My first summer as brand-new horse owner was spent exploring trails and hanging at the local arena with my friend and her horse. I did all the riding with a bareback pad, as I did not own a saddle.
My first horse, Ricaro, was a strapping running quarter horse with high withers. Once I joined Pony Club, purchasing my first saddle was paramount. It was my first major tack purchase. I was instructed to find an English saddle with a cut-back pommel to accommodate his high withers. So off to the tack store I ventured.
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Shopping for My First Saddle
The shopping trip took me out to a large iconic tack shop in Burbank – The Paddock. The selection and service drew many a horse enthusiast from all over. My dad came with me, but I got to drive – LA Freeway driving (yikes). This trip is etched in my mind as a first step to responsibility as a horse-crazed 16-year-old. I was purchasing my first saddle, well . . . contributing to it at least, while successfully navigating the LA freeways.
Walking in the door and meeting with a sales person, I distinctly remember proudly telling her I needed an all-purpose, English jumping saddle with a cut-back pommel, “Because my horse has very high withers.” I was so knowledgeable.
Since this was my (our) first saddle purchase, the sales person led us to the used tack section. Here I found the perfect option. It was in very good shape with a price tag of $200. The saddle was made in Argentina, but that was no issue for me. We also purchased a used girth but splurged for the new leathers and irons plus a saddle pad.
My horse-craze was getting serious.
Progressing with My Fist Saddle
I learned to jump and do first level Dressage, passed my D – C-1 level Pony Club ratings and enjoyed many trail rides in that saddle. I also learned how to really clean a saddle for my Pony Club ratings and Pony Club rallies. That saddle launched my riding career. Soon I graduated to two saddles. One a new Crosby Dressage saddle and the second one a Crosby combo saddle for cross country and stadium jumping.
Restoring My Current Saddles
Now, I’m looking at my saddle purchases #4 (used Dressage saddle) and #5 (new jumping saddle). These were made close to 20 years ago for my riding career with my half Connemara, Katie. They haven’t been used regularly for about ten years. Tack room rats have done some damage to the billets on the Dressage saddle as well as the leathers on the jumping saddle. So, fixing and replacing parts is in the near future. A friend of mine gave me an old Kieffer Dressage saddle that was given to her. I’m going to change the color to black and get it spiffed up.
Then I’ll see how these options work for my pony Whisper. I’m not sure how these saddles will fit her for my planned pursuits. Plus her body will continue to grow and change as she continues to mature and muscles develop.
My horse-craze is getting serious, again.
Purchasing Your First Saddle
A first saddle purchase will be more successful with some knowledge. First of all, what type of saddle will you need for your desired horse activity? Do you plan to ride English style or Western? Do you plan to just do trail riding or are you looking to pursue a specific discipline. Your saddle needs will vary so it’s best to begin asking questions of those who participate in the same activity.
Fit for both you and your horse is crucial. The seat must be the right size for you with the right twist (the part of the saddle you feel between your thighs). Since saddle fit directly impacts the horse, you must be sure your saddle works for your horse. Here’s a brief look at saddle fit:
Looking at Saddle Fit
Looking at saddle fit, I asked Brie of Tack up Consignment to provide insight:
“Saddle fit is such a complicated subject with many opinions, old wives’ tales, etc. Many people naturally start with gullet measurement (aka: tree width), which is of course very important, but it’s not the only measurement that will affect whether or not a saddle will fit a horse. The angle of the tree, length of the bars, rock of the tree, etc will all affect the fit.”
When assessing saddle fit, Brie recommends:
- First placing the saddle directly on the horse with no pad. The underside of the gullet should not touch the top of the withers, it should have clearance.
- Then, run your hand along the entire length of the bars on each side while your horse is standing square. Your hand should not feel pinched at any point, but the bars should make even contact, along the back. I like to lead the horse and see that the shoulder can move freely, if not the saddle is likely too tight/narrow.
- Once you’ve found a saddle that seems to suit your horse, I suggest frequently checking your horse’s back for soreness. This is something I do really all the time, as a horse’s body changes with age, changing workload, time of year, etc.
- Another thing I feel makes a big difference is a quality saddle pad. While saddle fit is first and foremost the most important thing, a good quality pad can help ensure minor saddle fit imperfections, which we may not be able to see or feel, do not affect the horse.
Brie ends with, “We ask so much of our horses, the least we can do is outfit them with quality tack that fits!”
Herd Member Memories of Purchasing a First Saddle
I asked my herd members to share their memories of purchasing their first saddle:
“My first saddle was purchased from a Montgomery Ward Catalog for $50 in the early 70’s. Also, what the heck did I know about saddles? Very little, except to make sure it didn’t touch the withers. This saddle lasted 20 years and it fit many of my horses.
Your article brought a smile as I reflected back about the excitement of my first saddle and a pretty little mare.” – Suzi Berry
“My memory of my first saddle was for my 13-month-old horse my folks purchased for me when I was ten years old. I read every book I could get my hands on to learn about horses. We basically broke each other growing up with her.
After riding bareback for a few years, my dad took me to Burbank Saddlery. I was about 12 years old. He purchased a very used western saddle for about $75.
Then when I began riding hunter jumper years later at the old age of 15 years old, we went back to Burbank Saddlery and my dad purchased a brand new Blue Ribbon saddle. The closest thing to the Crosby saddle that I wanted.
I still have those saddles today. My kids used them growing up. I fondly remember my dad and the excitement of going with him to find a saddle.” – Jennifer Agostini
“This brought back a memory I haven’t thought of in a long time.
My first saddle was actually a present from my parents and it was brand new!!! It was a flat saddle (I did jump as a kid) and I remember going all the way to a tack store in Rolling Hills to purchase it.
I think I had that saddle until sometime in the late 80s. I didn’t ride in it but I did use it to start my 2 1/2 y.o. Hanoverian……just to get him used to something on his back.
Thanks for the trip down memory lane!” – Valoree Smith
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