What makes a saddle worth what it costs? (Part 2)

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.


  1. Pippi Longstocking

    LOL I know of a barn that because their trainer says well known $5k saddle (custom) is unequivocally “the best” 6 otherwise bright, horse savvy, horse owners have shelled out to have these saddles “custom made” …. even though they can only have the saddle flocked/adjusted by that maker, who only comes to the region every 2-3 years. I happened to be struggling with fitting issues at the time I was at this barn, so with permission made examinations of all these saddles and their fit (owners all to happy to prove they truly were gods gift to horses). I am not a fitter, just a owner of a hard to fit horse on a steep learning curve………and I can say without reservation at least 1/2 these saddles no longer fit the horse they were intended for and the condition of the flocking was truly appaling on all of them after 2 years. One horse in particular had white patches of hair beneath the stirrup bars.

    none of these otherwise smart, concerned, owners who give their horses the “best” of everything EVER shecked the fit of their saddle or had any real “clue” what you need to look for. They flatly believed they were all set period. They universally said as well “yeah, it seems to fit every horse I put it on—try it on yours”…………a statement that makes me cringe………in one case I actually showed barnmate that her daughters horse was very back sore after she used her 5k custom that ‘fits everything” on it……….real eye opener

  2. Yep. This is a pretty common scenario. There’s an academic economist named Dan Arielly who writes a lot about how perceptions — often unconscious — affects the value people place on what they buy. That’s human nature to a certain degree. I think the same thing that happens with horses: a good, solid locally-owned horse that is on the market for $25K might be passed over time and time again, but put that horse up for sale through a famous name and double the price, he gets snapped up as a rare gem at the bargain price of only $60K. It happens with saddles too. There’s often a whole magic show, preceded by lots of expensive advertising and p.r. exposure, convinces people that what they are about to spend a whole lot of money on is something really special. in reality, what works best for horses is more often a saddle whose fit is really average. Average in my book is a good thing. It means not weird; not distorted to achieve a particular rider feel; built with tolerance in the fit. Special usually comes with a special price tag too — and its meaning is not “special low price” either!