Buying a western saddle is one of the most important decisions you will make for you and your horse. It can be a difficult choice since you need to match one of the many variations of western saddles available to your horse's body type. Being informed and knowing your options can make your saddle purchase less daunting; below are some basic guidelines to help you buy the saddle you want with the fit you need.
The first step in purchasing a western saddle is deciding upon the specific type you want depending on the type of riding you do, such as pleasure or barrel racing. Saddles are made a little differently for each use. Once you've decided on the type of saddle, there are two materials to consider: leather or synthetic (Cordura). You can find horse saddles in all leather, all synthetic, or a combination of the two.
Another thing you may wish to consider is the weight of the western saddle you will be buying. This is related to the material of which the saddle is composed: a solid leather saddle will weigh quite a bit more than a synthetic one.
The most important aspect when you buy a western saddle is getting a correct fit to your horse. An ill-fitting saddle can rub and put undue pressure on your horse's back and shoulders. The tree, which is the frame of the saddle, should fit your horse's body type.
Trees come in three widths: semi-quarter horse bars for horses with medium backs and average withers, quarter horse (regular) bars for hard-to-fit horses, and full quarter horse bars for horses with low withers and wide backs. There should be space between the gullet and the withers when you're sitting in the saddle. Certain saddle pads can sometimes be used to correct an improper saddle fit. Naturally, you'll want the saddle to be comfortable for you as well, so sit or even ride in it before deciding to buy.
When considering buying a used western saddle, prop the saddle upright on the horn end and push and twist the back end of the saddle to check the condition of the tree. If you feel anything give, do not buy the saddle. Also check the condition of the leather, stitching and fleece for excessive or uneven wear. If the leather is curled, pass on that saddle.
If at all possible, get a trial period in writing during which you may return your western saddle for a refund if it's not a good fit for you or your horse.