A saddle is probably the most expensive piece of horse tack that a horse owner will purchase, and having the right saddle is a big part of safe and enjoyable horseback riding. Horse saddles are available in numerous styles and sizes, and choosing the right one is extremely important. You can also find western saddles in a dizzying array of colors, patterns, and materials. Don’t buy the first pretty saddle you see. Take some time, do some comparison shopping, and do some homework about western saddles before making a purchase. This might be even more important, by the way, when you’re shopping for kids saddles and youth saddles because these riders might be complete novices. In such cases, the right saddle can be a real confidence booster.
I’ve done some English riding, but I mostly used western saddles. I learned to ride in a western saddle, and so did my children and grandchildren. English saddles certainly have their advantages, but for the type of riding I did, western saddles were better. I enjoyed barrel racing, reining, pole bending, and cutting and herding cattle. Doing these activities in an English saddle wouldn’t be impossible, but western saddles made the activities a heck of a lot easier. Western saddles provide a more secure seat while horseback riding. You’re held in the seat at the front by the swells, and you’re held in place at the back by the cantle. Most western saddles also have a pronounced horn for gripping.
Western Saddles for Sale:
What’s the best saddle for you or your child? If your child is small and will be riding a pony, a pony saddle might be your best bet. Most pony saddles are sort of all-purpose saddles, but you can also find a pony saddle that’s more specialized. This is especially true in the case of barrel racing. If your child is just learning to ride, barrel saddles are worth looking into. Even if your son or daughter never plans on drum running, the best saddle could very well be one of the small barrel saddles. Why? Because barrel saddles are designed for security, with a deep seat, a high cantle, and adequate swells. Barrel saddles also have an easy-to-grab horn that kids can hold onto when they need it.
Kids saddles come in all sorts of styles, and they range widely in price. Kids saddles are basically miniature versions of adult saddles, sometimes with one big difference. This difference is often in the stirrups. With some kids saddles, the stirrups are covered with tapaderos. These hooded stirrups aren’t just for looks – they also serve a purpose. The covering at the front of the stirrup keeps little feet from sliding through the stirrup, in the case of a fall from the horse’s back. If the child’s foot were to slip through the stirrup of a pony saddle, the unseated rider could be dragged by the frightened horse, possible receiving serious injuries.
Personally, I’ve never like kids saddles with hooded stirrups. For one thing, if the child is wearing cowboy boots, the toe of the boot is going to be longer than the child’s foot, so oftentimes, the tapadero won’t allow the foot to go far enough into the stirrup for good balance. Also, if the child is wearing a boot with an adequate heel, there’s not much chance of the foot’s sliding through the stirrup, anyway. In that case, hooded stirrups would be redundant. With some kids saddles, the tapaderos are removable, so you want might want to give them a try. If they don’t work out, you can always take them off.
Youth saddles are specifically designed with older kids and teens in mind. Some of these are specialized by discipline. By this age, many young horsemen are competing, showing, or training in distinct events, so they’ll need horse saddles to match. Youth saddles can be found for barrel racing, roping, trail, and pleasure. There are also ornate youth saddles for the show ring, along with all-around western saddles that can be used for several different types of riding activities.
If you’re interested in youth saddles for girls, you’ll have some interesting options. You can now find western saddles with zebra stripes, leopard print, and camouflage. Youth saddles are also available in wild colors like hot pink, turquoise, lime green, neon blue, and vibrant purple. Many of these same colors and prints are available in barrel saddles, too.
Western saddles come in different sizes, according to the seat area. The saddle seat is measured from the horn, at the swells, to the middle of the cantle at the rear. You can find western saddles in the following sizes: 7 inch, 8 inch, 9 inch, 10 inch, 11 inch, 12 inch, 13 inch, 14 inch, 15 inch, 16 inch, and 17 inch. A few western saddle companies make even larger saddle sizes, too.
As a general rule of thumb, saddle sizes ten inches and under are for small children, while saddle sizes in the eleven to thirteen-inch range usually fit older kids and young teens. A fourteen-inch saddle would be a good choice for some small adults and teenagers, while a fifteen-inch saddle would be adequate for an average-size adult. Larger adults would obviously need larger saddle sizes.
How to Fit a Western Saddle
How to fit a western saddle? First of all, most horsemen will tell you that you match the saddle to the rider – not to the horse. I mostly agree with this, but not totally. If your child is riding a draft horse or a draft horse cross, for example, most seven-inch saddles aren’t going to sit well on an extra-large mount. You’ll need a saddle with a longer skirt that comes down far enough on the animal’s sides to provide a decent fit. Other than that, I agree that the saddle should fit the rider’s butt.
How closely should a western saddle fit? This is a matter of debate and personal choice. When you’re looking for kids saddles and deciding how to fit a western saddle, you’ll have to decide which is more important to you – having a saddle that the child can use for a while, or having a saddle that provides real security. Children grow quickly, so if you choose a kids saddle with a snug fit now, the child will soon outgrow the saddle, and it will have to be replaced.
Some horse people state that how to fit a western saddle should include some “wiggle room.” In other words, these folks believe that the seat should be three or four inches larger than your “seat.” I don’t always agree here. I think it depends on the activities you’ll be performing in the saddle, and on the ability level and confidence of the rider. A loose fit might be fine for trail riding, but for barrel racing, cutting, and other disciplines that require quick turns, sudden stops, or other demanding maneuvers, a snug western saddle can go a long way in helping you maintain your seat.
What Size Saddle Do I Need
You might be wondering, “What size saddle do I need?” the best thing you can do is to actually sit in the saddle. It’s even better if you can try the saddle out on the back of a horse. Of course, this isn’t always possible, especially when you’re shopping for horse saddles on the internet or from catalogs. The second-best way to determine the best saddle for you or your child is to find a saddle similar to the one you’re looking to buy. When you find one that’s a good fit, find out the seat size and go from there.
If all else fails, sit on along piece of paper. Mark the spot with a pencil directly in front of your thighs. Place another mark at the back, at the furthest point of your buttocks. Measure the distance between the two marks and add two inches. No, this isn’t the best example of how to fit a western saddle, but it’s better than nothing. It will at least give you a general guideline. Just make sure that the place you buy your saddle has an exchange policy.
What size saddle do I need?
Buddy Seat – Tandem Saddle
If you want to ride with your child, but the kid won’t be riding his or her own mount, you might want o consider buying a buddy seat. Also called a tandem saddle or a buddy saddle, a buddy seat attaches behind a western saddle. A tandem saddle is for riding tandem, or double. The child rides in back, and the buddy seat provides more security than the back of the saddle skirt does.
The buddy seat provides a child with his own set of adjustable stirrups, a handle strap, and a soft pommel. In back, there’s a soft cantle that will prevent the child from slipping backwards. A tandem saddle or buddy saddle is usually made of nylon, so it’s very lightweight. Using a buddy seat can be a great way to introduce your child to horseback riding. He’ll have the security of knowing an adult is in charge, but he’ll have the benefit of learning a horse’s movements.
Cheap Saddles – Synthetic Saddles
Cheap saddles aren’t really hard to find, but “cheap,” of course, is a relative term. In many cases, cheap saddles are of inferior quality, but that’s not always true. In fact, one of my all-time favorite western saddles was a cheap saddle I got when I was fifteen years old – cheap saddles were all I could afford at the time. I loved that saddle! It was a perfect fit for me and for my horse I had at the time. I used the saddle on several different horses for fourteen years, and as far as I know, that old saddle is still in use today – 38 years after it was purchased.
Some cheap saddles that are pretty popular now are synthetic saddles. These are usually lightweight western saddles that come in a variety of styles, sizes, and colors. Also, many synthetic saddles have some parts that are constructed of leather, including the seat, the tree, and the jockey. With many synthetic saddles, only the skirt and fenders are made of synthetic fabrics.
You and your horse will probably appreciate synthetic saddles, and so will your pocketbook. These saddles are much lighter in weight than leather western saddles, and they’re also easy to clean – a lot easier to clean than leather is. The saddles are also comfy – for both horse and rider.
Most horsemen would agree that perhaps the best material used for making synthetic saddles is Cordura. Cordura is a tough nylon fabric that’s been around for decades. It’s long-lasting and durable, and it stands up to scuffs, rips, abrasions, and tears. It’s even used by the military! Luggage, motorcycle jackets, and backpacks are also made of Cordura.
Cheap Saddles - Synthetic Saddles:
Used saddles are a great way to save money. I’ve purchased numerous used saddles over the years, and in some cases, I liked them better than I did new saddles. For one thing, these saddles have already been “broken in,” so they’re no longer stiff. If the saddle has been taken care of properly, and if you continue to maintain it adequately, it can give you years of service. You can find used saddles online – on Ebay and on some online saddle shops.
Other places where you might find used saddles are tack stores, feed stores, auctions, and sales barns. If you check out horse classifieds in riding magazines and large newspapers, you might also find some used saddles. Horse shows and group trail rides are other likely venues.
When you’re buying a previously owned saddle, examine it well. Make sure the tree is sturdy and secure. Check out the leathers. Are they dry and brittle? Some problems can be repaired saddle soap and leather conditioner, but others can’t. Remember, too, that some saddle parts are easy to replace, like cinch straps, stirrups, and girths. Also, if the saddle horn leather has split at the seam, a saddle repair shop can re-stitch it easily.
Once you decide on a western saddle, you might want some other western tack to match. You might want a matching headstall, reins, and/or breast strap. You might also want to buy a matching saddle pad, or a pad that compliments your saddle and other western tack. For example, a hot pink saddle pad would really accentuate a zebra saddle. Of course, you can find many more traditional examples of western tack, too.
Put some time and thought into choosing horse tack for your child. Make sure it’s safe, and that the saddle is a good fit. Otherwise, you might not want to invest a lot of money in western saddles or other types of horse tack while your child is very small. As I’ve already mentioned, kids outgrow saddles quickly. And if your child is just getting started with horseback riding, his interest might fade. If that happens, you don’t want to be stuck with a lot of expensive western tack. For beginners, you might want to stick to used saddles, synthetic saddles, or other types of cheap saddles. You can always invest in better or more expensive horse tack later, when you’re convinced that riding is something that your son or daughter is committed to and is going to stick with.
Horse Tack - Western Tack:
Mmargie1966 from Gainesville, GA on May 19, 2012:
Excellent! Lots of great information for someone who doesn't know much about saddles or horses! I learned a lot!
Nettlemere from Burnley, Lancashire, UK on May 17, 2012:
That's interesting and seems to me to be opposite to the way which English Saddles are chosen - the ideal with them seems to be to fit the saddle to the horse rather then the rider.
I haven't tried Western Saddles, but would like to.
Dan Reed on May 17, 2012:
Great and informative hub. Thanks for this one and perfect timing. My parents have just gotten 2 horses and we are looking at saddles now as a potentially gift for my son. This will be very helpful in our search.
alliemacb from Scotland on May 17, 2012:
Fabulous hub. My daughter goes horse riding but she uses an English style saddle. Some of the Western saddles look so ornate and as you say, more secure for certain activities. Voted up and interesting.