Frankly, it’s not easy to acquire the technical expertise to be able to assess the quality and value of a saddle or bridle. Since we don’t have an industrial base producing these products in the United States, we don’t have a lot of home-grown experts with experience manufacturing them. Moreover, the value someone places on a product is subjective, and nowhere is this more true than in the world of saddles.
According to my subjective way of thinking, a good saddle is one that fits the horse well, is versatile to fit and balance for the horse, is durable, and is comfortable for the rider. Other people might define a good saddle as one that makes them feel more locked down and securely attached to their horse. To others, a good saddle is one that a famous rider endorses – not for nothing, mind you – or one that their trainer or clinician recommends, sometimes with a financial stake in recommending a particular saddle, but not always.
Many people assume that a saddle that costs $5,000 has to be twice as good as a saddle that costs $2,500. That may or may not be true of cars, wine, or designer jeans, but seriously, five grand is a massive amount of money to pay for a saddle.
The saddle maker I consider to be the best craftsman in the trade doesn’t presume to ask that much money for his saddles. But then again, he’s not a salesman; he’s a true master of his craft. His accent is East End, not plummy. He is bald. He does not do charm – he barely does civil – and his name is well-known only by connoisseurs who really do know their saddles. All you get from him for your money is a fantastic saddle that is made of the best materials with the all the care in the world.
Someone else’s idea of a good saddle might be one with a well-known brand name that has been around since the Articles of Confederation (1777, to save you from checking). Be advised that this company today may bear no resemblance whatsoever to the company that made the saddle you loved at summer camp back in the seventies. It may even be that the brand name has been sold to a different manufacturer on another continent. So a saddle that you are encouraged to assume is still hand made in England by Persnickety & Son, Ltd, may today be made under the same brand name in a sweatshop in Ho Chi Minh City. It is overwhelmingly likely these days that the “European leather” bridle with a high-viz, high-dollar German brand name was actually made in India.
In any case, the subjective perception of value on the part of the buyer is a huge factor in the choice of what to buy, and it accounts for quite a chunk of the breathtaking prices that “premium” brands command.