Synthetic or Cheaper Leather? What is the better saddle choice?

I used to ride English but back injuries and a dead leg make a horn necessary to mount and a big butt means a bigger saddle. On top of that I have no rotator cuffs (attached) so I cannot lift anything heavy up high. My limit is about 22 lbs. 22 lbs and 18" seat on a budget are hard to find together. There are a lot of synthetic saddles out there but I am concerned that the reviews for comfort for horse and rider are iffy and they don’t look like they would last long. I thought of an Aussie but they also don’t come very big and the horns tend to angle slightly backwards which would be awkward getting on. The Fabtron seems to be a better but more expensive synthetic western saddle. I looked at several cheaper leather saddles also ($300-500 mostly) as there are some good sales going on right now. But I have no idea how good really these cheap saddles are. I wouldn’t be riding that much and my horse is a Paint but he has TB type high withers. So far the used saddles I’ve found have all been too heavy. Does anyone have any recommendations for brands of cheaper saddles? I’ve been looking at state line and chicks (also other places but these are the cheapest for the same brands).

Have a friend with a Fabtron, it’s very nice, it would be a good choice. The synthetic saddles will be much lighter than leather any way. A good leather saddle in your size is going to weigh 30+ lbs. A synthetic will be much lighter. I’d stay away from cheap leather saddles, especially if they are selling new for $300-500 but it might depend on if you find a better brand on sale at those prices.

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I bought a Wintec on sale at Chick’s years ago as a colt starting saddle. It was so cheap I classified it as “disposable.” It turned out to be a remarkably nice and useful saddle. Quite comfortable to ride in and seems to fit a variety of horses quite well.

Given your lifting limitations and preferred budget, I think a synthetic is probably your only viable option.

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Do you have a preference on type of saddle? Barrel saddles tend to be lighter, and if you don’t mind the deeper seat, it might suite you. However, you will find difficulty finding an 18" seat.

Have you tested out Western saddles already? Are you sure you need an 18" seat?

If you don’t mind us asking, what is your height and weight? If you are a heavier set rider, I would have some concerns about the weight distribution of the cheaper synthetic lesser quality saddles on your horse’s back.

Are you able to use a mounting block in order to put the saddle on your horse’s back? Then you don’t have to physically lift quite as high with your shoulders?


I have ridden a lady Fabtron, owned Abettas and winters. Buy the Fabtron. When a former client got out of horses I tried to buy his Fabtron as a guest saddle and he declined. He kept it as one day he might get back into horses. They just feel good and broken in immediately in a way neither Abetta nor Wintecs ever do, IMO.


Fabtrons are nice. I have a 17 inch one for sale.

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Synthetic over cheap leather. I have a Simco that is almost thirty years old that we still use quite often. Would use it more often but it only fits one horse that I own now but has fit many through the years.

Thank you for the replies. I did have some reservations about a synthetic being able to distribute the weight of a large rider as well but it seems that a lot of bigger people are using them OK. And they don’t sell a lot of them used either so I guess they like them. I used the size chart on a couple of western sites for the saddle size. I was riding in a 15" but it was a bit small but not so small it was real uncomfortable. I am a little under 5’5" and weigh about 260. hoping to lose weight soon now that I quit my high stress job. I am down 10 lbs. already in 2 mos! Stress kills!

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Size charts are a guide, but just a guide!! For example, I am most comfortable barrel racing in a 14.5 inch saddle and I ride in a 17.5" jumping saddle. So I am outside the “norm” as far as guides. I did buy a roping saddle to use for ranch horse and it’s a 15.5" and it feels HUGE to me, LOL. But I"m keeping it to ride with the kids and/or if the hubby ever wants to swing a leg over.

Anywho, I"m doubting you really need a 18" seat. I would try sitting in as many as you can (on a horse), before you make a decision to buy!

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I have both Fabtron and Abetta and they are both good saddles. Plus they are light weight. I would go for a good used leather saddle before a cheap new one. The cheap leather is junk and puts you in danger should it malfunction.

I have quite a few wintecs, both english and western. I don’t really care about durability because I fell for that when I bought my first saddle (Stubben Parzival), and then that type of saddle pretty much went out of style and wasn’t worth much even though it was still in great shape. So now I just buy synthetic saddles, often used, mostly wintecs, and then just store them in the barn when I’m no longer using them.

I pretty much ruined a new Wintec contourbloc shortly after I bought it (pressure washed it, which damaged the fabric), and was very relieved that it wasn’t a good quality leather saddle when I did that. Not that I would have been pressure washing a leather saddle, but I do like not having to worry about my saddles, anymore.

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I don’t have much advice on synthetic vs cheap leather and how synthetic distributes weight but…do try and find a tack shop to sit in some saddles. I find it very hard to believe you need an 18”. Western saddles come in all styles and types of seats and so each rides a little different.
Example is that my personal saddle is a 16.5” seat with a high rise pommel, double padded with suede. It’s designed to have a pocket that you sit in and don’t move much. Because of that, my 16.5 rides like a 15.5 or so. A 16.5 with an open hard smooth seat would ride much bigger and I would be lost in it.
I have reiners and most reining saddles don’t come bigger than 17…and I know for sure some of the open riders that are men are BIG dudes. And they ride in 17” saddles quite easily. See if anyone you know has a western saddle or two you could sit in. You will be surprised that saddle size is just a number!

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couple of friends who were English riders


because of age, weight, titanium replacement joints and lifting limitations

and yes…desire to switch to only trail riding

looked for high end western saddles … SO Heavy !

they all ended their searches with their last idea

Wintec … but they all purchased Wintecs because of


They are thrilled with their cheaper synthetic saddles !!!


Thanks for the replies! I do think I will look for a 17" seat. Most of those seem to really be 16.5" anyway. I did ride in the 15" and it was small but doable. I just think I’d be more comfortable in the bigger one. I ride OK once I am up, but it is really hard getting a semi-dead leg up and over the horse AND the saddle. It’s frustrating! I’ve settled on the Fabtron I think but I don’t think it has semi-QH bars. They all seem to be full bars and the previous owner says this horse should have semi bars. He has gained some weight since then but when I measured him using the cut out he was a medium (vs. wide/full). It wasn’t a HUGE difference though, does it really make that much difference? I don’t want to let him get sore. Otherwise the Wintec does have a model that comes in semi but I don’t like that one as well as the fabtron lady trail (the supreme lady trail is my favorite but a tad out of my range, the others are pushing it even so).

ok … one of my before mentioned friends did purchase a 17” WINTEC … others wished they had purchased bigger ones for easy on & off issues

  • it was over lunch we all stumbled upon a way to try out many western saddles … thinking outside the box

The group visited a western trail riding barn … rode All different saddles…took pics … noted brands and models

^ this riding field trip was enlightening and more helpful than any trainer or sales person :smiley: and much more fun !

[B]Good Luck ~ be patient don’t settle for less than comfort !

  • one rider scored an old WINTEC 17” for $50.00 !!! :cool:
    the whole group wanted it :yes::lol: [/B]
    ** She’ll Never let it go !

On the advice of this board I got a Fabtron, then I liked it so much I got a second one!
However I found that I went up a size in the Fabtron trail.
I also have the Lady Fabtron and it is my usual size.

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Thanks, that is good to know!

I’m in the UK but we have a very experienced American lady who does western saddle fitting and supplies USA made saddles.

At a recent fitting day with her she was asked about synthetic saddles, mainly due to the weight of lifting leather saddles. I’m paraphrasing but she definitely said that rider weight is an issue with synthetics along with “sturdiness” (my word not hers but definitely concerns) of the tree.

The upper weight limit she gave for riding in synthetics was 9st -9.5st (126-133lbs), if I recall correctly, definitely under 10st (140lb).

She recommends Allegany saddles as lightweight leather options (25lbs I think). They are around £1700 new in the UK so I’d imagine that they are cheaper in America and that you’d have more of a second hand market too.

I have a fabtron and an American barrel saddle. My American saddle is SOOO light and I ride comfortably in a 16” and I am considerably fluffy. My fabtron is too wide for my mare so I use it for one of the other horses or pad up, but I much prefer my American. It’s a leather barrel saddle.

I can’t speak for how the Fabtron fits b/c I have never had one, but just because it is labeled as “full bars” doesn’t really mean anything, LOL. There is no standard in the western industry. So maybe horsie was indeed ridden in a semi-QH bar before, but it’s possible the Fabtron full QH bar might fit just fine. What one company called their tree can be completely different with what another company calls theirs. The names are just a guideline but there are SO many other factors to consider (gullet, flare, twist, bar angle, etc).

You’ll just have to try on whatever you get and see how it looks. Right, if it’s a poor fit, you don’t want the horse to suffer.

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