Help! Buying a used saddle and I have no clue what I'm doing

I’m headed to a couple big used tack stores in my area this weekend (as per the recommendation of saddle savvy friends and trainer but I honestly have no idea what I’m doing aside from sitting in them to see what I like/what size I need (I’m split between a 17.5 and 18 inch).

For context, I ride at a hunter/jumper barn on the East Coast and have been riding off and on for many years. I just started leasing my own horse recently and plan to show for the first time this year. None of the saddles at the barn really fit me (most are 17" and smaller) and only a couple fit my lease horse. I’m hoping to find something that fits him and will be a bit versatile in the future (but am not opposed to having to sell it if/when I eventually change leases or buy. My horse is a 16.1 hand OTTB. He has withers but not a shark fin. The saddle I typically ride in is an older Circuit (med tree I believe) and it fits him pretty well. I’ve also ridden him in a Luc Childeric (also med? I think but it belongs to a friend so I’m not sure) that fits him better than the Circuit but despite being comfy is a bit deep for me/throws my seat off. My budget is ~1200. I don’t mind having to bring one on trial but would like to limit swapping a ton if possible.

Any advice about buying a used saddle is appreciated! What to bring with me/expect/look for. If I have an outline of my horse’s withers should I bring that? What brands should I look at (in general/based on the saddles I’ve previously ridden in)? I know that no saddle fits all horses, but are there any you’ve had good experience with on multiple horses? Are interchangeable gullets actually worth anything?

You need to have a conversation with your trainer about what he/she thinks you should look for, both for you and for the horse. You should also take pictures of your lease horse’s build and back to be able to show them, if you are going somewhere that has a saddle fitter. Take a close look at whatever saddle your trainer says fits your lease horse, and see if it is stamped, and make note of the width of the opening at the front of the saddle from point to point and have that measurement with you. You don’t want it to be too narrow. If you get something that fits reasonably well but isn’t too narrow, you can use a half pad with shims to tweak the fit. What seat size you need for you can vary by brand, depth of seat, and flap configuration. You’ll have to sit in them to see what works.

You might also check out and see what suggestions they have - they are knowledgeable and easy to work with and get used saddles in all the time.

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My saddle fitter makes a series of tracings down the length of the back and I take those shopping with me. The most valuable are the actual wither tracing and the horizontal “rocker panel” tracing that shows how curvy the back is.

Before I met my saddle fitter I actually took a piece of aluminum foil doubled up to hold its shape better, and made a mold of my horses withers. I carefully fitted that into the wither gullet of trial saddles before I took them home.

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I’d also suggest taking the saddle that fits OK along on your shopping trip.

Remember too that you won’t know how the saddle really fits you until it is on the back of a moving horse.

You can use one of those flexible curve measures, used often for technical drawing, to take a series of shapes along the back of the horse and trace them onto paper.

Yes! You can get them in art supply stores or even woodworking stores.

With the caveat that my saddle fitter is so much more precise and accurate than I would ever be!

If you do your own tracings, the really important ones are wither gullet and back to front tree curve under the panels.

The back to front curve will tell you if the saddle will bridge (panels too flat for horse) or rock (panels too curvy for horse).

Do you have access to a saddle fitter? If you get wool flocking you will want it tweaked as that’s so easy to do. A saddle fitter can fill in minor bridging and can fill up the panels at the withers if the saddle is a bit wide there. But they can’t fix a saddle that is already too narrow or is too curvy.

With foam you can’t easily alter the panels but you can use a shim pad to fill in slight bridging or a riser if the withers are too wide.

If you get a flexible curve and make tracings, fit them into your OK fit saddles first to get an idea how they look there.

I’ve been able to reject saddles at the tack shop or private seller with my tracings, and both saddles I bought with the tracings were deemed good basic fit by my saddle fitter, who then restuffed them.

On the other hand, my coach alerted me to my last jump saddle purchase that was on consignment in a small feed store. She just eyeballed it and said “it will fit you and your horse” and she was right. I went out with tracings, checked it, bought it, and my saddle fitter liked it.