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VTO Saddlery's Saddle FAQ

Which saddle is appropriate for my discipline?
Below we list some common types of saddles and their uses.

Dressage Saddles
The purpose is clear from the name….these saddles are meant for dressage work. Dressage saddles have a straighter cut flap than an all-purpose saddle. Often they have a deep seat with a higher cantle than jumping saddles. They are balanced to be ridden in with a longer stirrup length. The flap is usually not cut forward enough for jumping. Dressage saddles often come with "long" billets. "Short" girths must be used with long billets. This allows the girth to be buckled below the saddle flap, eliminating extra bulk under the leg. A lot of dressage saddles today come with "Universal" billets. These billets are long, but have holes punched both at the ends and under the flap. So either a long or short girth can be used with universal billets. Many dressage saddles also come with short billets. You use a long (standard) girth with short billets. Typically, you can determine the size that your horse would need in a short girth by subtracting 20" from the size he needs in a long girth. For example, if you ride in a 48" girth with short billets, then you need a 28" dressage girth. Dressage saddles are appropriate for dressage shows, the dressage phase of a combined training event, flatwork at home, or trailriding. They are most often black in color, but also come in brown and various shades of black, grey and brown.
Close Contact
Jumping Saddles Originally, these saddles were as their name implies….jumping saddles that offered the maximum contact with your horse. Today, this is the name given to saddles that are used in the hunter show ring. Some of them have quite a bit of padding! Typically, a close contact saddle will have a square cantle. Today, many have padded flaps with a small knee roll and/or thigh block. An equitation saddle will have a flatter seat so that the rider can easily get into 2-point position. Hunter/jumper saddles will have a slightly deeper seat to offer better security over higher fences. The color is almost always some shade of brown, ranging from a very light "newmarket" color, to a dark "ebony brown" color. "Chestnut" is a very popular color today. It is a shade lighter than the standard "havana". But be aware, each saddle company calls its shades of brown with different names! Close contact saddles are appropriate for hunter/jumper shows, fox hunting, the jumping phases of combined training events and pleasure riding at home.
All Purpose Saddles

These saddles are designed to be used for many types of riding. Typically they have a deeper seat and more padding than close contact saddles. The cantle is usually rounded. The flaps are padded with usually a knee roll and/or thigh block. There are 2 types of all purpose saddles, the all-purpose jumping saddle (VSS, APJ) and the all-purpose dressage saddle (VSD, APD). The all purpose dressage model is very suitable for flatwork with a little bit of jumping. The flap is slightly farther forward than a dressage saddle, so it allows the rider to shorten the stirrups more and stay in balance. It is suitable for jumps of 1-2 feet and is great for trailriding where you may need to jump some small obstacles like fallen logs. These saddles can be used for lower level dressage tests, for the dressage phase of combined training events and for pleasure riding at home. The all purpose jumping model has a forward flap to accommodate shorter stirrups. The flap comes in many different sizes. Some are cut very far forward for jumping large jumps or to accommodate very short stirrups in the cross-country phase of combined training. Some saddles have a very wide flap to accommodate longer stirrups. (If the flap is too far forward, when you lengthen your stirrups, your legs will be against the horse instead of on the saddle). Others have a "schooling panel" which means that there is no thigh block or thigh roll.

There are many other "English type" saddles available. These include, but are not limited to Australian saddles, park saddles, endurance saddles, racing saddles, etc. But, our knowledge of these saddles is limited, and we do not sell them in our store.

What size saddle do I need?
How do I measure an English saddle? Saddles have two size components, the seat size and the tree size. The average English saddle seat sizes are 16.5", 17" and 17.5". 16" would probably fit a small adult or thin teenager. 14" and 15" are for children. Large men take 18"-19". When in doubt, go a size larger than you think you are. If your saddle is too small for you, then you will be sitting on the cantle (instead of the deepest part) and you will put too much pressure on your horse's back. The seat size is for you….the tree size is for your horse! Saddles come in many tree sizes. The most common sizes are narrow, medium and wide. Probably 80% of horses will take a medium tree. Very large horses (such as some warmbloods and draft horses), wide backed horses (such as quarter horses and ponies) with low withers sometimes take a wide tree. Narrow backed horses, such as some TB's or arabs, with high withers might take a narrow tree. If you are unsure of your horse's tree size, have a professional saddler or trainer look at your horse with different saddles. You measure the seat size of a saddle by measuring from the center of the nailhead in the pommel, to the center of the cantle. It is difficult to measure the tree size of a saddle because the tree is inside the saddle. To check the tree size, look for a size on the billet guard or skirt of the saddle. Some saddles have the size stamped on the stirrup bars. Some saddles come in centimeter widths. Roughly, a 31cm tree corresponds to medium, 29cm to narrow and 32cm to wide.

How can I tell if the saddle fits me and fits my horse?
Fitting the horse: When trying a new (or used) saddle on your horse for the first time, do not use a saddle pad. Place the saddle on the horse's back and slide it back until the tree points are behind the shoulder. The saddle should look level with the pommel either even with or less than 1 inch lower than the cantle (with wool flocking and a new saddle, allow the cantle to be 1" higher than the pommel. As the flocking settles, the cantle will become lower.) Now girth the saddle fairly tight. Check that there is at least 1 ˝" clearance between the saddle and the horse's wither and that the gullet is wide enough all the way down the horse's back. The stirrup bars should be parallel to the ground so that the stirrups will hang perpendicular. Now sit in the saddle. (if it is new, don't use stirrups!) Do you feel balanced? Or are you tipping forward or backward? You should feel balanced in the center of the saddle. To see if the saddle fits you, sit in the center of the saddle. You should be able to see at least 3" of saddle seat behind you! Now position your legs as they would be with stirrups. Your knee should fall comfortably behind the knee roll (but on the padding if the flap is padded). If you have a long hip-to-knee length, your knee might go over the edge of the flap and you might need a saddle with more forward flaps. Now imagine that you have your tall boots on. Make sure that the bottom of the flap will not catch on the tops of your boots! (If you don't wear tall boots, don't worry about this!) If you have a long knee to foot length, then you might need a saddle will extra long flaps. If you are a long legged rider, figure out if your length is hip to knee or knee to foot and look for a saddle that matches. Today most saddles can be special ordered in long/short flaps, extra forward flaps, etc., for only a small extra charge.

Can I try a saddle out before buying it?
This is a very common and reasonable request. Most tack stores will allow you to take a saddle home "on trial" for a specified amount of time. (Usually 3-7 days) You can try the saddle out on your horse as described above. You will need to leave a check or a credit card number and be charged for the full amount plus tax. Then, if you decide to keep the saddle, call the tack shop so that they can cash your check or charge your card. If you bring the saddle back, the shop can give you back your check or not run the charge through. Keep in mind, though, that if you ride in the saddle with stirrup irons, or in any other way damage the saddle so that it is no longer in "new" condition, the tack shop does not need to take the saddle back. So, use extreme caution when taking a saddle on trial! Another possibility would be to make an appointment with the tack shop to bring your horse to the shop for a fitting. This will save you the time and hassle of making many trips to the shop with different saddles. Most tack shops are happy to do this. Some will even come to you with a truckload of saddles for a fee. Keep in mind, however, that most tack store owners are not professional saddle fitters! It is your responsibility to make sure that the saddle fits your horse and you. If you want to try a saddle out from a mail order or internet site, check with the company about their saddle trial policy. Some will not allow it at all. Other may charge your credit card upon shipment of the saddle, and you will need to be issued a refund if you return it. Also, they will probably ask that you pay shipping charges both to and from the shop if you return the saddle. This can get expensive! Count on $40-$60 to ship a saddle back and forth in the US. Always ask for insurance and a tracking number on any saddle shipment. As for saddles purchased via online auction (such as Yahoo! or eBay), most sellers have an "all sales final" policy, which is allowed under most online auction rules. We follow this policy, but in certain cases will accept a saddle for return if it is defective or if there is a material mistake in the item description.

What is the difference between foam and wool flocking?
Flocking is the filling in the panels of the saddle. It is a very important component of the saddle because it is the cushion between you and your horse. Foam flocking is a synthetic material. It should always keep its shape so that you will not need to "re-flock" your saddle. The advantages are that if a foam flocked saddle fits your horse's back, it will always fit as long as your horse's back does not change shape. The disadvantage is that if you horse does change shape, then you need a new saddle or you need to replace the foam with wool (and this is not always possible). Wool flocking will conform to your horse's back shape for a custom fit. It can also be re-flocked by a professional saddler if your horse's back changes shape, or if you get a new horse. These are the advantages. The disadvantage is that the wool will need to be re-flocked on a regular basis or it will eventually compact too much and lose its shape. Wool flocking is usually more expensive in a new saddle than foam flocking. A new trend in flocking is air flocking! Instead of wool or foam, the panels are filled with air. This provides the most custom fit of all. However, this product has only been on the market for a few years. We don't have a good list of advantages or disadvantages yet!

Should I buy a new or used saddle?
This is a tough question and there is no right answer. Used saddles are cheaper than new saddles of the same make and model. Just like in cars, the value drops immediately after it has been used a few times. A high quality used saddle, however, can hold its value for decades! If you are on a budget, a high quality used saddle is probably a good option. Cheaper saddles will not hold their value as well, and will not last as long. So, why ever buy a new saddle? Well, new saddles are nice because you get to "break it in" yourself. As the leather breaks in, it will mold itself to you and your horse. There is nothing as comfortable as a saddle that has been broken in by you and only you!

What should I look for in a used saddle?
First and foremost, check the tree! Make sure the tree is not broken. If you are buying the saddle from a reputable tack store, this will not be a problem. To check the tree, grasp the saddle at the pommel and cantle and bend it upward. It should flex a little, but should not bend at an angle. (Don't get a muscle man to bend with all his might either, or you might just break the tree yourself!) Broken trees often have a telltale crease in the seat leather from side to side. Next, check the billets. They should be in good shape. Not too stretched out, not too thin. Pull on them hard! (now, get your muscleman friend!) They should be strong and tight. Billets are easily replaceable. Don't let bad billets stop you from buying the saddle, but factor that into the price. Billets cost from $50-$100 to replace all of them. Next check the stitching. Make sure the stitching is tight where it is holding the saddle together. Don't worry much about decorative stitching. If there is stitching under where the rider's leg goes, it will probably have worn off. This is no big deal. "Dry Rot" is a common stitching problem. Pulling on the leather here and there should tell you if there is any dry rot. Next check for wear in the leather. It should feel supple and strong, not dry. Small surface cracks are not too much of a problem, but beware of deep cracks. Sometimes the leather will be wearing thin where the rider's leg goes or over the stirrup bars. This happens and should only detract from the look of the saddle, not the performance. Check the seat at the seams. A common thing is for the seat to split at the seams. Again, this is a cosmetic problem. A lot of people ride in saddles with split seats. But, beware, it costs several hundred dollars to replace a seat! You need to decide what you are willing to live with. Finally, check the panels of the saddle. The flocking should have some give to it, otherwise it may need to be re-stuffed. In fact, it is probably a good idea to have a used saddle re-stuffed anyway so that it will mold to your horse's back. Re-flocking costs $50-$100. Your best bet is to have the saddle thoroughly checked by a master saddler. You can do this when you take the saddle on trial (or ask the private seller if you can do this).

Is it a good/bad idea to buy a saddle via online auction?
Ha! Since we sell a lot of saddles on eBay, I would have to say that it is a good idea! But, you do need to be careful. Here are some things to watch out for. First, ask the seller questions!! Caveat emptor! Buyer beware! If you don't ask, you may get something you didn't intend to buy. If the saddle is advertised as brand new, ask if it is first quality. If the saddle is being sold on eBay, it is usually being sold for an amount under the suggested retail price. This could be for many different reasons, including: the saddle is an old model, the saddle is being discontinued by the manufacturer, the saddle was returned after trial in less than ideal condition, the saddle has some minor flaw (like a scratch or stain), the saddle is defective. Hopefully, an honest seller would not list a defective saddle, so check the feedback rating before you bid! There are great bargains in new saddles to be found on eBay, but don't expect full-service on a bargain saddle, even from a reputable tack store. You will probably not be able to exchange it or return it or take it on trial. It may not come with a manufacturer's warranty. Be sure to ASK about these things! Used saddles are trickier. Try to talk to the seller via e-mail before committing. Get a feeling for how much the seller knows about the saddle and how knowledgeable the seller is about horses and saddles in general. You are more likely to get honest and correct answers to your questions from a knowledgeable seller. (I once bought a saddle from an internet ad and it arrived with a broken tree! This seller was not knowledgeable, but luckily was honest and refunded my money. But you just never know) Be sure to ask about all the things in the "What should I look for in a used saddle" question above if they are not mentioned in the ad.

Thanks for reading our saddle FAQ! If you have comments or a question that you would like to see answered here, please send us e-mail at


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