A while back, I asked you, Dear Readers, for some input. I wanted to know what you want to know, so I could write articles that you’d find interesting and helpful. This is one of the replies I received:
I’d like advice on buying saddles for kids! My kids are both currently riding in Wintec all purpose saddles (that I picked up used at a great price). I foresee that in the next year or two, I’ll probably begin looking for a next saddle for them, so I’m beginning to think about next steps. They are both in pony club and participate in a wide variety of the English riding sports, including some very low-level eventing … They also enter some local hunter shows, trail ride a lot and have participated in the occasional fox hunt. And, of course, they are both looking forward to getting ‘real’ leather saddles (I am in love with the ease of the Wintecs, though!).
Thanks for any advice along these lines! If it helps at all in this particular case, my kids are 9 and 10, a girl and a boy – if there are any considerations for age or gender.
Buying a saddle for your kid presents a bunch of different challenges. You want to provide them with something that’s going to suit them and their discipline AND their horse/pony, but you also know that they’ll be outgrowing it at some point … So what’s the best course to take?
The very first thing I’ll do is warn you away from the $200 “package” deals that may initially seem so attractive. You can get a saddle, a bridle, a girth, stirrups, leathers AND a saddle pad for that price?!?! Well, caveat emptor. You want your child to be safe, and most of these items are made with questionable craftsmanship out of even more questionable materials, and can be – to quote Ralph Nader – “unsafe at any speed.”
This doesn’t mean, however, that you need to mortgage your house to find a good saddle for your kid. Many people opt for a synthetic saddle with the changeable gullet, like the Wintec or Thorowgood. This has a number of pluses: relatively low cost, good resale value, ease of care, and the ability to change the tree width by changing the gullet plates. This can be a good choice, especially with the Thorowgood and their “conformation specific” saddle models (the Broadback/Cob, the Standard and the High Wither). However, keep in mind that these saddles aren’t the magic fits-every-horse-that-comes-along bullet that many would lead you to believe … nor will they suit every kid’s fitting needs. But if they suit both the rider AND the ridden, they’re a great place to start; they’re also suitable for pretty much every level of every discipline (no rules in any of the showing organizations require a leather saddle … just one appropriate to the discipline).
The next step up (in price, and sometimes in quality) would be a leather saddle of middling price. These are often made in Argentina and don’t usually offer a lot in the way of fitting options – different tree widths or maybe a choice of flap lengths and sets are often about it – but again, if they meet the needs of the child and the horse/pony, they’re a good choice. Another option would be the Kent & Masters saddles, which – like the Thorowgoods – are made in the UK and offer conformation-specific models, flocked panels and a changeable gullet, and are priced in the same range as many of the Argentine-made saddles.
The next step up would be one higher-end of the UK-made saddles. These are much higher in price than the other options I’ve mentioned and the quality and available fitting options will reflect that. If you can afford to go this route, you probably won’t regret it; saddles never come down in price, and if your child takes good care of the saddle, you can sell it down the road without it losing a whole lot of value. And if your child or its beloved mount have special fitting needs – say, a 90 lb. girl with a 34” inseam, or a horse with a propane-tank physique – there will be fitting options available to suit even the most challenging issues.
Another choice – and one that many parents opt for – is buying a used saddle. You can often find a good quality “pre-owned” saddle at a lower price point than a new one – just how much lower will depend on the amount of use it’s seen. Even if the saddle’s in excellent condition, you’ll often save hundreds of dollars off the price of a new saddle, and if you can live with some “used saddle” marks and maybe a small cosmetic issue here or there, you’ll get an even better deal.
Whatever route you decide to pursue, your best bet for finding the right saddle will be to work with a good, independent fitter, or with a shop (like Trumbull Mtn.) that offers a comprehensive inventory, an in-house fitter and a realistic trial policy. It may require some homework on your part – like the templates, photos and questionnaire that we request, or a little financial outlay – such as having a fitter come out and make some recommendations … but in the long run, working with a pro will save you a LOT of time, money and frustration. And speaking as a parent myself, that’s priceless!