In many ways, shopping for a trail saddle is the same as choosing one for any other sport or activity. The quality of the materials, construction and design lead the list of initial considerations, and once you’ve narrowed your search to a few models you’ll focus on fit.
That’s where trail saddle shopping becomes more exacting—the more time you spend in a saddle, the more critical good fit becomes. Minor imperfections in fit that may have little or no consequence during an hourof arena riding can cause significant soreness for both you and your horse after a day on the trail over varying terrain.
Fortunately, a large number of saddle manufacturers have stepped up to meet the needs of trail riders, offering a multitude of options, with or without a horn, from streamlined, minimalist models to those loaded with D-rings, strings and rigging for stowing all your stuff. Here is a sampling of your choices, in alphabetic order by company name.
Tree: “We use a Ralide™ tree, which is a mold-injected polyethylene,” says John Eliot, Action Company sales manager. “ The great thing about a molded tree is that when we put on the sewed parts to cover it, they always fit perfectly.” The company makes trees shaped to fit many breeds, including gaited and draft horses.
Materials: The outer shell is a strong 1000-deniernylon, filled with a closed-cell foam. Both materials are fully waterproof—they do not absorb moisture. “All materials used are synthetic, including the fleece on the bottom of the saddle,” says Eliot. “You can get it wet and it dries quickly. The seat is Acu-suede. Material over the pommel and cantle is a synthetic leather-like vinyl. These saddles can be washed with water—wash and wear, so to speak.”
Weight: 17 pounds
Special features: “We use a trade marked nylon-leather half-breed rigging that’s connected with a nylon strap from one side of the saddle to the other and secured into the tree itself,” says Eliot. “If the rigging was to ever rip out, our saddles are still secured to the horse because the rigging is wrapped around—still connected by this patented safety strap across the top.”
Price: $435 for a basic model with around skirt or $450 for a square skirt
Contact: (800) 937-3700; [email protected]; www.actioncompany.com
Allegany Mountain Trail Saddles
Tree: Allegany uses Steele trees, carved out of southern yellow pine encased in fiberglass and resin. “All of our saddles are custom fitted to the horse, using the Fit-to-be-seen form system which was developed by Steele Saddles,” says owner John Rettig. “They are designed to be close contact saddles, to fit the horse first and the rider second. We send out six to 10 different fit forms and stock four different bars.”
Materials: “We use hand selected leather,” says Rettig. “All saddles are handmade one at a time. Each saddle is made by just one guy, not built on a production line.”
Weight: average of 26 pounds
Special features: Currently, the buyer can choose from three rigging options, including adjustable. The 7/8 dropped ring can also be set up to have a three-point endurance saddle rigging or a rear cinch, whichever the customer prefers. The standard saddle comes with a pair of tie strings in back, and tie rings and additional strings can be put anywhere. “ We can also customize a saddle in any way, shape or form,” says Rettig. “No two saddles are the same.”
Price: ranges from $700 to $1,260, depending on style; most start at $965.
Contact: (716) 625-6631; [email protected]; www.trailridingsaddles.com
Cashel Trail Saddles
Tree: “Our trees are wooden, handmade one at a time and carefully dried so there is no warping,” says Cindy Lang, sales representative. “We put on a fiberglass finish for extra strength and to prevent any future warping. All the corners are flared, with properly spaced, curved bars. It’s a comfortable saddle for most horses.” The tree allows for lateral flexion to fit a wide range of horses, with bars spaced to relieve pressure on the horse’s spine.
Materials: “We use a high-quality leather,” says Lang. The seat incorporates comfort-foam padding.
Weight: 25 to 27 pounds
Special features: Billet and cinch options are available. One model, the Outfitter, weighs 34 pounds and can be used for trailriding as well as other work. “It’s more versatile; it can be used for trail or ranch work, and you can rope with it or use it for hunting and hauling out game on your saddle,” says Lang.
Price: $1,425 for a trail saddle with a round skirt and $1,450 for the square skirt; the ranch saddle is $1,650.
Contact: (800) 333-2202; www.cashelcompany.com
Tree: The fork and cantle of the tree are made of wood for most saddles. The bars have two layers: a high-density portion above to give support under the rider’s seat, and a more flexible, low density bar next to the horse. The tree is rigid in the middle, but the outer edges of the bars flex with the horse as he moves. The Flex2 saddles come in many models in English and Western designs. Circle Y also offers saddles that use a version of the Flex2 tree shaped for use with gaited horses. “The bars have a different pitch, especially in the back; they are steeper pitched and not as wide an angle as a Quarter Horse tree,” says Design and Marketing Manager Amy Orsak.
Materials: The SOFTEE saddle seat features a nonslip cover padded with a memory foam that conforms to the rider’s shape. Jockeys and fenders are made with a trademarked leather that is specially processed to be very supple and soft.“These saddles have a broken-in feel, right out of the box,” says Orsak.
Weight: average of 25 pounds
Price: averages $1,499, depending on styles and features
Contact: (800) 882-5375; www.circley.com
Reinsman Equestrian Products
Tree: “Reinsman Trail Saddles are built on a Flex Tree that incorporates precise contours necessary to minimize pressure points and maximize the loadbearing area,”says Head Customer Service Representative Ernie Tracy.
Materials: All saddles in the trail line incorporate leather, a wool fleece lining and a grain-out padded leather seat.
Weight: The all-leather saddles weigh 25 to 30 pounds. One, the Leather Cordura Trail, incorporates padded cordura over a poly-resin tree to bring the weight down to 17 pounds.
Special features: Most of these saddles have a three-way rigging in the skirt and less bulky fenders for easier stirrup adjustment. Some of the saddles have felt skirts for a more conforming fit and cooler back for the horse, and many of them have extra rings. The Comfort Fit trailsaddle has softer seat jockeys and fenders and a narrow seat for more comfortable fit for the rider.“ Our hand-worked ground seats help to create a narrow twist seat, making for a comfortable ride and a relaxed leg position,” saysT racy. “ Most of our saddles come in three seat sizes: 15-, 16- and 17-inch.”
Price: $1,495 to $1,795 for the endurance and trail saddles
Contact: (800) 548-2487; www.reinsman.com
Saddles by Steele
Tree: All trees are handmade of southern yellow pine or western cedar, a lighter but more expensive wood. “Our tree has a lifetime guarantee,” says Eric Hawkins, a co-owner. “Our standard tree is fitting 85 to 90 percent of the horses, regardless of breed. For a hard-to-fit horse we can send you a mold kit that you heat in the oven for 10 minutes, lay on your horse’s back to shape it, and return to us. This gives us a replica of your horse’s back so we can build the tree to fit. We then add stirrup leathers, rigging and a temporary seat to that tree, so you can actually ride the tree to check the fit to the horse before we complete the saddle.”
Materials: Only American made products are used in these saddles, including the leather. “ We demand the best, and that’s why this is not a cheap saddle,” says Hawkins.
Weight: pine saddles, 21 to 27 pounds; cedar saddles, 16 to 22 pounds.
Special features: You can try one of these saddles before you buy one. “We have 85 demo models we send around via UPS for people to try, to make sure the saddle fits them and their horse,” says Hawkins. “For a comfortable trail riding position, the stirrups are slightly in front of you, taking all the pressure off your knees and ankles while keeping your back upright. It’s still easy to post, but it’s made for all day riding comfort and to keep the horse’s back from getting sore up front.”
Price: from $1,900 to $1,975; choosing the lightweight cedar tree adds $110.
Contact: (615) 792-3884; [email protected]; www.steelesaddle.com
Tree: Most trees are made of a high-density molded PVC. A patented adjustable fit system, invented by owner Dave Kaden, allows you to add wedge or strip shims to change the fit in three directions. “Saddle fit is a three dimensional challenge, and fitting a horse is a somewhat moving target as he changes over time with conditioning and age,” says Kaden. “Our adjustable system enables us to independently adjust the angle, rock and width to address any fitting challenges.”
Materials: The saddles are made with high-quality, U.S.-tanned leather.
Weight: The Eurolight model weighs 12 to 15 pounds and comes with a fleece seat that can be changed out for leather. Other saddles weigh 16 to 25 pounds.
Special features: “We offer two seat styles: trail, with a deeper seat, and endurance, which is flatter,” says Kaden. “ If you are galloping or posting for long periods, you don’t want to be confined by a deep seat as you move and try to stay balanced over your stirrups at speed.” Stirrups can be adjusted into three different positions—forward, balanced or centered—on all saddles. A demo program lets you try a saddle for eight days before buying one.
Price: $1,349 for the Eurolight; prices start at $1,549 for other models.
Contact: (575) 882-3342; [email protected]; www.specializedsaddles.com
Tree: The trees are made of lightweight injection-molded polyethylene, each custom molded to fit both horse and rider. “We customize the bottom of the tree to fit the horse and the top to fit the rider’s size,” says Synergist owner Dave Di Pietra.
Materials: The underside of the saddle contains a layer of immediate recovery foam, which regains its shape after being compressed and allows the saddle to conform to the shape of the back as it moves. “In the skirting we add a half-inch of pour-on foam—the same material used in quality running shoes for shock absorption,” says DiPietra. “It moves with the horse’s back. On top, this same foam goes under the big seat jockey. If the rider wishes, we can use a stitch-down seat with padding in it; this can be glued down, then peeled up every 4,000 miles or so and replaced.”
Weight: between 18 and 30 pounds, depending on styles and features chosen
Special features: All saddles are designed based on measurements from the EQUImeasure Kit, a flat piece of plastic that is warmed in the oven, then molded over a horse’s back. “The kit is yours to keep,” says Di Pietra. “If the horse’s back changes as he matures or ages, you can re-warm the kit to fit his back again, and send it to us with the saddle; we can readjust the bottom of the saddle for that horse.” The buyer can choose among six different fender systems and three types of rigging. Stirrups are placed directly under the rider. The seat is contoured to place the rider’s thigh in proper alignment for a balanced position, and custom fitted to the shape of the thighs and seat bones; a “jean seam” channel in the center alleviates friction from seams. The saddle comes standard with D-rings all around, with a crupper ring at the back of the cantle; other rings can be added.
Contact: (877) 595-0115; [email protected]; www.synergistsaddles.com
Tex Tan Saddles
Tree: The Tex-Flex tree is constructed of high-density polyethylene bars, designed to hold its shape, yet yield when the horse moves against it.
Materials: The saddles are made of leather in a variety of colors and Western styles.
Weight: averages 25 to28 pounds
Special features: The TNT Trail Blazer has a deep seat and a five-inch cantle, with a Visco memory-foam cushion in the seat. “The swell is shaped just right to keep you properly seated while going downhill on steep terrain and during the occasional ‘spooks’ you may encounter out on the trail,” says spokesperson Tina Mae Weber. “There’s also a convenient pocket sewn into the billet for your hoof pick. There is a buckle strap on the swell for a compass, or to hang your spurs or even an extra rope. The ‘clever leather’ wrapped ring fits a flashlight. These items are always there when you need them, but out of the way. There are also extra saddlestrings and snaps on the back strings for securing all other items you might need.”
Price: suggested retail, $1,750
Contact:(800) 531-3608; www.textan.com
Tucker Trail Saddles
Tree: Tucker trees are all wood, but the bars are made of a layered laminate rather than a solid block, to allow a little flexibility. A thin layer of polyethylene covers the edges of the bars.
Materials: Tucker saddles come with either a Gel-Cush™ seat or one with V-Foam™ padding, which is like a memory foam; both are covered with a top-grain leather perforated for breathability. Another Gel-Cush pad lies between the saddle skirts and the tree to absorb shock between the horse and the saddle. The skirts are lined with inch-thick wool felt.
Weight: between 21 and 28 pounds
Special features: Tucker’s seat is suspended above the bars to provide relief from concussion, and ErgoBalance™ stirrups help to keep the rider in a comfortable position. Adjustable rigging allows you to move the latigo forward or back to better fit your horse. Style options include square or round skirts, tooled or plain leather and crossover models for equitation or endurance. Many Tucker saddles feature multiple rings and strings for tying on packs and bags.
Price: averages $1,475, depending on styles and features
Contact: (800) 882-5375 or (361) 293-3501; www.tuckersaddles.com
Tree: The Wintec ElastiFlex tree is made of injection-molded thermoplastic that is rigid enough to protect the spine but retains enough lateral flexibility to move with the horse. Extended bars distribute the rider’s weight over a greater area of the horse’s back.
Materials: Made of all-synthetic materials, including Equisuede, which is designed to look like leather. The material does not get slippery when wet and dries quickly; it can be easily cleaned.
Weight: The Pro Endurance saddle weighs 13 pounds, one ounce. The Pro Stock saddle, similar to an Australian stock saddle, weighs 20 pounds, 10 ounces.
Special features: Wintec saddles feature two systems that allow the buyer to customize the fit for each horse. The CAIR Panel System is a pair of air-filled pockets that replace the traditional saddle flocking for more even distribution of a rider’s weight; inserts can be placed by a saddler above the CAIR pockets to adjust fit. “Even though it has a solid layer of foam inside to keep its shape, it’s not a solid piece; the air will give and take,” explains Allison Appello of Wintec. The Easy Change Gullet System includes a set of six different metal inserts; with a measuring tool, the one that provides the best fit across the width of a horse’s withers can be chosen and installed. If the horse changes shape with age or level of fitness, a different gullet can be swapped in.
Price: $1,150 for the Pro Endurance; $1,295 for the Pro Stock saddle without a swinging fender or $1,650 with a swinging fender
Contact: www.wintec.net.au; www.cairpanelsystem.com; www.easychangegulletsystem.com