Saddle Buying Process

I’ll preface this by saying that I loathe saddle shopping. I long for a big-box high-end saddle store, somewhere you could go to sit your butt in all shapes and sizes and brands, and figure out what you actually like before spending half your saddle budget on fittings and shipping costs. Unfortunately, no one’s invented that yet, so here I am.

I need to replace my Antares Spooner, as it’s too wide for my current horse, and a hair too small for me. I bought it nearly-new online, and it’s been great the last few years, until I got a new horse. Although I’ve ridden for over 20 years, I have somehow managed to NEVER work with saddle reps/order custom, so I’m totally clueless as to how that all works. (I did have a County fitting once, but it was very informal and only because the rep rode at my barn lol.) Ideally, I’d like to buy something lightly used, as opposed to ordering brand new. The problem is that I’ve never sat in a CWD. I’ve never sat in a Voltaire. I know I like Devoucoux, but never had one on my horse. And I know I like Antares, but need to explore more tree/flap sizes. So for someone who isn’t quite sure exactly what they’re looking for, where do you begin?

The way I see it, I have two options. One is to schedule fittings with reps from the major brands. But are they still willing to do that if you’re not wanting to order brand new, and just want to buy used? How much do they charge for that? I’m willing to pay obviously, and certainly don’t want to waste any rep’s time. I also don’t want to lock myself into any particular brand at this point, either. Ideally, I would be able to sit in a bunch of different brands and sizes in order to see what works for us, and go from there. Or, I could start buying saddles on trial, but that seems silly considering I really don’t know what we like, and want to try several. Where to begin? Sincerely, Overwhelmed Saddle Shopper

I have always used a saddle fitter who doesn’t rep only one brand and is familiar with many different lines. Fitter comes, does tracings, watches you ride, etc. and then recommends some saddles …you can then go find them on trial yourself, or the fitter can collect some options. Visit number 2, you ride in several saddles with the fitter and see what works or is at least close. You may have to do a couple of rounds of this.
I have not done this with any of the brands you mention, but with a lot of the British brands (county, Black Country, Albion, hastilow, custom, frank baines, etc.)

Often a fitter for one brand will have others that were traded in on their truck. However, their primary job is to sell new. That said, your best bet is to borrow every saddle you can possibly get your hands on, in barn, distant friends, whatever until you find something you like. When buying a French saddle there really isn’t just one repository unless you’ve got a big credit card limit and can ship 5+ saddles from one of the used dealers, or meet the rep at a show where they may have used available.

The closest I have ever seen to this is the vendor area at the Rolex (now Land Rover) Kentucky Three Day Event - virtually every saddle brand and tack shop you can think of has a booth, and they bring tons of used inventory and demos. Of course, that is only useful if you happen to be in Kentucky at the end of April, lol. My sister saddle shopped there and got to sit in everything, the reps were offering to come to her farm to measure her horse for the order, and they clearly were trying to meet sales targets because the discounts they threw out were pretty impressive. So depending on where you live, look to see if there is a big event or show in your area where there might be multiple saddle reps in attendance.

Otherwise, I agree with soloudinhere, you will just have to borrow or sit in every saddle you can get your hands on, make note of what you like and dislike, take measurements on the ones you liked or that were close, til you can somewhat triangulate a profile for the saddle you need/want. That at least narrows down what is worth shipping to you to try, and gives you something to go on.

@asterix I searched for independent saddle fitters in my state (WI), and found at least one option, but it looks like there may be quite a wait for her to be in my area. I like the idea of their job simply being to determine fit, and not push a certain brand of saddle. On the other hand, the former County rep/saddle fitter still rides at my barn as well, and since I’ve known her for billions of years, she’s always been so great by helping me check saddle fit on multiple horses I’ve had and saddles I’ve tried over the years. So at the very least, I should at least have that resource available to check any saddles I take on trial (which is a big help for me!). She’s given me a good idea of what my horse will need, but what I need is a whole other question. Where is the independent fitter with a truckload of French saddles?! Sadly, after riding in my Antares, County tends to feel a bit too hardseated for my bum, although it’s been a couple years since I’ve sat in one. Darn fluffy French saddles.

@soloudinhere that’s what I was afraid of, I’m hesitant to engage reps from the French brands because I really would rather not order brand new at this time. $5k is the top of my budget, but really I’m more comfortable around $3k. Why spend extra if you don’t need to? It sounds promising that they’d possibly have some additional brands to try, but I don’t want to be pressured to go brand new right now. I love the borrowing idea, but I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say that we don’t have a single CWD in the barn. Tons of Antares, lots of County, a couple Devoucouxs, a few Childerics, Forestiers …all brands I’ve ridden in, but you’re right, trying different sizes would help narrow things down! In my future life I am gonna open a big-box saddle superstore lol

@Madison sooo you’re telling me I need to go to Rolex?! On it! Hahah actuallu, that sounds perfect…one centralized place to sit in a bunch of brands! I never even thought of the big show option! I’m in Wisconsin, but Balmoral isn’t too far…hmmm…

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My CWD rep had a truckful of used French saddles, all brands, and didn’t try to push a brand new saddle. There was no charge for his visit and I didn’t buy on that first visit either although I did eventually buy a brand new saddle from him.

I would contact the reps in your area. Tell them your current saddle doesn’t fit your horse and you need to identify and purchase a saddle that fits him better. You could tell the rep your budget is 3K and you realize you’ll be looking at a used saddle for that price. Many reps have access to used models even if they don’t have one in their current inventory. Just be upfront about your budget. IME most reps will try to help. A used saddle sale is better than no sale at all.

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OP— sent you a PM.

If the Antares fits your horse and you, why not order another in a narrower width for you horse and a half size bigger seat for yourself? Having been thru the crazy saddle searches spending hundreds of dollars on shipping, try to decide if you like a saddle in a quick 7 day trail, which is just too short to determine if you horse truly likes the fit. If you know what works already save yourself the headaches and money of trying to find something that might be better.

Thank you all for the thoughtful responses, I really appreciate it!

@js My Antares ‘sort of’ works for us. My horse has a bit of asymmetry, so we have an issue with the saddle not sitting the straightest on him without shims. The County fitter evaluated the fit (which was quite good otherwise), and was able to resolve that crookedness with saddles with a narrower channel (for whatever reason, my Antares has a very wide channel, although it’s a regular 4.5" dot to dot…that widening exacerbates the shifting issue, it’s just too wide for him). It’s true that finding an Antares with a narrower channel would likely be a good fit for him, but then there’s also the question of what I need. The Antares is a 16.5 with a 2N flap. I’m only 5’5, but I’m long hip to knee, and my leg just barely fits the flap. I also feel like I may want a bit flatter of a seat, or just more room to move around…so I’m not sure if that means a 17 seat and/or a more forward flap, and so on. That’s where I was hoping sitting in a bunch would help :slight_smile:

I’ll just quickly chime in to say that I would definitely think you need a larger seat! I’m only 5’3"
with fairly proportionate leg length and I take a 17 or 17.5…even when I weighed 115 lbs.

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Thank you!! I get so confused trying to guess what I need. I’m 5’5, 125 lbs, but my legs are long for my body. I’m a size 24 or 26 in breeches, so I guess my nonexistent butt fits nicely in a 16.5, but with the semi-deep seat in my Antares, I just feel too locked in at times, especially over larger fences. I definitely want to bump up to a 17 seat, but not sure if I need a more forward flap or not. I see size 17 Antares with 2N flaps, like mine, and have to wonder if it would fit my leg better simply because I’d be sitting a bit farther back with the larger seat. So many things to consider. Have I mentioned I hate saddle shopping lol

Ha! You’ll have to sit in more. The smallest my rear ever got was a 26 (barely) and I still fit in my 17". One of my barn mates is I would say, 5’6" or 5’7" and tiny (prob your size) with long legs and she rides in an 18" (though it’s a monoflap, since she’s an eventer). But yes, saddle shopping is…difficult. I’m 100% with you on wanting a big-box store for high-end saddles.

Is there a decent used tack store near you? They usually have many saddles to try and will let you take them out on trials as long as they hold your CC number. Also, isn’t there a online used tack store that offers free shipping? I don’t remember who it is but I see it on Facebook a lot.

The tricky thing with bumping up seat sizes is it can sometimes change the center of balance as compared to where you really want to be, seat-wise I’m 5’4/5’5", ~110lbs, all legs, and my 17" really put me behind my flap. My 16.5" is much better in the seat, although I really need a more forward flap once the jump heights start going up. I got my PJ from a CWD dealer - she had me try a CWD, an Antares, and the PJ.

A compounding factor is I’ve found it’s very hard to find used 16.5" forward flaps and very few reps around actually had them to try, especially if you need a particular tree. It might be easier to find one online. Your local Antares rep should have plenty of standard 17" for you to try that route and see if that’s an easier answer.

I’m 5’3 and 115, ride in a 16.5. I too am long hip to knee and need a forward flap. I too am also saddle shopping and it’s a nightmare.