Buying a used saddle can sometimes be a great deal and a good option... but in many cases it can open up a can of worms and more often than not, is not as straight forward as it seems. There are so many factors that go into your saddle fitting, some of which are not visible or obvious to the untrained eye.
When somebody purchases a new saddle this saddle will be made or customised with the horse and riders needs in mind; shape of panel, placement of flocking, girthing arrangement, various angles of flap, block placement, seat and twist width and softness etc. Even saddles that are produced in bulk without the option to go bespoke are hand finished to some extent and all fit slightly differently. After a saddle has been worn on a horse for 3, 6, 12, 36 months it will give, settle and adjust to the shape of the horse and rider that have worn it. If the saddle has been flocked/balanced to fit, had additional features added or has been width adjusted this will have a big impact on how the saddle will sit and work on a new horse. There is the option of taking the saddle to a workshop and having it adjusted back as close to "as new" as possible by totally reflocking, width adjusting, adding or removing additional features where possible but bear in mind it will never be quite like a brand new saddle as the leather, latex etc will have given and molded to the previous combination.
Using a properly qualified, experienced saddle fitter (QSF) is the best way to ensure you are getting the best advice. A QSF must have spent a minimum of 3 years training in an apprenticeship scheme before qualifying with Society of Master Saddlers. They then will keep up to date with refresher courses & re-qualification to be up to speed with the latest innovations, designs, saddles etc. A QSF will be assessing so many parts of you, your horse and suitable saddle designs and shapes to gauge which saddles will offer the most sympathetic fit for horse and rider whilst ticking all the boxes as to discipline, style, budget etc.
Test riding used saddles with your fitter is a good option and the easiest way to guarantee the saddles soundness and suitability. Any flocking adjustments needed to customise the fit to your horse is able to be carried out. The best option is to buy the one you try!
ALWAYS try a saddle before you commit to purchasing! There are so many differences from one saddle to another that the only way to ensure that it will tick all of the boxes for both you and your horse is to try it. Often a rider will feel much more "at home" in a particular model and in many cases, the horse will tell us which model he prefers by slight (and sometimes not so slight!!) changes in his way of going, attitude or performance. Remember, a 17"MW in one model of saddle is not identical to a 17"MW in another.
Saddle Recommendations - Occasionally we do not have the right saddle in stock at the right price that will tick all the boxes so, on your report, we will write a few recommendations of models that may work for both parties. These recommendations will have suitable designs, tree shapes and features and are recommended for you to trial to gauge suitability. In some cases you will have limited options of suitable models and rarely clients have no option other than to go fully custom with a new saddle. The recommended saddles are not guaranteed to achieve the perfect fit as without putting a saddle onto the horses back, having it pass all stationary checks and then test riding it is impossible to say how it will perform and suit horse and rider. Once you have a arranged to have saddle on trial, book a fitting so that your QSF can evaluate and customise if required.
Budget - the looming question we have to ask at many saddle fittings! Obviously this can be a restriction for clients but in some cases we are not able to correctly fit a saddle with a low budget. Sometimes the horse/ rider combination can find an excellent saddle at a lower price point but for others they need to step up to bespoke designs with more or different features to achieve the best fit possible. We will discuss this with you at your fitting but be aware that second hand saddles (especially for the more tricky shaped horse) can become a very lengthy and costly process with trials, follow up fittings/checks, repairs, adjustments and possibly re-sale.
Saddle Spec & History - This is so important! You would not believe how many times we have visited clients who have purchased second hand saddles privately only to find that, upon assessment the tree is damaged, broken or twisted or the model or spec of the saddle is not suitable. If a saddle has had a fall or been dropped there can often be no signs of an accident on the exterior so it is essential to have the saddle checked for soundness prior to purchase. When somebody has owned a saddle for several years they often forget to write the full spec and all adjustments on their advert - you will notice that majority of used saddles are advertised as just the size ie "17 MW" and do not include the additional features such as; extra deep rear gussets, full front leg gussets, modified/dropped/K panel, point strap, 1" longer point than standard, different tree profile to standard, width adjusted to template, service history etc. These features make a HUGE difference to the overall fit of the saddle and can be the difference between a saddle fitting well or not at all!
We had a client recently who had a fitting and test ride during which we established which saddles would be the best options for her and her horse, at the time she did not state a budget when asked but said she had to sell her two very poorly fitting saddles first. Soon after, we see a post on Facebook groups asking "What saddle will fit my horse?" along with a photo of the horse. The general public, with the best intentions, were commenting makes and models of saddles that were totally unsuitable for the horse, with no consideration for the riders shape, size, build, requirements at all! It's incredibly disheartening to see this and know that the client may buy an unsuitable saddle at the detriment of her horse, recommended by the public from a singular photo. Even the best saddle fitter in the world would not be able to "fit" a saddle to horse and rider from just the one photo... If it were this easy, saddle fitting would be an online consultancy job from an office!
Please bear all these points in mind if you're set on buying a used saddle and most importantly: Listen to your qualified saddle fitters advice! Our job is to help you find the most suitable saddle for you and your horse, take advantage of your QSF's advice and try to educate yourself as much as possible during the fitting process.