Creature Comfort

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When you are in the business of trail rides, you need saddles for your trail horses—and that can be a large investment. You need economical saddles that hold up under constant use, are easy to clean and repair, and are comfortable for both rider and horse.

In trail operations, western saddles are used more often than English, mainly because they offer more security for novice riders. While western saddles are often more expensive. here’s a look at some economical and practical solutions.

Wintec

Carol and Steve of Smith Mountain Farm and Stables in Virginia offer guided one- and two-hour trail rides at their facility. They use twelve saddles in their operation. The average cost of their saddles was $350.

When asked what they look for in a saddle, Carol and Steve say, “We like a plain, straightforward saddle.”

Which is why they went with several new Wintec All Rounder Western Saddles with 16-inch seats, distributed by Partrade. These are made of synthetic Equileather. The All Rounder comes in black or brown, with a square skirt. It does not have saddle strings.

Other saddles well suited for trail riding by Wintec are its Australian style stock saddles, the Pro Stock CS ($1,165) and the Pro Endurance ($1,000). Both saddles get good reviews for comfort and durability, with features including the Cair Panel System, Easy-Change Gullet System, and the flexible Wintec Tree with a lifetime guarantee.

Big Horn

Big Horn’s Cordura Trail Saddle got kudos for economy, toughness, and comfort from several trail riders on NCHorseNews.com’s forum. “I love my Big Horn Cordura; it’s about 20 years old. No tired legs, since your feet and stirrups stay where your feet hang naturally,” says one forum member. The saddle also has good reviews on www.horsetackreviews.com.

Big Horn’s Cordura Trail Saddle #501 is a lightweight trail saddle in the $320 to $360 price range, depending on the size. The padded suede seat gives the rider security and comfort. The stirrup fenders are free swinging to allow the rider freedom of joint movement and foot placement. This saddle weights about 15 pounds with a Ralide tree and comes in a choice of black or brown.

Tucker and High Horse

Tucker Saddles get rave reviews from those who own one, and they should: Tucker Trail Saddles cost nearly $2,000; perhaps not feasible for those who need a dozen saddles for their trail riding string.

For that reason, Anne Fordyce, marketing media manager of Tucker Saddles, suggests the High Horse Trail Saddle. It’s made in the same Yoacum, Texas, factory as Tucker and Circle Y, but retails at about half the price. It is available with a tooled-leather or a smooth rough-out model. The tree is Ralide and has a five-year guarantee.

Allegany Mountain Trail Saddles

This small saddle maker in upstate New York makes quality, moderately priced, handcrafted saddles. Testimonies and reviews give these saddles high marks for comfortable fit both for horse and rider, and for excellent customer service. The saddles, made by second- and third-generation Amish craftsmen, are built one at a time with hand-picked leather, on Steele trees, with brass and stainless steel hardware. They will customize on request.

The Whisper Lite Series, priced at $765, is made of Cordura and a leather hybrid, and weighs only 21 pounds. Leather models start at $895 and include the Plantation Trail, which weighs 24 pounds, and the Renegade Endurance saddle, which weighs 20 pounds without stirrups.

Bob Marshall Treeless Sports Saddles

“Our saddles work with a combination of the rider’s body temperature on top and the equine’s below: the saddle warms up and conforms to that horse that day,” says April Battle, one of eight authorized sales representatives for Bob Marshall Treeless Sports Saddles. “After the ride,” she adds, “as the saddle cools off, it goes back to its original shape, so it can fit any rider and conform when warm to any horse. I have over 39,000 miles logged in these saddles and I weigh 219 pounds with tack.”

The saddles, invented and developed by Bob Marshall 15 years ago, cost $945 to $1,600. That price may be over budget for most outfits, but if you have a hard to fit horse it may be worth it. Every saddle is made to order. They weigh 15 to 21 pounds depending on the model.

The Bob Marshall Treeless Sport Saddle is sold only through sales reps like April. And that has its advantages. “I’m kind of like the client’s personal shopper. I ask a lot of questions about their horse-riding style and long-term goals and get them the right saddle,” she says.

Used Saddles

Mary Ellen Schnur, who runs Montana Horse Country Adventures in Townsend, Montana, uses 18 saddles—one for each of the horses in her operation. They take guests on real cattle drives, horse roundups and ranch work, so their saddles have to hold up to some rough hours of riding. For this type of use, she opts for used saddles that cost $200 to $600, rather than spending $1,800 to $2,500 for top-quality new ones.

“We prefer old-fashioned high cantle, high pommel saddles. They force a rider to ride, rather than to sit on the horse’s kidneys like a sack of potatoes. We have accumulated several original Miles City Saddles [no longer in business], as well as some very similar that were made by other old-time Montana saddle makers,” Mary Ellen says.

Of the 18 saddles in Mary Ellen’s tack room, only one is made of synthetic materials. The only advantage she notes is that the saddle is lightweight. “We’re pretty set in our ways and like what we have,” she says, “Plus, the cost of experimenting with new saddles is prohibitive.”

Many outfitters, like Mary Ellen, buy used saddles in order to have high quality saddles at less than half the cost of new ones. Used saddles can be found in very good condition, so this can be a smart way to save money without sacrificing quality. It is best to buy used saddles in person so you can inspect them carefully. If buying online, ask for pictures from all views, including the underside of the saddle, and ask questions when in doubt. The higher the quality of saddle, the more likely it was well cared for and the better your investment.

How did Mary Ellen find 18 good, used saddles? “We just keep our eyes open,” she says. She has found bargains in all the usual places, from auctions and tack shops to private sales and even a flea market or two.

For More Information:

1) Allegany Mountain Trail Saddles

www.trailridingsaddles.com

2) High Horse Saddles, Inc.

www.highhorsesaddles.com

www.tuckersaddles.com

3) Wintec Saddles

www.wintec.net.au

4) Bob Marshall Treeless Sports Saddle

www.treelessaddle.com

5) Big Horn Saddlery

1-800-251-6284