Quick tips for riders - How to test ride a barrel racing demo saddle
Take a test drive without wrecking…
Not so fast...keep those tags intact, we are just getting started!
The age and stage of horsemanship advancement is upon us. A surplus of exciting big money shows, informative YouTube videos, and easier access to trainers leaves us hankering for more time in the saddle. But what if our saddle doesn’t have the same plans to take your butt to all the places you want to go? A saddle is undoubtedly the most important tool a rider could own. If your horse’s body changes, or your riding gets better, or you switch horses – you could land yourself in the market of needing some new digs. But don’t let internet prices and poor tack store selection get you down.
You can test ride a saddle no matter what…
When I was a kid I bought my first saddle by way of the fact it came as a package with my first pony. For $600 I got a smoking deal on a 20 year old Paso Fino and a saddle that was even older than that. I didn’t have the slightest idea that it probably didn’t fit and I was too poor to buy a fancy "tempurpedic" pad; so I used old mattress egg shell foam. Times have changed because now I wouldn’t put a saddle like that on a burro, and the pads I use are of ‘pure virgin wool’ material. At 14, I didn’t really know it was possible to test ride saddles to see if they fit the horse, I only bought ones that fit my budget.
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Many saddle makers, online tack retailers, and bigger horsemen supply stores offer some really good options for riders.
It’s is not a click-hope-and-pray game as much as it used to be. Trial programs, flexible return policies, fit kits, and fit specialists are available in most of these places. I’ve bought plenty of saddles with my fingers crossed it would just work out with a 6.5 inch gullet and full quarter horse bars, only to be disappointed with dry spots and soring. Taking advantage of what sellers have to offer is in everyone’s best interest.
These can vary from store/seller. Some online retailers ( Here is a great example of what a demo program might entail.) as well as physical stores may have a handful of saddles designated for people trying them out. The seat size might be an inch off, and the oil stain might not be your taste but it’s a good chance to get an idea of what you are shopping for. They also may let you bring your horse in the parking lot, take the saddle off the floor and put it on your horse’s back. And if you are lucky they may even let you leave a credit card on file and take it home for a few days. Basically the idea here is that try locally and buy online to get the customization you want.
Flexible return policies:
These are less common and vary from store/seller. If you try and buy at a local store you can be at ease if things don’t work out. Its okay, sometimes blind dates disappoint. I’ve found that provided you keep the saddles clean and receipt intact, a store will refund you for a saddle you bought and thought would fit. The timeline is usually about a 3 to 10 days by approval of a manager.
These vary in price and procedure. Some saddle makers or retailers will offer a ‘fit kit’ that allows you to gauge measurement on your horse to decide which route to go. No more ‘laymen’s’ terms on if your horse is ‘mutton withered’/has ‘widely sprung ribs’. There is no such thing as a one size fits all saddle no matter how desperate you become. Molds, pictures, measurements and tracings can help the maker fit your horse accurately.
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There are people everywhere that think they know what they are talking about. Although my comment is a bit ‘tongue in cheek’ beware of even certified saddle fitters. Most saddle fitters are educated only within a certain maker’s saddle or a certain type of tree. This isn’t bad thing if you are confident with the parameters of what you know your horse needs. Keep an open mind and don’t feel pressured by a fitting specialists observation. You are better off hiring an actual equine body worker to give you’re their input on what they see and feel during a saddle fit session.
Take all the opportunities you need to find a saddle that has the fit, form and function that will support your horse on his athletic endeavors. Better to spend the time trying out saddles then spending time regretting what you hoped would fit.
Trying out a saddle is more feasible than you think. Typically a credit card and a good name are all you need to test ride a saddle straight off the stand. In honor of the generous makers and sellers of high end, expensive, quality equipment,
I’ve compiled a few tips to leave you as a pleasantly regarded customer. No one likes to be shady and return a used looking new saddle… Apply the rules before you try.
1. Read and ask about any policies in place when test riding a new saddle. This is key, because if you order a demo saddle without knowing the guidelines you could be setting yourself up for disappointment or surprise. After familiarizing yourself with handling a piece of artisan equipment that isn’t yours yet, you can prepare.
2. Get the saddle ordered during a slow time for your riding endeavors. Nothing is worse than getting a saddle shipped to you to ride, and feeling like you are in a rush to try it out. Block off a day if you have to. Ripping open the box and tossing it on your horse’s back is not realistic. You can lose a day or two with shipping and returning, your horse could have rolled in mud, your neighbor could come talk your ear off. Seriously, think ahead and allow yourself the concentration you deserve on potentially making this investment.
3. When it arrives try not to panic. Plucking it out of the big box on your driveway in the wind will carelessly allow those precious packing peanuts to disappear. The ever important return label and credit card invoice could float into the atmosphere. An off-billet may drop out unnoticed, a stirrup strap may get loose…Carefully clear space where you can account for all the goods, and have a place to lay or set them safely. Pretend like it’s a newborn baby if you have to. Don’t just go jostling it around without getting to know it. It is in your care to make sure damage and wear doesn’t occur.
4. Use your own equipment. Some saddle companies will provide a cinch, latigo, off billet, and back cinch – isn’t that nice of them? Don’t, I repeat: do not use them. Use your own equipment. Take a picture or video of how certain knots are tied to back cinches and latigos so you can easily take off and replace them when you are done. Not only is using your own equipment something your horse will already be used to and comfortable in, but it will prevent the spread of germs and prevent unnecessary wear on the aesthetic of the whole saddle.
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5. Prepare your horse. New leather is smelly and squeaky. If 'Rainbow Dash' isn’t desensitized to saddling, you could be watching your recently loaned credit card bill go for a test ride without a rider. The cinch could loosen, the saddle could roll (if it doesn’t fit) your horse could spook and take the saddle for a solo spin and wreck the tree. Again, take the time you need to get your horse’s feedback before it’s on his back.
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6. Have a healthy selection of pads available in arms reach. A saddle pads thickness, density, material and size could give the illusion that your saddle fits or doesn’t fit. Sweat patterns on your horse’s back can be different from pad to pad. The way a saddle sits can depend on how thick a pad is. If a saddle sits you better, a foam or gel pad might not be necessary as you feel more secure. The list goes on and on. Try all the pads!!!
7. Resist the urge to treat this saddle as your own. You want it to be, it just isn’t yet. Hanging your bridle, hooking a stirrup (especially aluminum) and excessively touching the leather can accidently scuff the leather. Unless you are a leather worker by trade, scuffs and scrapes are extremely hard to fix and disguise. Don’t take the chance on dinging it on a fence, setting it on a wobbly surface, or getting it near moisture. Leather is tough but it is not a liar.
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8. Prepare the saddle. The best way to do this is visualize it being back on the floor on a stand in the store. What would it need to look like, and what would need to be done to make an associated job easy to put it back up for sale. If you rip off or bend the price tag or brochure/serial number sheet attached to it, the impression that you were careless seems apparent. Secure any extra ‘flappies’ or gently remove and store them to be put back exactly as they were found. Plus it’s more fun to rip off a price tag after you’ve exchanged vows with your saddle and you are sure of your commitment.
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9. The most important guideline of all… JUST DON'T DO DENIM.
I’ll be the first to brag about my bling-jean collection. Dark washed, rhinestone beauties hanging proudly in my closet…and that is where they will stay. You use denim on a newly oiled or rough out saddle you lose. The sweat from your legs caused the indigo die from your jeans transfer and bleed into the pores of the leather; forever. I haven’t found a way to remove a guilty stain yet. But nothing says “I was here!” than essence of medium stone wash and cat scratched cantle from your precious miss me’s. Best to wear really really really old jeans that have no die left, or better yet…no die at all.
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To find a good saddle you have to kiss a lot of toads!
Hopefully the “fitting fairies” will bless your saddle trial endeavors and you won’t have to send your saddle back. In the event that you do (if you’re like me, it’s every time) pack it carefully. Like you are shipping a newborn baby back to its mother. If the saddle came on its side put it back the way you found it. If the horn came wrapped, put it back that way. If the back cinch was off, put it back off. Reset all the setting of the Blevins buckles, billets etc… to their original unharmed state. Wrap it, pack it and stack it in such a way that even the most full-bladdered, angry UPS man can’t make a ding in the cargo.
The last thing you want to feel is stuck with your saddle, and not in your saddle. Our bodies, riding style and abilities change as we continue our horsemanship pursuit. Horse’s backs are compromised of a lot of soft tissue on top of a moving skeleton, therefore the whole thing you are trying to make fit, could be a moving target. A cowboy once bragged to me that he wore through a saddle seat…twice. Meaning he rode so many miles in it, that the Wrangler butt on top wore clear through to the ground seat. Finding a well fitting saddle for the human is tricky, but finding a fitting combo for both horse and rider is like hunting for gold. Take advantage of trying out as many trees/styles/fits/brands that you can swing a leg over, your horse will thank you for it!
**And if you crash and burn your saddle…tell them. Don’t hide it, sell it, or try to DIY fix it. I’m sure it’s happened before, which is why they have your credit card number ;) **
Special thanks to Double J Saddlery for their amazing customer service, and flexible demo saddle program. You won't find a company more friendly or on top of things!