Which Saddle Is For You?
The Trail Rider|March 2017

Find the right saddle for your riding needs with our expert trail-saddle shopping guide.

Jessica Jahiel, Phd

Saddles are a big-ticket item; trail saddles are no exception. The good news is that saddle manufacturers are offering more options than ever before, with trail saddles for just about every horse, every rider, and every kind of terrain.

As you shop for a trail saddle, keep in mind that every horse, rider, and trail-riding experience is unique. Whatever form your trail-riding takes, the more suitable your saddle, the better off you and your horse will be. The following guidelines are designed to help you select a saddle that matches your particular riding style.

Here, I’ll describe four rider profiles: (1) casual day rides on home trails, over mostly easy terrain; (2) frequent traveling to overnight trail-riding and horse-camping destinations; (3) long, challenging rides over steep terrain; and (4) gaiting or hacking on broad, mostly flat trails. Then I’ll offer saddle suggestions that might work best for you.

When you’re ready to start shopping, turn to the resource guide of saddle manufacturers (page 40). And don’t miss our roundup of trail-riding safety gear, along with related resources (page 39).

Riding profile #1: Casual day rides on home trails, over mostly easy terrain.

Saddle specs: If you already own a saddle that fits both you and your horse, you may be in luck. A good Western saddle, jumping saddle, eventing saddle, or all-purpose saddle could be just fine to use on home trails. That said, you may want to invest in a purpose-designed trail saddle, for optimal comfort and versatility.

Your choice of saddle will depend to a great extent on your horse and his conformation, your own conformation, your ambitions and goals, and the trails on which you ride or plan to ride.

A long-backed, leggy horse with high withers will be uncomfortable wearing a saddle that would be well-suited to a shorter, more compact, low-withered animal. Similarly, your own body build will influence your choice. Test various saddle models to determine your and your horse’s preferences.

Traditional Western saddles offer excellent weight distribution, your choice of rigging (that is, how and where the saddle is attached to your horse’s body), a saddle horn, and multiple attachment points and latigos to carry saddlebags and gear.

Today’s high-tech, lightweight Western saddles are especially suited for trail riding.

Western saddles also offer great versatility. You can use your trail saddle to participate in open shows, team penning, and even join in a parade.

Expert tip: Watch for any changes to your horse’s shape. A saddle that was perfect for last year’s trail rides might not be perfect this year.

Riding profile #2: Frequent traveling to overnight trail-riding and horse-camping destinations.

Saddle specs: As you saddle shop, consider not only the trail demands, but also ease of care. For instance, today’s lightweight, waterproof synthetic saddles are ideal for equestrian travel.

A lightweight synthetic saddle is easy to load into the trailer and place on your horse’s back. It can be especially helpful if you have shoulder or neck problems, back problems, or arthritic hands.

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