While most people realize they will need a saddle to ride their horses, they may not be aware of all the reasons why they should use a saddle instead of riding bareback. Saddles are often more comfortable than riding bareback, since many horses have bony backs. A saddle also is safer than riding bareback, since the stirrups and pommel provide some support for beginning riders. For Western riders, saddles are like an extra hand, since the saddle horn can easily be used to hold ropes.
To get a rough idea of whether a saddle will fit your horse, you should measure the width of his back. Then, measure the width of the inside of the saddle you are considering. If the widths are similar, the saddle may fit your horse. However, be sure you talk to your feed and tack supplier about whether you can exchange the saddle for a different model if it is too small or too large for the horse or is uncomfortable for you.
Before you make the decision to keep your saddle, talk to an experienced horse lover about the fit of the saddle, since there are several spots where the saddle can be too small or too large for your horse. If you can’t find someone to help you evaluate the fit of the saddle, the rule of thumb is that you should be able to fit three fingers under the front of the saddle between the horse’s shoulders and the pommel, but not your entire hand.
You should also be sure that the saddle doesn’t keep the horse from moving easily by blocking the movement of his shoulders and you should be sure the saddle isn’t too narrow or too wide. Some people think that if they cannot fasten the cinch, which is the strap that passes from one side of the saddle, around the horse’s belly, and then fastens to the other side of the saddle, the saddle is too small. However, whether a saddle cinches or not actually has nothing to do with whether it fits your horse’s back. You can actually shop for a longer cinch to use with the saddle.
Of all the types of tack, saddles are the most expensive and have the largest selection of styles. Of course, just like with bridles and bits, saddles are broken into two main classifications, English and Western. However, there is a third option, the endurance saddle, which is a blend of the English and Western saddle designs.
English saddles are either hunt seat saddles, dressage saddles or show saddles. Most people use hunt seat saddles with their horses, since these saddles are fairly versatile, and can be used for riding, jumping or beginning dressage, although you may not be able to compete in dressage events with a hunt seat saddle. Dressage saddles are fairly similar to hunt seat saddles, but have slight design variations. Show saddles are noticeably different than the other two English saddles. There is no knee roll and these saddles have a very small rise in the rear, or cantle.
Western saddles only have one main style. However, these saddles can be very plain in appearance or incredibly elaborate. Western saddles that are used in parades or rodeo events are often even covered in jewels and precious metals. The major differences between the Western and the English saddle are the horn, the much deeper seat, and the longer stirrups of the Western saddle.
No matter which saddle you choose, you will need to be sure to keep it clean and in good repair. After all, the only thing more expensive than your new horse may very well be your saddle!