A saddle is the most significant purchase you’ll make as a horse owner (besides the horse, of course). Going the second-hand route can be a cost-effective way to get the saddle you want without necessarily breaking the bank.

Lynn Whitney launched her online shop UsedSaddles.ca in 2014 after many years of helping boarders at her Whitney Stables in Acton, Ontario, find their next saddles. Consignment sellers send their saddles to Whitney, who then takes care of the entire sales process from cleaning and conditioning, taking necessary measurements and photographs, payment, shipping, enquiries, etc., for a flat listing fee of $200 per saddle.

The Pros of Pre-Owned Saddles

She says there are a number of benefits to buying used:

  • You can usually get a higher-quality saddle for your budget.
  • Access to a wider range of brands.
  • It’s a better investment than new. You won’t face the steep depreciation in initial value you would with a new saddle and, on resale, you can often recoup all or most of your money (occasionally more, says Whitney) as long as you’ve taken care of the saddle.
  • You can avoid wait times sometimes associated with the construction and delivery of new saddles.
  • You can ride in the actual saddle you’re considering purchasing. When buying new, you’re often testing demo saddles, which aren’t the actual size or even model of the saddle you’ll receive, says Whitney. “It can be devastating when your new saddle arrives and the fit and feel of that saddle were not what you were expecting.”

As Whitney notes, dealing with a company such as hers “provides buyers with the confidence of buying from a business.” But not everyone in the market for a used saddle enjoys this benefit. Whitney shares a few tips to help you avoid purchasing pitfalls while finding the best deal for you and your horse.

First, get an idea of what saddle brands and styles you’re interested in. Sit in as many saddles as you can. Find out the current new list price of the saddles by comparing them at brick-and-mortar tack shops, their websites, and/or classified sites such as Kijiji and eBay. That way you’ll have a sense of the used saddle’s value for money.

Before making a move on a specific saddle, ask the seller for the serial number, which reputable brands use. “This can provide all of the information you want to know about the saddle including the age, tree width, seat size, flap configuration, any special customized options that were done,” says Whitney. Also ask if a fitter has adapted the saddle from its original manufactured specifications to fit an individual horse. Find out how many different owners the saddle has had, as this can increase the chances of unknown alterations to the tree or panels.

Test Drive the Saddle First

Try out the saddle for a few days. “A trial offers you the only way to ensure that the saddle will fit your horse and that you will enjoy riding in it,” says Whitney. It also gives you an opportunity to consult with a saddle fitter or coach on suitability. But before the saddle goes near your horse’s back, test the tree first. If it’s broken, the sale is a no-go. To do this:

  • Hold the pommel of the saddle against your thigh.
  • Press on the seat with one hand.
  • Use your other hand to grasp the cantle and pull it towards you.

“Some saddle trees will have some flex to them, but if the saddle has excessive flex to it, bends or makes any clicking or squeaking noises when the pressure is applied, it can indicate a broken tree,” says Whitney. Then, do this second test:

  • Mount the saddle as if you were riding in it.
  • Clamp your knees against the area of the stirrup bars.
  • Squeeze your knees inward.

Movement or funny noises could indicate a broken head plate (the part of the tree that straddles the withers), Whitney notes.

Other areas to examine:

  • Stirrup bars should be securely attached.
  • Billet webbing should be in good shape and secure.
  • Billets shouldn’t be cracked or split.
  • Panels should feel soft and pliable with no obvious lumps or pressure points.
  • Cracking or excessive wear along the seat seams could lead to tearing, a costly replacement.

Check the symmetry of the saddle panels. Many saddles, both foam and wool-flocked, can be customized for specific horses, says Whitney. “When buying used, you want to make sure that the saddle hasn’t been altered to fit a horse that isn’t the same shape as yours.”

Depending on the seller, you may be required to leave a deposit and sign an agreement that it will be returned in the same condition after the trial period if you decide not to purchase it.

Shopping Smart Online for Used Saddles

You’ve found the perfect saddle, but it’s an online seller. There’s no way you can see it in person before you buy. You can, however, ask for photos.

Side views – Will help you see the overall condition of the saddle, the color, the flap position. A photo measuring from the stirrup bar to the bottom of the flap using a measuring tape will give you the flap length.

Seat – Inspect the seams and check for wrinkles, which are often caused by the leather stretching, “especially in seats that are well-padded or where owners have left sweaty girths on top of the saddles,” says Whitney. “However, wrinkles in the seat can also be a sign of a broken or compromised tree.” Ask the seller to include a photo of the seat measurement taken from the saddle nail diagonally to the centre of the

Front – Get the seller to hold a measuring tape across the front of the saddle from the felt dots of the panels to indicate tree width.

Underneath – Check the panels for channel width. “This is what provides spinal clearance for your horse’s back. It can vary greatly brand to brand and can actually vary from saddle to saddle,” says Whitney. “Having the seller take a photo with their fingers in between the channel or holding up a measuring tape can give you a better perspective of how much allowance there is.”

Under the flaps – This will show you the condition of the billet straps and you will also see what types of blocks are on the saddle.

Payment and Shipping for Used Saddles

For in person-payment, Whitney says cash is always an easy option, but both parties must count the money and agree on how much is there. E-transfers are a good option for both buyer and seller.

“Sending an e-transfer in advance of the meeting and withholding the security password can ensure that the buyer has the necessary funds available, while giving them time to see the saddle in person before finalizing the transaction.”

When purchasing a saddle online, payment platforms such as PayPal are the most secure. “They offer confirmed payments and a dispute resolution if either the buyer or seller has any issue with the transaction. This is especially helpful when the saddles are being shipped, so both the buyer and seller have some recourse if things don’t go as planned,” says Whitney.

As for shipping, she chooses a particular courier depending on how far the saddle is being sent and how quickly it needs to get to its new owner. Generally, shipping will run between $50 and $100. All carriers offer online quotes and tracking. She also recommends shipping insurance to protect both parties and notes that additional taxes and duties will be applied when saddles are being shipped outside or into Canada.