Buying the wrong western saddle is a very common occurrence in the western riding world. It's also a very expensive learning experience. You can skip this painful lesson by avoiding the top seven western saddle buying mistakes.
1. Buying Pretty. While we'd all like a nice looking saddle, letting looks drive your buying decision is asking for trouble. The quality of the saddle materials and the construction are far more important than the look of a saddle. A poorly made saddle can look awfully pretty, especially to the uninitiated. Don't fall for this one.
2. Buying Image. Have dreams of riding the range and working the cattle drive? Or maybe riding to an NFR championship buckle in barrel racing? While the cowboy and cowgirl dreams and imagery can be strong and enticing, don't let those images determine your saddle choice. Choose a saddle type that fits the actual type of riding that you'll be doing.
3. Buying Cheap. Cheap saddles are not a bargain. Poor quality materials and construction will shorten saddle life, and, more importantly, will cause discomfort and impair movement in your horse. If you can't afford at least a middle-of-the-road new saddle ($500 and up), then buying used is a great solution. Quality saddles last a long time, making buying a “pre-owned” saddle a smart buy.
4. Buying Dumb. You need to educate yourself on some saddle basics before buying. Ride in as many different saddles as you can. Talk to all the horse people you know about their saddles. Pick the brain of knowledgeable saddle folks. And, always, before purchasing a saddle, know the seller's tryout and return policies.
5. Buying Selfish. You found a saddle that's high quality, pretty, and fits you well. You're all set right? Wrong. You're forgetting one very important partner in this deal – your horse. If the saddle doesn't fit your horse well, than the rest doesn't matter. Make sure you understand the basics of horse fit and determine beforehand whether the saddle will be a good fit for your horse.
6. Buying One-Size-Fits-All. While you shouldn't need a different saddle for every horse you ride, one saddle will not fit every horse you run across. The best approach is to choose a saddle that will fit the basic physical type of horse that you'll ride. For instance, I ride Quarter Horses that are on the smaller size. I have a saddle that will fit most horses of this type. If you ride more than one type of horse, you'll need multiple saddles.
7. Buying Brand (or Endorsement). This one is a little trickier. Buying a well-established brand is not a bad idea. You just need to be aware that a number of saddle brands have been around a long time and the quality of their saddles have varied significantly over time. The quality can also vary over their current product lines. Never just blindly buy by brand without thoroughly inspecting the quality of the saddle in consideration. Additionally, celebrity endorsement can seem like a stamp of approval, but it really doesn't mean more than that the celebrity is receiving payment for use of his or her name. Very few celebrities have any input into the design and construction of the saddles bearing their name.
Many riders have a tack room full of saddles that didn't work out. Others are constantly buying and selling saddles in search of just the right one. It doesn't have to be this way. If you do your homework beforehand to truly understand your horse's and your own needs, you can purchase the one saddle that will be a match for you, your horse, and your riding activities.