Two main problems with buying a new saddle are the cost and the uncomfortable process of breaking in the new leather. However, when buying a used saddle, you need to be on the lookout for a variety of issues that could signify that the saddle is damaged. Here’s what to look for:
Check for Tree Soundness
The integrity of a used saddle’s tree should be a top priority when you evaluate the saddle. In many cases, asking the seller if the saddle’s tree is sound may not do any good, since the seller might not know much about saddles or be aware that the tree has been damaged.
To check the saddle for a broken or twisted tree, hold the saddle over one thigh with the pommel facing you. Grip the cantle with one hand and pull it toward you as you hold the saddle’s seat down with your other hand. If the saddle “gives” to the pressure of your pulling on it, the tree is broken. Reverse the saddle’s direction so that you are pulling on the pommel and repeat the process.
You will also want to examine the underside of the saddle for signs that the tree has twisted. Check to make sure that the center of the pommel lines up directly with the center of the cantle. You should be able to draw a straight line through the middle of the gullet. Any misalignment signifies a twisted tree. Uneven wear or warping in the saddle’s seat can also indicate a twisted tree.
Look for Cracked Leather
Examine the saddle closely for any leather that is dried and cracking. While superficial lines will appear in many saddles, be on the lookout for leather that is too dry. Once the leather has dried to the point that it has cracked, it is no longer safe for you to use. Pay particular attention to the billets, and check to make sure that they are sound and secure. Billets however can be replaced, so this doesn’t have to be a deal-breaker.
Test the Saddle’s Panels
The panels of an English saddle distribute your weight over your horse’s back, so it’s important to make sure that they are in good condition. Foam panels can become hard and stiff over time, and wool flocked panels can become compacted. If the panels on a saddle don’t have any give and seem stiff, you may need to build the cost of having the panels replaced or reflocked into your saddle buying budget.