It’s not like people say, “You know what I want today? Some really bad saddle fitting advice that will waste my time and money. I would be so into that!”
But if you’re new to English saddle fitting, you might not know how to ask for good advice. Because when it comes to saddle fitting, you have to feed people the right info, or else they can’t really help you.
And if you don’t? People start making huge assumptions about your horse, and you, and your budget. And as a result, you might get really bad advice.
And here’s what’s really freaky: half the time, you don’t even realize the advice is bad until you’ve spent the money and have a dud saddle on your hands.
So how do you avoid this situation? In my experience with hundreds of saddle shoppers, there’s six critical pieces of info that increase your odds getting great saddle advice. And I’m gonna share those six things with you in this blog post.
How do I know that this is need-to-know information for getting great saddle advice? Because it’s the info I’ve come to ask for, over the years, from my own clients. In fact, this post is based on the intake form that I use for my Digital Saddle Fitting Consultations.
Tip #1: Don’t be shy! Tell us your budget.
I have a friend who’s really into luxury cars. But I would never call him when I’m car shopping. Why? Because I’m not buying a Rolls Royce or an Audi. I’m more of a Honda Civic kind of girl, because hay and shavings and mud are realities in my life. And my friend knows nothing about Honda Civics and Toyota Corollas.
Why did I tell you that story? Because my point is that stating your saddle budget clearly pays off, even if it makes you squirm to talk about money. By stating your budget, you’ll attract the right helpers who know that segment of the saddle market well.
Telling us your budget won’t confine you: it will set you free by helping you hone in on your real options without getting lost in the wrong part of the forest. There’s tack from MSRP $100 to MSRP $8000+, so if you don’t state a clear budget, people might make suggestions that are way outside your wallet’s expectations.
Here’s three tips for stating your saddle budget:
- Use actual numbers, not adjectives like small or big. Words mean different things to different people. I worked with a client once who thought $4000 was a small budget. And I’ve worked with college students who scrimped and saved $400 from their waitressing job, and to them, $400 a really big budget. So use numbers. It avoids confusion.
- State your budget as a range from $X to $Y. By stating a range, your helpers get a good sense of how much you’d rather spend and how much you’ll spend if you must. For example, if you say “I’d like to spend between $1500 and $2200,” I’ll assume that means “you’d rather spend about $1500 if there’s a good option in that range, but if there’s some majickal unicorn at $2200, you will stop drinking lattes for a few months to get there.”
- Shave some cash off your budget for the incidental costs of saddle buying. When you buy a horse, you might have to pay for incidentals like vetting, trailering, or gas/flights to go see the horse. There are similar incidental expenses when you buy a new saddle. These might include:
- farm call fees for saddle fitters
- shipping fees for mail-order saddles
- new stirrup leathers or girths for your new saddle
- correctional padding to accommodate your young or growing horse
- medical bills when your Significant Other finds out how much you spent on the saddle (kidding, kidding)
So when you’re setting your saddle budget, set aside cash for these expenses. Every situation is different, but in my experience, people end up spending $100 – $400 for such incidentals.
Tip #2: Show us a great, saddle-fitting-friendly picture of your horse.
I know what I’m asking. When you’re desperate for saddle advice, and you’re sitting in front of the keyboard right now, the idea of waiting to take pictures is not appealing. You want help NOW and you want to make word salad because it will make you feel better and HALLLLLLLLLP you say.
But when you ask for advice, not including a picture of your horse can be a very expensive mistake. I’ve seen this Word Salad and No Pictures move cost people thousands of dollars.
Here’s why. When you say something like “my horse has a typical Thoroughbred back” and there’s no picture to back that up. People are going to assume whatever they want about that phrase. And to give you an idea of the spread…here are six versions of what clients have described to me as “a typical Thoroughbred back”:
Cue that Sesame Street song, “One of These Things is Not Like the Other.” In fairness to these clients, each was describing a typical Thoroughbred in their world!
But the point is, these six horses needed very different saddles. And seeing the horse, in pictures or in person, made all the difference for their advice.
Not sure which pictures of your horse to include? Bare minimum, break out your smartphone and get the single full-body picture that I describe here:
- show the ENTIRE horse, not just the horse’s back. Nose to tail, wither to hoof. Otherwise, we’re all playing a guessing game about whether we’re seeing your horse’s back at “neutral” or “with a back foot cocked and his head in the air and standing on a downhill slope, etc.”
- front legs lined up with each other, aka “square”
- back legs lined up with each other, aka “square”
- head in a neutral position, neither grazing nor tossing the head
For best results, enlist a buddy to hold the lead rope. Ask me how I know. It’s tough to get this shot without Person A holding the lead rope and squaring up the horse, and Person B taking the actual picture.
That said, I’m a fellow horseperson and a realist. Sometimes all you have is some cross ties, a squirrelly horse who won’t stand still, a winter storm outside, crappy lighting, and your back plastered against a stall walls so you can get a wider angle on the barn aisle. Do what you can. But the more horse we can see, the better your advice will be, I promise you.
And if you want really amazingly great advice, here’s a full run-down of the photos I request when I do Digital Saddle Fitting Consultations. Whether you work with me or not, these are good photos to include with any online plea for help (or an email to your local saddle fitter!). Post ’em to TinyPic or Imgur or a public Facebook album or whatever you like. Just make them available.
Tip #3: While you’re taking pictures, take a picture of you–the rider!
Fitting the horse always comes first. But if the saddle doesn’t fit the rider as well, the horse might suffer too. At bare minimum, an ill-fitted saddle might cause bad equitation. At worst, the rider’s weight won’t distribute evenly across the saddle, which can seriously injure your horse.
That’s why it’s really important that your saddle helpers assess your body proportions and point you toward saddles that fit your horse and you, the rider. And a picture of the rider ensures that we’re all on the same page, to accommodate the same rider.
And if you’re worried that people are gonna get judgey about your body, here’s my line on that: I’ve worked with riders from ages 3 to 80+, from 30 pounds to 300 pounds. And you know what? All of them are beautiful to me, because they all care about the horse’s in their lives and share my passion for riding.
I can’t speak for the whole Interwebz, but personally, I don’t have a perfect body and I don’t have perfect equitation. And I never forget that when I’m consulting with clients. My goal isn’t to judge your body. My goal is to help you feel great when you mount up, every time.
Here’s my advice about rider pictures for saddle fitting:
If you can, provide a picture of yourself riding in your current saddle. That way, we can assess whether your current saddle might be feeding your equitation woes.
Side shots are best, but almost any saddle position will do: jump position, flatwork, halted. It doesn’t matter much.
If I can see your body proportions, that’s what matters. Things like “how long is your thigh in relation to your torso and lower leg?” or “Do you have unusually short arms?” or “Do you have a large behind or a small behind?”
If you don’t a photo of yourself on horseback, I’ll take any shot of you that shows your general body proportions. Side shots are preferred, with relatively tight-fitting clothes.
If you’re concerned about privacy, it’s okay to crop out your head above the neck. But I’ll admit, I enjoy seeing my clients’ smiling faces (or their “I’m concentrating really hard on this dressage test” face, or their “I cannot believe my horse actually jumped this jump and we’re airborne” face, or your resting bitch face, or whatever!)
Tip #4: Tell us about your riding goals, with this horse, in the next few years.
Your current and future goals matter. So throw in a few sentences about what you’re doing with your horse now, and your realistic goals for the next 2-3 years. A good, experienced fitter will take this into account when they fit your saddle.
In a perfect world, you could find a forever saddle that you’ll keep for decades. But it’s often a mistake to buy a saddle that suits “the rider you want to be someday.”
The saddle that suits your needs as a hunter rider who just converted to dressage will likely be different from the saddle you’ll prefer at Fourth Level or Prix St. Georges.
If you’re an eventer, the saddle that made you feel secure and confident at Beginner Novice probably isn’t the saddle that you’ll take to your first run at Rolex.
And if you’re a hunter rider who’s still developing a secure leg position, then the saddle that worked great at 2’6″ may not work so well at 3’6″ and above.
And that’s before we start talking about your horse. By the time your horse reaches Prix St. Georges in dressage, his muscle pattern will be totally different than it was at Training or First Level. Upper-level eventers often lose fat and gain significant muscle as they get Prelim fit or above, which can change the saddle-fitting equation. And so on, and so forth.
Tip #5: Tell us your priorities for your saddle search. If you’re not sure what those are, here’s six to choose from.
You know that old saying, “When buying a horse on a budget, pick two of three adjectives: sound, young, OR quiet”?
Saddle buying is like that, too. Unless you set some priorities, you’ll go crazy looking for a unicorn saddle that doesn’t exist. So to avoid a unicorn chase, I ask my Digital Saddle Fitting Consultation clients to rank these six priorities from most important to least important:
- Budget – Do you definitely need to stay within your budget, or can you flex your budget for the perfect saddle?
- High resale value – When it’s time to resell, do you want to recover all or most of your money? Do you want a quick and easy resale, or will you wait for the perfect buyer to come along?
- Comfort – Do you crave supple leather, sticky leather, or a couch-like ride? Or are you the kind of rider who finds most saddles comfortable, even if other people think they’re hard as a rock or slippery?
- Durability – How long do you want your saddle to last? Do you want it to look great in 5 years? 10 years? 15 years? 20 years?
- Looks and fashion – Do you want a beautiful saddle? Does you prefer a classic timeless look, or do you want a saddle that’s fashionable and “on trend”?
- Speed – When it comes to saddle shopping, “getting your saddle faster” sometimes means “paying more money or taking more risks.” So how desperate are you to speed things up? Do you need a saddle in your barn aisle within 1 week? 3 weeks? 7 weeks? 12 weeks?
If in doubt, pick three of these six priorities and share them with others. I ask my clients to rank all six priorities, from most to least important. That helps us laser-focus their search.
Tip #6: Tell us where you are and how you plan to shop.
Please don’t give out your full street address online. But knowing your state, your region, or your nearest major city can lead to much better advice.
Here’s why: There may be local options that you don’t know about. Maybe it’s a fitter who travels through your region just a few times a year. Maybe it’s a tack shop that just opened up about 3 hours from you and sells a particular brand. Maybe it’s a used saddle for sale that’s poorly advertised but is right in your backyard.
Or maybe you live in The Far Boonies, which means we should focus on mail-order options. That’s useful info too.
It’s also useful to know how you plan to shop. Here’s five common ways to shop for saddles:
- Online or via mail order, with a trial period that makes it easy to return saddles
- Online or via mail order, with no returns (example: buying from most private saddle sellers on Facebook, or buying from Ebay)
- Buying from a saddle fitter or brand sales rep who comes to your barn
- Purchasing in person, from local tack shops within driving distance
- Shopping through people you know, such as buying saddles from people at your barn or from your trainer
These are all good ways to buy a saddle. You just have to decide what you’re comfortable with.
Unfortunately, there is no risk-free route. But if you’re not sure how you want to shop, read the questions below. Choose whichever routes seem least cringe-worthy to you:
- Suppose you call out a local saddle fitter and they have nothing interesting or relevant to show you. Will you be annoyed to “waste” that saddle fitter call fee, or will you consider it a cheap education in what you really want/need?
- Suppose you buy a saddle on Ebay or Facebook with no return policy, and it doesn’t fit you or your horse. Suppose it takes a long time to resell that saddle, or you lose some money on resale. Are you okay with that?
- Suppose you bring a saddle in by mail order, and it doesn’t fit. Are you okay with losing a week or two of transit time, and search time, while your money was tied up in that trial saddle?
- Suppose you buy your saddle through a local tack store. Many local stores won’t let you girth up or ride in a brand-new saddle, or they’ll only let you trial-ride the saddle without your boots or half chaps on (<–that’s not comfortable, let me tell ya!) Are you willing to trade convenience for not being able to test-drive the saddle? Keep in mind, if it’s a brand new saddle and you buy it, you’ll lose about 20% of its resale value the minute you girth it up.
- Suppose you buy a saddle from your trainer, or a barnmate. And suppose the saddle isn’t all you hoped it would be. Is that going to make things awkward between you and your trainer?
If you’re now thinking, “Ugh, this sounds like a minefield!” I sympathize, but remember, thousands of shoppers survive their saddle search every year–and they ride off happily into the sunset. And because I know how much risk shoppers are already taking on, I choose to have a 100% money-back guarantee on my Digital Saddle Fitting Consultations.
Go forth, saddle shopper, and get awesome advice!
So there you have it: 6 things you can share with your saddle helpers to increase the quality of the advice. I hope you’ll use this advice when you’re talking to anyone about your saddle search. In fact, I’ve met saddle shoppers who keep their photos and intake form on their smartphone. That way, if someone who might have good advice comes along, they’ve got the right info at hand.
If you found this advice helpful, there’s plenty more where this came from. My Saddle Geek mailing list is often the first to know about cool new stuff here at The Saddle Geek. To join The Saddle Geek’s mailing list and get a copy of the FREE English Saddle Brands List, click here. And thanks for reading!