Trail riding saddle assistance please

It’s kind of a long drawn out story, but a friend of mine is on the search for a trail riding saddle (lots of steep hills and out riding for maybe anywhere from 2-5 hours). The horse is a small (15.2h) warmblood with a shorter back maybe a tad wide. My friend has a few old type western saddles that are just too darn heavy (think 35 lbs or so). We have no idea what type of saddle to look at or where to look. If you speak with ‘experts’ they always want to sell you what they are peddling.

We both come from the Hunter/Jumper world and with that knowledge…there are a zillion saddles to look at and most of them might not be what we should be looking at in the first place.

Any guidance would be appreciated. And if it makes any difference…TN mountain area.

Thank you!

I always use what is referred to as ALL or GENERAL purpose (AP or GP depending on where you live). I use the same out hunting for long stretches too. Preferably wool flocked, so that you can have a fitter adjust it when you get a used one. There are plenty for all budgets on Ebay.

It depends.

Do you want an English-type saddle? Lots of people trail ride in AP or dressage saddles. Wintec makes an endurance saddle. Wintec/Bates also sell stock saddles, which are Australian-like saddles.

Australian saddles are plenty secure and lighter weight than a western saddle. I’ve owned two in the past that I liked a lot. However, there are so many crap Australian saddles in the US market that it makes shopping difficult.

Do you want a western saddle? If you’re willing to buy synthetic or partial synthetic, you can find lighter weight saddles. If you want all leather, then saddles are going to be heavier, especially if your point of comparison is an English saddle. I’ve got a Cashel trail saddle that weighs, I think, 24 pounds, which is about as light as you’re going to find in an all-leather western saddle. I used to have a Circle Y Pioneer that weighed about 25 pounds. I loved it, but the size extra wide really didn’t fit my new horse.

I am trail riding in a dressage saddle. Years ago I thought I’d get a Western saddle for trails, but now I don’t see the need. Lots of hills, mountains. I had extra D rings put on the back for latigo straps.

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This horse is a ‘lead horse’ to take people out and show them the trails, so the saddle needs to be a fit for a few people. And of course comfortable for the horse too.

I think we know that all leather is going to be a tad too heavy and thinking some synthetic for weight and ease of keeping clean.

I was thinking western styling, but not for any reason other than that is what is around. We are open.

(And the reason I am asking all this, I used to own the horse and she didn’t love the Hunter jumper world…too restrictive/boring and this horse is loving the adventures of trail riding. After taking her out on those TN hills last week and getting bum fatigue, I have offered to buy a good fitting saddle for her.)

I have a bighorn western saddle that I use on my warmblood mare occasionally. It’s partially synthetic so it’s pretty light and comfortable for me too.

Wintec maybe;

Check out Steele saddles ( ). They are in McEwen, TN. They make custom trail saddles any style you want (western, English, Aussie), and they will send you a loaner to try out for a couple of weeks. I have a Steele saddle and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I can ride in it for hours and my knees NEVER hurt. And it fits my horse like a glove.

Ah, yes, for multiple people a roomy Western saddle is the ticket as they can hang onto the horn. It does make sense to get a synthetic or a purposely light weight endurance model for that use.

I have found it hardish to source Western saddles for English withers though.

If you had clearly stated that you were looking for input on different synthetic western saddles, I would have answered differently.

I had a Wintec western saddle for many years and was very happy with it. I bought it as a cheap colt-starting saddle. It came closer than any western saddle I ever owned to fitting everything (it was the model with full QH bars). It was also comfortable to ride in, once I added stirrup turners - because synthetic fenders never “break in” and they made my knees hurt.

Latigo it what you use to attach the cinch to the saddle. You mean tie strings.

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An saddle with an “A” fork is a bit higher so you have some extra room for those withers. My TB doesn’t quite have a shark fin but high withers and an A fork fits him nicely. If all else fails a pommel pad bumps it up enough to give clearance:

Ah I stand corrected.

@Elouise, check out the used inventory at South Fork Tack in Oneida, TN. The owner has a good inventory of quality used saddles, and is constantly getting more in stock.

It can be tough to find a used saddle in a wider tree, at least in my world. The saddle shops are full of 20+ year old saddles on a more narrow tree than any of our horses ever needed. If you have a knowledgable trustworthy shop owner that helps, of course.

If I were in your shoes, OP, I would check horsesaddleshop and look at the partial synthetics, Fabtron, Bighorn perhaps. The customer service on that website is very helpful and they can help with fitting to the horse and then the variety of rider. They also have several pages explaining fit and the different aspects of a western saddle.

Some things I would consider in the situation-a textured or rough out seat has some grab to it. I don’t like that myself b/c you get “stuck” but for an inexperienced or occasional rider it can be a security. I also really really don’t like high “doinky” horns, they have a tendency to grab things they shouldn’t. A lower set flat topped horn is enough, IMO. The synthetic stirrups shouldn’t fight someone’s knees as badly as leather fenders that aren’t turned. Wide stirrups with taps/cages would be on a guest saddle for me and I had them on my kids’ saddles until they were very capable riders. Use a breast collar and don’t let it be floppy; get the over the neck strap if necessary to keep it in place. It doesn’t just keep the saddle from sliding back, it keeps it in place side to side for getting on/off and exciting situations. Rear cinch helps balance weight and stabilize the seat, if the saddle has a place for it, use it.

Because of all I said the fabtron easy rider trail saddle would be my pick. Some of theirs have rings so you can add saddle strings to the back. Those are fairly easy to replace from a concho but for straight out of the box that saddle would be easiest. On some of theirs I can’t see that they have a breast collar ring which is why I picked this one-I know it’s there. You could ask them.

This horn is still “doinkier” than I would prefer. On mine I will likely replace it with a flatter lower one. I slipped once getting on my horse in the mountains, muddy boots/stirrup, and my foot slid out of the stirrup just as I was up but before I had my leg over. The bottom of my zipped up vest got hung up on my doinky saddle horn as I slid down his side. Not something one soon forgets and that horse, now long retired, still gets lots of cracklin oat bran treats for not panicking that day.

My western saddle is about 60 lbs by the time all my gear is on it. This summer I’m switching to the lady fabtron after reading hundreds of reviews and first hand opinions from people I trust. It’s still a 25 ish lb saddle but coming down from 60 that is acceptable to me.

Happy shopping!

The saddle I have now is an older Crates from before they were bought by Fabtron so a real quality piece. It has a modified A fork and was fitted by Mike at Mike’s Tack in Enumclaw. I hauled my horse down there and he took one look, went rooting around his storage trailer and came up with it. Fits like a glove. I also love the trail stirrups - the wider tread with padding on the bottom. I didn’t think I would but I’m sold now.

If the fenders aren’t turned on whatever saddle you end up with, you can do it yourself. Wet the leather, turn them and put a broomstick through to hold them in place. Let dry.

I don’t ride in a western saddle on trail. Too many western saddles have stirrups that haven’t been sufficiently trained to turn out, and my knees complain mightily.

What I did was buy an old (old!) dressage saddle. I think a Kieffer, but maybe a Passier, and put a sheepskin seatsaver on it. The sheepskin keeps me from slipping off the leather on steep hills. It really works well, is a very cheap alternative, is very comfortable, and is both lighter and more versatile for different horses’ backs. Plus my knees don’t complain.

ETA, the bigness and weight of a western saddle isn’t to add weight to the horse (which would be silly). It is designed for two purposes: to spread the rider’s weight over the largest surface possible on the horse’s back, and to stand up to the work done by ranch hands. You don’t need the latter part, but the former part is still a consideration. So when looking for synthetics, bear in mind that a GREAT pad is probably a good idea, to make up for any deficits in the saddle’s form/spread itself since you can’t “restuff” a western saddle to suit the horse.

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Personally I love my dressage saddles for steep hills. I have found the blocks are perfect to press into with my legs when going down something extremely steep. I like it better than my “trail” saddles. I’m about to sell my last non-dressage trail saddle just for that reason.

I do use a crupper and breast collar with them on my no-withered horse but my saddlebred cross doesn’t need either.


Ah you feel stable in a sheepskin seat saver? I’ve hesitated because I’ve worried it would slide in an emergency.

I have sheepskin seat covers of some sort on all the saddles I ride distance in. I am the crash test dummy for some friends (aka I ride their greenies) and I have a coming 5yo who just went to his first ride, as well as having a super reactive older horse who does an impressive teleport move at times. I have never had an issue with the covers moving during any acrobatics.

The only downside to sheepskin saddle covers IMO is when it rains… then it’s like sitting on a wet sponge.

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