Shopping for Used Saddles: A Formula for Success

Shopping for used saddles can be tricky, as there are so many options out there it can make your head swim.  It doesn’t help that every saddle maker uses different trees, so a “Medium” in one may be a “Medium/Wide” in another.    Taking a few minutes to take back tracings and photographs can help shorten the process, so that you’re taking home saddles that are more likely to work from the get go.

We are fortunate in the Seattle area to have some excellent tack shops offering consignment saddles.  All allow you to take the saddles home for a test ride so you can be certain that it’s the right saddle for you and your horse.  Following the guidelines below will make you a savvy saddle shopper.

Wither and Back Tracings

Bringing in tracings of your horse’s back to the tack store is an essential part of the used saddle shopping experience.  Tracings enable you to rule out which saddles have potential and which are likely to be duds.   Since there are often dozens of saddles to look at, it’s wise to come prepared.

To take templates, you will need the following tools:

  • A flexible curve, available at a craft store or at Olson’s Tack Shop.  These cost around $10, and are superior to using wire hangers in that they are more flexible and will provide a more accurate impression of the horse’s shape.
  • Poster board or Card stock.  Lightweight poster board or card stock is ideal as it is flexible enough to compare to the saddle.  Heavy duty cardboard isn’t as malleable, and isn’t ideal.
  • Marker or Pen.  Used to draw out the template onto the card stock.
  • Scissors to cut out the tracings so that they can be compared to the saddle(s) you’re thinking of taking on trial.

Steps for taking tracings:

  1. Make sure your horse is standing squarely!  His tracings will look crooked if a leg is cocked or if they’re not properly aligned.  Keep in mind that most horses have some degree of asymmetry, so you may find that your tracings look lopsided.  As long as your horse was standing squarely when the tracings were taken, you’re ok.
  2. Fold the Flexible Curve in half.  Mark the bend with your marker to designate the top of the spine.
  3. Locate the horse’s scapula (shoulder blade).  Trace around the edge of the scapula with your fingers to get a feel for the shape.  Your first tracing will be done three finger widths behind the scapula.
  4. Place the flexible curve onto your horse’s back with the marked spot on the spine.   Gently mold the curve to the horse’s shape.  Make sure that the curve stays perpendicular to the ground; it should not tip forward or backward.
  5. Take the flexible curve off of your horse’s back and gently lay it on the poster board.  Use your marker to trace along the edge of the curve that was touching the horse.  Make a tick mark at the top of the curve to indicate where the curve touched the spine.
  6. Cut out template #1, marking right from left.
  7. Next, locate the horse’s 18th Thoracic Vertebrae.  To do this, you will need to locate your horse’s last rib.  Follow the curve of the rib upwards toward the spine with your fingers (it is usually 4-6” from the very edge of the last rib).
  8. Repeat steps 4 and 5.
  9. Finally, mark your horse’s topline, running the flexible curve along your horse’s spine from the 18th Thoracic Vertebrae forward to the wither.  Mark where your first tracing was done (3 finger widths behind the scapula).

Steps for Comparing Tracings

When you bring your templates into the tack store, you will want to compare them to the saddles at hand.  Holding tracing #1 into the front of the saddle where the tree points lie, you will need to ascertain whether the points line up nicely with your cutout.  The angle of the tracings should be the same angle of the tree points.

The same method is applied when comparing the back templates.  The panels should “hug” the template in the same way it would when on the horse’s back.  The topline template should be used to assess the length of the saddle.  The saddle should fit within the first measurement and the last measurement.

Trying the Saddle

Follow the guide on checking for saddle fit to ensure that the saddle is proper for the horse.  If it is, ride in the saddle several times to establish whether or not your and your horse approve.  Pay attention to his movement and behavior to discern his level of happiness, and determine how balanced and secure you feel in the saddle yourself.  Any saddle you ride in should put you in the correct position without effort.


Copyright 2011, Anderson Equine Saddle Fitting Services, LLC

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