to have time to ride several times WITH YOUR TRAINER during your trial period!
When paying for the saddle from a seller I don't know, I always use a service like PayPal or Chase QuickPay so I have clear record of the transaction and "back up" if the sale doesn't go as it should. I never send the money as "family/friends". This is a business deal and if the seller quibbles over paying a small fee, move on.
What the seller will expect from you:
You will need to pay for the saddle before it is shipped to you. Most sellers will expect payment in full plus any shipping charges. The price of the saddle will be refunded to you if you return the saddle.
You will need to take extremely good care of the saddle while you have it. Wrap your stirrup leathers in something soft to protect the flap of the saddle from developing rub marks. I use tube socks. Do not use any cleaning or conditioning products on the saddle without permission from the seller.
Save all the packaging. If the box arrived damaged at all, take photos, just in case. If you decide to send the saddle back, use the original packaging, if possible.
Good communication during the trial period is key. Stay in touch with the seller during the entire process. Ask for tracking numbers. Let them know when the saddle arrives. If you need an extra day or two because something came up and you were unable to ride during your trial, just ask. They may say, "no" but if you're good about communicating your needs, they may be more than willing to work with you.
What kind of saddle do you ride in? Do you love it?
Did you purchase your saddle new or used?
If you had to buy another saddle, what would you do differently from your current saddle?